Skip to main content

You can’t pet the dog in Pikmin 4, but you can make it buff

Summer Gaming Marathon Feature Image
This story is part of our Summer Gaming Marathon series.

With Immortals of Aveum getting a last-second delay, July belongs to Pikmin 4. Nintendo’s next big Switch exclusive looks to bring one of the company’s more eccentric franchises to a console that’s done wonders for oddball GameCube contemporaries like Animal Crossing. It may be the fourth installment of the series, but there’s a good chance it’ll act as an entry point for a fair amount of Switch owners.

Pikmin 4 - Nintendo Direct 6.21.2023

That puts the sequel in a tough position considering it’s always been one of Nintendo’s more complex properties. Despite the cute visuals and bubbly voices, it’s still a real-time strategy game that involves a lot of multitasking. How do you make that formula a little easier for new players to understand without messing with what makes the series special? Based on what I’ve played, Pikmin 4 has a lot of smart answers to that problem.

Following last week’s Nintendo Direct, I went hands-on with Pikmin 4, playing an hour of its single-player mode and a few rounds of its multiplayer Dandori battles. In that short slice, I’m already finding a visually pleasant return to the series that’s been streamlined in some welcome ways. That should plant the seed for a more family-friendly installment that newcomers of all ages can dig into.

Quality-of-life changes

My demo would begin shortly after the full game’s tutorial introduction. I’m already in control of a bite-sized astronaut, I have a ship full of red Pikmin, and my dog companion, Oatchi, is happily bounding alongside me. My overarching goal is to find Captain Olimar, though my first task will be saving a few other lost astronauts scattered around the first explorable area, Sun-Speckled Terrace.

It’s there that I get a strong sense of Pikmin 4’s new art style, which feels a little brighter and more cartoony than in previous games. The first three Pikmin games play around with more realistic nature settings, with environments often painted in grounded green and browns. That is still present, but there’s a little more whimsy to the world. Sun-Speckled Terrace essentially looks like it was pulled out of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, turning a lively suburban backyard into a playground. It’s a subtle tonal shift that might not appeal to longtime fans that love the uncanny weirdness of the original. Instead, this version brings Pikmin’s visual style more in line with franchises like Mario or Yoshi.

An astronaut summons red Pikmin in Pikmin 4.
Nintendo

That move feels like a way to make Pikmin look and feel more familiar to new players, and it’s something I immediately notice when learning its controls. Pikmin direction is much more straightforward that previous games, as I don’t have to manually move around a line to direct my pals. Instead, pressing the right trigger brings up a straight red line that easily snaps onto interactable objects. Within seconds, I’m directing my army of red Pikmin to beat down small enemies and carry objects back to my ship faster than ever before.

That stays pretty easy even after I start finding some new friends. It’s not too long until I meet one of the game’s two new creature types: ice Pikmin. These handy creatures can freeze enemies by attacking them (they’ll also freeze an enemy if they’re eaten), giving me a chance to send in more powerful Pikmin to safely attack. Not long after, I discover yellow Pikmin, which can withstand electricity. With a quick tap of the Joy-Con’s right bumper, I can select what type of Pikmin I want to command and start throwing. That, combined with the snappy pace, makes it much easier to multitask and have multiple mini-squads carrying out several tasks at once. In one underground section, I had a group of yellow Pikmin breaking down an electric wall while a few red ones were clearing out a fiery path on the other side. It all feels a little smoother overall, though I do miss having the ability to arc my Pikmin with the intent of getting them up a tall ledge.

It also seems like there’s a way to map specific Pikmin commands to the D-pad, according to a tooltip I saw during the demo, though I didn’t get to test that out. What I do know is that there is a command menu in the game that lets players use specific tools or order Oatchi to pick up a scent. I assume they can be quickly mapped to those buttons, which should make it even easier to execute actions. There’s also a rewind time option, which will allow players to absolve themselves of their sins after accidentally drowning 30 Pikmin.

