Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

Pikmin 4 | Games of the Year 2023

A decade ago, I wrote a story for the USgamer calling Pikmin 3 “the greatest war game I’ve ever played.”

While USgamer is sadly no longer with us, that particular piece was moved over to VG247, if you feel like reading the case for that.

If you’d prefer the short summary, I loved Pikmin 3 because it illustrated the morally untenable nature of military command. The game puts you in charge of hundreds of almost unfailingly obedient Pikmin that you will be responsible for, that you will order to attack and kill enemies, that you will from time-to-time unintentionally throw into instantly fatal situations, sometimes by the dozens.

And it will keep count of how many of these incredibly cute creatures you’ve killed. When you retreat from the surface of the alien planet each night, it will show you any Pikmin you failed to bring back with you as they run from (and ultimately fall prey to) the local wildlife.

What’s worse, it also gives you the option to return to previous days so you can always theoretically do it better and save them all, but that task is so daunting and difficult you will almost certainly hit a point where you accept a certain number of casualties, admitting that it is not worth your while to protect their lives because like all soldiers, they are simply tools their commanders use to accomplish their goals.

It’s harrowing.

Pikmin 4 is sort of the opposite.

Previous games in the series seem to advertise a certain kind of experience with their adorably joyous exterior and then sucker punch the player with the harsh realities of combat and the traumatic death rattles of the impossibly cute and trusting plant creatures you let down. Pikmin 4 struck me as an attempt to bring the gameplay of the series more in line with its comforting outward appearance.

For one thing, you have a rewind feature now that will let you skip back a minute or two of gameplay, perfect for when you accidentally throw your water Pikmin into an electrical fence, or when you fumble with the controls and accidentally throw a bomb into a crowd of panicked Pikmin when you meant to rally them with your whistle. It also takes much of the stress out of combat, because you can try several approaches in quick succession, knowing it’s easy to undo any missteps until you find a good path forward.

Also, the game adds the dog-like Oatchi to your force, who can be upgraded over time to become one of your primary methods of attacking foes. When the battles get particularly difficult, you can even just leave the Pikmin behind in many cases and ride Oatchi into battle. Combined with the game’s assortment of different weapons, Oatchi ensures you can win basically any skirmish without needing to risk the lives of your precious Pikmin.

Beyond that, there are Dandori battles, essentially a multiplayer Pikmin race against the computer where you compete to see who can bring the most treasures home in a set amount of time, and nighttime tower-defense levels where you use ghostly glowing Pikmin to protect their resource-producing anthills. While these levels can be annoying or even difficult, losing one of them even a single time gives you the option to skip that battle by asking an NPC teammate to take care of it for you.

Oh, and Pikmin that die in the Dandori battles or night levels don’t actually count towards your death total, because reasons.

When I first played the game, I worried that all of these changes would sand the edges off the experience, that they would water it down and take away the sting that so impacted me as I went through Pikmin 3.

And to be absolutely clear, they did.

But I already played Pikmin 3. I had that experience once, and I don’t think I need (or really want) to go through it again, especially given all that’s happened in the world in recent years, and the wars, layoffs, fascism, and general bad vibes that have permeated 2023.

A game like Pikmin 4 – one that is welcoming, forgiving, and adaptable to the people who would play it – is exactly what I needed this year.

Popular Articles