There may be a new Nintendo Switch coming sometime next year, but in the meantime the existing Switch platform is putting out some great games for 2023, even if the hardware feels a bit dated. The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is a great sequel/expansion to one of the best games of all time and a new one 2D Mario game coming this fall. In between is Pikmin 4, a game I love a lot more than I expected.
Pikmin is one of Nintendo’s lesser-known mainline game series, judging by the responses I got when I asked friends if they knew what Pikmin was. The games have been around since the days of the Nintendo GameCube, but Nintendo has made the previous three games available on Switch, along with the latest version coming this week. Developed by Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and inspired by his own garden, the series of games is about small flower-headed creatures (Pikmin) that breed, solve puzzles and fight other life forms. By controlling and leading them, you become the commander of day-long real-time strategy missions on a strangely familiar planet.
This planet… is the earth. Nintendo has always kept the identity of this plant-rich planet a secret, but artifacts that are being discovered and collected clearly resemble giant versions of everyday Earth objects. This time the connection is clearer: A Game Boy Advance is spotted early on. Pikmin 4 reveals more man-made environments than other Pikmin games I’ve played, and it still looks like the world has been abandoned and left to strange creatures in an unspecified future.
With Pikmin, you must always control the game via a space-faring explorer. in previous games Captain Olimar (also in Super Smash Bros.). In this game you create your own character and search for other crashed residents of your homeworld. There’s also a new companion dog named Oatchi. The alien pup can follow clues and help figure out where to go, carry items and you can ride it. Now I can’t imagine playing Pikmin without a puppy friend.
Pikmin is complex to a certain extent. The game uses most of the Switch controls for navigating and viewing maps, though much like Zelda, it takes some getting used to, so it’s intuitive (Nintendo has some great on-screen tutorials and guides, too). Younger kids might find it a bit overkill, although there’s a co-op mode that allows someone else to fire off pebbles with a Joy-Con like a pointer. However, Pikmin 3 allowed true split-screen co-op, which doesn’t appear to be possible here. There is a side game with two player battles called Dandori Battles where each player competes to collect the most treasure in a given time limit. My 10 year old son and I played; He smiled and then said, “Let’s play something different.” In that sense, Pikmin 4 isn’t necessarily the best multiplayer family game.
As a single player adventure, I love Pikmin 4. I like the extra emphasis on story and discovery, which reminds me a bit of how Splatoon 3 gradually unearths details about the world it’s set in. It turns out that Nintendo now has quite a few games about strange, evolved creatures on a post-human Earth.
This time there are also caves. Similar to Tears of the Kingdom, Pikmin 4 goes underground through small shaft portals to multi-level caves and adds additional dungeon missions that feel a bit more menacing. Time slows down in the caves, meaning Pikmin’s daily time limits seem more relaxed this time around. Level progression can also continue into a new day instead of feeling the need to hurry and get things done before the sun goes down and deadly creatures arrive to kill your Pikmin. I prefer this hassle free approach – I have plenty of deadlines.
It will take me the rest of this year to complete Tears of the Kingdom, but Pikmin 4 feels like a more relaxed, exploratory, and more surreal Nintendo adventure experience. You can grab one of the earlier and cheaper Pikmin games and try it out however you like, or download the Pikmin 4 demo. I’d say start with 4 if you want a single player game and consider 3 if you want split-screen co-op. The whole thing ran really smoothly on a Switch OLED and proves once again that Nintendo can squeeze graphics magic out of its aging Switch hardware. That doesn’t mean I don’t want a Switch 2 though.