A menu in Pikmin 4 shows different commands.
Nintendo

Other quality-of-life improvements revolve around materials. In previous games, Pikmin would build bridges and other structures by hunting for nearby materials and carrying them over. Here, those materials are scattered around environments and can be brought back to the ship and permanently stored there. If I direct my creatures to build a bridge, they’ll automatically grab any clay I have stored in the ship and start building. To make that even easier, I can quickly move my ship at any time by setting up camp in multiple set locations around a map. It all makes some of the series’ basic gameplay flows much easier to execute.

Aside from crafting materials, I found all the usual Pikmin staples scattered around the world, from fruits to trinkets. The progression hook is that every object brought back to the ship grants players with a sort of universal material, and getting enough of it unlocks the next area. There are more specific quests within each area, but that straightforward gameplay loop made perfect sense by the end of my hourlong demo. It’s less about hunting down specific items and more about optimizing time as much as possible to get the most out of a day.

New features

While that whole loop is familiar, Pikmin 4 introduces some very new ideas to the series that shake up the established formula. For one, there’s Oatchi. The yellow dog acts as a versatile companion that can help dig up treasure, carry objects, or easily break big objects. I can select and direct him like a Pikmin, as well as command him to launch forward by holding down the X button. More importantly, I can ride him and all of my Pikmin adorably cling onto his butt when I do (though Nintendo confirms that, sadly, you can not pet the dog).

At the end of my demo, I’d learn that Oatchi can be upgraded, which is where Pikmin 4 really gets different. After saving a few astronauts, I’d unlock a handful of tools and progression hooks. First, I can upgrade Oatchi’s stats to make him more effective at certain tasks. For instance, I spent some currency to upgrade his “buff” stat, making it easier to break objects. Also, another NPC would open a shop that would restock with new gear from time to time, including a drone that lets me scout areas out. Both are small, but nice touches that seem to keep the core strategy hook changing a bit throughout.

Yellow Pikmin build a bridge in Pikmin 4.
Nintendo

Like Pikmin 2 and 3, underground areas also mix things up. During my adventure, I find two different mini-dungeons full of additional treasures. These are shorter, bite-sized challenges that will put my knowledge of each Pikmin type to the test if I’m going to grab every treasure from them. In one fire-themed area, I need to use my red Pikmin to create walkable paths over magma and toss yellow Pikmin to grab high-up objects that only they can reach. Also notable is that these areas contain multiple sublevels, returning to the formula used in Pikmin 2.

The only thing I didn’t get a chance to see was Pikmin 4’s new nighttime sections, which were shown during June’s Nintendo Direct. All we know so far is that they contain a new green “glow” Pikmin that’s exclusive to those sections and function like a bit of a tower defense game. It sounds like another clever change of pace that’ll diversify what players do during the story, but I’ll have to wait and see how it fits in.

Dandori battles

The last piece of the puzzle is Pikmin 4’s multiplayer component. There’s some form of co-op available in the main game, but there’s also a surprisingly fun competitive mode. Dandori battles place two players in a small arena full of treasures to collect and enemies to fight. The idea is that two people compete to collect the most stuff within a few minutes, and they can try to sabotage one another along the way.

It’s a mode that gets surprisingly competitive. If I see my opponent trying to drag a massive orange back to their ship, I can try to steal it by them by commanding my Pikmin to grab it instead. Is that worth my limited resources, or is it smarter to split my team up and grab some other smaller items around the battlefield? Those are the on-the-fly decisions I have to make during battles, which makes for a fun test of resource management.

Dandori battles seemingly take some inspiration from Mario Kart too, as players can grab different items that mess with their opponent. I could rain down meteors on my foe or teleport them to a different section of the arena. Bombs will even spawn on the map from time to time, and I can command my Pikmin to grab one and drag it to my opponent’s ship. I usually judge a multiplayer game like this by how much I feel compelled to trash talk, and I’m sure the Nintendo representative I played against will confirm that it turned me into an arrogant monster … just how I like it.

