Pikmin 4: It Could've Been Great

Posted on 2023/08/02

I looked forward to future Pikmin games as a child after I played the first two on the Gamecube. I loved them so much, the way it got me to think about the environment around me and use my Pikmin squad to accomplish my goals satisfied me in a way no other game really has before. It was the escence of "break down a task into its basic forms to complete a bigger goal," and as someone with ADHD, it was an amazing way to look at doing basic things even in real life. I still struggle today with breaking down goals of mine into smaller, easier tasks, so when I go back to Pikmin, it itches something my brain feels an innate desire for. However, when Pikmin 3 came out on the Wii U, I found myself... oddly disappointed. It felt too easy, and for some reason it didn't stick with me very much. I'd figure out the reasons later on as an adult, but when I heard Pikmin 4 actually dropped a trailer and everything, when I took a moment to look... I was filled with a sense of dread. I noticed that when a Cannon Beetle shot out a rock, they had a CHANCE of killing Pikmin instead of always crushing them. While the trailer didn't reveal much, what it did show to me was worrying. Were they making the game less punishing? I could understand why, to allow beginners to try it out without getting turned off of it right away, but then that left people who came to Pikmin for the challenge of managing your time and squad (Dandori, if you will) neglected. I've always enjoyed challenge in games. I don't want things to be impossible, but I want to work for it. I hate having things handed to me.

And then, Pikmin 4's demo released.

I heard a lot about the game from friends who played it. I refused to touch it because I wanted the full experience, but the things I was hearing left me feeling upset. You were limited to three Pikmin on the surface, and you had to upgrade your Pikmin's Onion in order to carry more than 20 on the field. I... what? My friends were hopeful about the type limit being a tool to force you to think outside the box, but knowing Nintendo, I knew I would hate the change. Even before I played the full game, it felt like an arbituary limitation. You could argue that a lot of things in the Pikmin series are arbituary limits, but for me they don't feel that way because they've been established as a part of the world and how the Pikmin naturally work, for three games straight. Since the first and until the third game, you were allowed to have as many types on the field as you needed, because it was up to you how you decided to utilize them. The Onions only ever allowed out 100, mostly due to controlling more than that would be overwhelming for most, but it felt like a good size to cap your squad off at. As long as it was 100 or lower, the game allowed you to experiment and try out different squad combinations and sizes. If you want to pick one of every type, you're free to! Or, if you want 100 Red Pikmin to plow down the enemies before you, you can do that! However, in Pikmin 4, you have to collect items called Farlics to increase your maximum squad count. You start off with 20, which was the amount of Pikmin you roughly would always get after completing the first day and tutorial. However, in Pikmin 4, you have to upgrade this. Why? Probably to drag the game out, we can't have you playing at your own pace! That's perposterous! I didn't want to be mad about it, and I tried giving it a chance, but every time I approached something where it seemed like I would need more than my maximum out, i just groaned and wished I was playing the second game instead. I hate how often I felt that way.

Much like having to upgrade your Onion, you can also upgrade your playable characters. This was standard since Pikmin 2, where by collecting a special kind of teasure, the S.S. Dolphin First Model would create an upgrade for your suit. Now, you could be resistant to fire and electricity, take less damage, have an increased wistling range, and pluck your Pikmin by whistling, which felt rewarding and a nice bonus for completing the caves to the end. In Pikmin 4, these return and I was happy for that! Unfortunately, other upgrades come with it that make the game... way too easy. Now, you can:

...Do you see what I mean? I feel like I'm enabling cheat codes on this game if I get any of those upgrades. It's even worse, considering there's auto-aim in this game and I can't turn it off. I want challenge, I want to think about how I can best do something instead of mindlessly upgrading and not having to worry.

Another thing that technically started with Pikmin 3 that I really hate is the removal of being able to swarm your Pikmin. Or, well, I should say, it's an upgrade here. Why? It was a basic skill you could just do in the first two games. They removed it in favor of Charging for Pikmin 3, which made me feel like I couldn't control my squad very well (especially with any Beady Long Legs-type boss), but when I heard it returned in Pikmin 4, I was estatic. I constantly use the swarm function when I play Pikmin. However, when I heard it was an upgrade, once again I felt stripped of my basic movement and utilization options. I'm not even starting at ground 0, I'm starting underground. I have even LESS than I used to have when starting out in the first three games. I can't even zoom my camera out or have a top-down view in Pikmin 4. Granted, I don't remember if you can in Pikmin 3, but it still feels like I've been stripped of everything I used.

Speaking of starting out, Pikmin 4's tutorials are long. When I first played, I actually liked Olimar's tutorial. It was short, concise, and it didn't feel like I was being talked down to. He didn't narrate every action I took, and he allowed me to go off course for a moment before returning to my task at hand. However, when I switched to the main game of rescuing people who crash-landed, suddenly I was surrounded by a team who constantly had to tell me how to play the game. Only after the sixth day did they finally stop commentating on everything. I felt like I was being babysat. I hate it when people backseat game, I don't need the game to do it back to me! I want the game to trust me, allow me to fuck up, take my time, and go at my own pace, even if it's faster than it expected! But no, I have to slow down. I have to do things by the book. I can't experiment because it's not how Nintendo wanted me to play. Sorry, pessimism from Nintendo's other games sneaking in...

Overall, Pikmin 4 is disappointing me greatly. Remember when I said I didn't like Pikmin 3, but didn't know why? Well, Pikmin 4 shares its issues: a lot of what made this game unique in its first two games have pretty much been removed. The earthy, yet technological look of the UI is replaced with your standard sciencefiction UI. A lot of its unique sound effects have been replaced with more standard ones. The menus don't look like they're made out of rounded glass (or bubbles) anymore, they look technologically advanced. It feels... bland. Sterile.

However, Pikmin 4 has a LOT more issues than the game before it. It strips me naked and then asks me to find my clothes before going outside and experiencing the rest of the game, commentating on the places I look for them. I shouldn't need to start out naked, I should have my clothes on already! It just makes me wish I were playing Pikmin 1 or 2 instead.

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