Release Date: 07.21.2023
Nintendo, more than any other game maker, has an interesting relationship with genre. There are, of course, many popular genres that the Big N essentially invented as we know them today: 2D platformers, 3D platformers, action-adventure games, kart racers. But then there are other genres, ones Nintendo didn’t popularize—and that’s where things get particularly interesting.
When Nintendo jumps into an already-popular genre, you can be certain the company is going to put a fresh spin on established conventions, rather than just copying what’s worked in the past. Super Smash Bros. certainly isn’t your typical fighting game. Splatoon definitely isn’t your usual multiplayer shooter. And Pikmin, poised to get its fourth main chapter on the Nintendo Switch this summer, may fall under the broad banner of “real-time strategy,” but it’s hardly following in the footsteps of StarCraft, Command & Conquer, or Age of Empires.
In fact, Pikmin is so distinctive that, unless you’re already familiar with the games, you’d probably benefit from a quick introduction. “A key trait of the Pikmin series is exploring a familiar yet alien world from a pint-sized perspective,” said Bill Trinen of Nintendo Treehouse. In all the games—Pikmin 4 included—you play as a diminutive interstellar explorer on a planet inhabited by plant-like creatures called Pikmin, who you recruit to help you on your journey. You control your commander directly in nature-inspired environments, issuing commands to the selflessly loyal Pikmin with an onscreen cursor and a toot from your explorer’s whistle.
“You can direct and throw Pikmin at obstacles, objects, and even enemies. Once assigned, Pikmin will then work as a group to pick up resources and objects or attack enemies, which they will then carry back to your base. The more Pikmin assigned to a task, the quicker a task is completed,” Trinen explained. And the more resources you collect at your base, the more Pikmin you can add to your team, giving you even more minions to help accomplish your objectives.
Unlike in other RTS games, the main focus isn’t on construction or combat against an opposing army. While you do send your Pikmin into battle against hostile wildlife, your missions also emphasize overcoming obstacles in the environment, like building bridges to get across water or breaking down barriers in your way. Because the various colors of Pikmin have different special abilities, there’s an element of creative puzzle solving required to make progress.
And don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting attached to your flower-headed followers, either. “Part of what makes this series so special is the surprising emotional bond you form with the curious Pikmin creatures,” Trinen said. “For example, you can decide whether to strategically care for your Pikmin and guide them safely from task to task, or you can simply send them rushing into danger, risking the loss of some of your Pikmin helpers. How you play is up to you, but your choices will have a direct impact on your Pikmin companions.”
While all these core elements remain intact in Pikmin 4, Nintendo is also working hard to ensure that the series’ first entry in 10 years feels appropriately new through a variety of changes and additions.
For starters, you can expect to meet a new cast of explorers during Pikmin 4’s story. “[Y]ou play a recent recruit to the Rescue Corps, which Captain Shepherd and Collin are a part of,” Trinen shared. “After they crash-land during their own rescue mission, you are tasked with finding them and the rest of the team. As you progress through the game, you’ll discover there are other explorers that may have also gotten lost on their own voyages to this mysterious planet.”
On the gameplay front, two of the biggest changes are the introduction of a new Pikmin type—the Ice Pikmin—and a canine companion named Oatchi, both of which open up new options of overcoming obstacles and defeating enemies.
But the update long-time Pikmin fans are most likely to notice first is the shift in perspective. Whereas previous games in the series had you looking down on the action from a high angle, the default camera in Pikmin 4 sits lower to the ground, giving a more traditional third-person view.
“You are now able to play from a perspective that is closer to the Pikmin’s own view, down near the ground and closer to the action,” Trinen said. “This allows you to focus on the tasks in front of you, and makes it simpler to maximize the efficiency of each task by using the combined talents of Pikmin and Oatchi the Rescue Pup.” If you’re not a fan of the closer camera, though, Trinen confirmed you can also switch back to the classic, zoomed-out view.
Another addition designed to make the game more accessible is a “Rewind Time” feature, which Trinen noted “will allow you to go back in time if you happen to lose many Pikmin or want to try something different.” Since you can rewind as many times as you want, there’s more freedom to experiment without having to worry about losing too many Pikmin and being forced to start over.
Of course, not every change in Pikmin 4 is designed to make your journey easier. Nintendo has teased the introduction of “Night Expeditions” set after the sun goes down. While Trinen wanted to keep the particulars of these missions a surprise for players, it sure is ominous that in the brief footage we’ve seen, the darkness causes a Bulborb enemy’s eyes to start glowing red. In video games, that’s not usually a sign things are about to get less challenging.
Pikmin 4 will also see the return of a feature that last appeared in Pikmin 2: caves. “As you explore above ground, you’ll come across cave entrances,” Trinen said. “Like Pikmin 2, time mostly comes to a halt when exploring caves, so you can take your time exploring these dark underground environments. As you might expect, the challenge grows the deeper you delve within a cave system.”
If you need a hand taking on Pikmin 4’s toughest expeditions—or if you’re just looking to share the strategic fun with a friend or family member—you’re in luck. Like previous games in the series, Pikmin 4 will also include multiplayer support of both the cooperative and competitive variety.
“Up to two players will be able to share the story adventure, where the second player will support the explorer that Player 1 controls. Additionally, there is a battle mode that allows two players to compete against each other to collect the most items within a time limit,” Trinen said.
Whether you’re an old hand at Pikmin who’s been waiting a decade for the next chapter of the series or a newcomer excited to see what’s so blooming special about it, one thing that’s immediately clear is that Nintendo has built Pikmin 4 to be both deeper and more accessible than ever. Even after all this time, it turns out Nintendo’s novel twist on the real-time strategy genre can still, like the Pikmin themselves, grow in surprising ways.
“Regardless of your familiarity with the franchise,” Trinen said, “we hope you give the game a chance as you discover the might, curious nature, and adorable loyalty of the different Pikmin!”