Red Pikmin pick up a treasure in Pikmin 4.
Nintendo

While fans of the GameCube originals may find the new installment a little too streamlined at the expense of more precise strategy gameplay, Pikmin 4 feels like a smart way to retool the series for newcomers. It’s easier to control, there’s less pressure during missions, and there’s a more varied range of content included. During an introduction before the demo, a representative told the press on hand to ignore the 4 in the game’s title. Nintendo wants people to see this as a fresh start for the series that anyone can jump into. Based on what I’ve played, it looks like Pikmin 4 will accomplish exactly that, even if it doesn’t propel the series to sudden stardom.

Pikmin 4 launches on July 21 for Nintendo Switch. A free demo will be available on the Nintendo Switch eShop on Wednesday, June 28.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
Our favorite Switch games of 2023: Tears of the Kingdom, Mario, and much more
Link stands behind text that says Best Switch Games 2023.

If 2023 was our last full year with the Nintendo Switch, what a heck of a sendoff it got.

The rumor mill has been buzzing for months now, claiming that Nintendo plans to reveal and release its Switch successor next year. While that’s a rumor you should take with some skepticism, there’s good reason to believe it may happen. Nintendo reportedly showed off the system to developers behind closed doors at Gamescom this year, and the Switch’s current 2024 lineup feels like the final drop we’d get right before a new system. The Switch could be old news this time next year.

Read more
This year’s biggest Game Awards snub is this can’t-miss shooter
El Paso, Elsewhere's main character leans on the hood of a car.

After months of anticipation, The Game Awards 2023 nominees were all revealed on Monday. While there will always be debates over what should and shouldn't have made the cut, there is one pretty glaring omission for me. This year's show snubbed one of the best indie games of the year: Strange Scaffold’s El Paso, Elsewhere.

Released for PC and Xbox on September 26, this indie is a narrative-focused action game inspired by games like Max Payne. While it looks like a thrilling shooter that’ll make you feel like a badass on the surface, it also tells a more compelling story about relationships and abuse. It’s one of the best games of the year and now something that might go very overlooked by general audiences as it’s not nominated at The Game Awards 2023. If you haven’t given it a shot yet, I urge you to check it out before the end of the year.
One of the year’s best
El Paso, Elsewhere's old-school third-person shooter gameplay might seem derivative at first glance, but it actually takes the formula those classic Max Payne games established and executes it better than it ever has been. The game intuitively makes me feel like a badass whenever I walk into a room and take some enemies down during a slow-motion dive. Still, players can’t ever go in completely guns-blazing, as each weapon has limited ammo. That makes each level a delicate ballet of dodging enemies and switching between guns, and that only intensifies with each new level.

Read more
Red Dead Redemption is coming to Nintendo Switch and PS4 this month
red dead redemption switch ps4 release date key art

The original Red Dead Redemption is coming to two new platforms, PS4 and Nintendo Switch, later this month. It'll retail for $50 on both platforms.
Red Dead Redemption and Undead Nightmare Coming to Switch and PS4
Rockstar Games' open-world western game first launched in 2010 for Xbox 360 and PS3. It was critically acclaimed and a smash sales hit, creating a new franchise for Rockstar that could stand alongside the likes of Grand Theft Auto. It received a sequel, Red Dead Redemption 2, in 2019, but the original Red Dead Redemption remained stuck on older platforms outside of backward compatibility support on Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.
That's why fans got excited when a rating for the game from the Game Rating and Administration Committee of Korea popped up. We've now learned that this rating is for new Nintendo Switch and PS4 ports of Red Dead Redemption by Double Eleven Studios. Red Dead Redemption will release across both of those platforms digitally on August 17, with a physical launch to follow on October 13.

It will cost $50 and includes the base campaign as well as the zombie-infested Undead Nightmare expansion; the Red Dead Online multiplayer is not included. This is the first time Red Dead Redemption will ever be on a Nintendo system, although it doesn't look like the port will have much in the way of Switch-exclusive features. That said, a press release does reveal that this will be the first version of the game to include Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, Latin American Spanish, Polish, Russian, Simplified Chinese, and Traditional Chinese localizations.
Red Dead Redemption comes out on PS4 and Nintendo Switch on August 17. 

Read more