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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (477)

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Pikmin 4 4/5
No Man's Sky 4/5
Dragon Quest Monsters: ... 4/5
Assassin's Creed IV: Bl... 2.5/5
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands 3.5/5
Ratchet & Clank: Rift A... 4.5/5
Super Mario Bros. Wonder 4.5/5
The Alliance Alive 2/5
Catmaze 4.5/5
Turnip Boy Commits Tax ... 4.5/5
Seasons After Fall 3/5
Rayon Riddles - Rise of... 0.5/5
World to the West 4/5
MechWarrior 5: Mercenar... 4/5
Streets of Kamurocho 2.5/5
Aeon of Sands - The Tra... 2.5/5
Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5

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Pikmin 4   Nintendo Switch 

How Many Idiots Does it Take to Rescue Olimar?    4/5 stars

“Pikmin 4” is the 2023 sequel in Shigeru Miyamoto’s bizarre gardening-inspired series about tiny astronauts exploring gigantic environments with the help of the titular plant-creatures. While the original game was an unknown quantity, it became an unexpected hit for the Gamecube, and spawned a truly definitive sequel within the same generation. Alas, the only ‘Pikmin’ games to hit the Wii were ports of the Gamecube titles… with guffed-up controls to boot. Another new ‘Pikmin’ game wouldn’t be released until 2013, which fell flat largely due to questionable gameplay design and even worse controls than before. After another decade at the drawing board, Nintendo has finally graced us with another new ‘Pikmin’ game, and it was only my overwhelming enjoyment of “Pikmin 2” that made me give the series another chance… and I’m glad I did!

Presentation
“Pikmin 4” doesn’t look appreciably different from “Pikmin 3.” Indeed, were it not for a few visually noteworthy gameplay mechanics, if I was shown a screencap from either game, I don’t think I’d be able to tell you which one it was. “Pikmin 4” looks decent, but does suffer from quite a few more noticeable jaggies than nearly every other 3D polygonal Switch game I’ve played. Character designs for the large number of NPCs and he player’s customizable protagonist are also extremely limited, offering only a handful of body types, face types, hairstyles, and skintones to mix-and-match, nearly all of which result in a character so unappealing, they look like they came from an ‘Animal Crossing’ game. I went with a fat, jowly, super-grumpy looking protagonist with… green hair, because that was the most ‘natural’ option, and I’ll admit he was amusing to look at, but there were two other NPCs who looked nearly identical to my protag, while everyone else looked way, way worse.

The audio in “Pikmin 4” is pretty solid, though nothing really to get excited about. The soundtrack is pleasant and mostly innocuous, with a couple of memorable diddies and tunes. It’s also amusing that large groups of pikmin will start humming a variety of travel songs when walking long distances and not engaged in any other activities. The game is not voiced, however. Instead, each NPC has a vocal quip (or two) that they shout each time their text-based dialog box appears, giving an idea of what they sound like… and, yeah, I’m glad the game isn’t fully voiced!

Technically, “Pikmin 4” is rock solid and exemplary of the type of quality product Nintendo has built their reputation upon. It never crashed, hitched, glitched, or misbehaved in any way, like a console game should. However, I did find it somewhat lacking in the controls department. “Pikmin 4” doubles-down on the disastrous “Pikmin 3” change of assigning the right analog stick to camera control rather than directly sweeping the player’s active group of pikmin into enemies, obstacles, or treasures. In general, the controls do feel tightened-up and more responsive than they did in “Pikmin 3,” but would it kill Nintendo to put in a Classic Controls mode?

Story
Once again, instead of focusing directly on the adventures of Captain Olimar (and his simpleton sidekick, Louie), “Pikmin 4” introduces a new faction to the game’s lore in the form of the Galactic Rescue Corps. This group of tiny alien people works together to rescue – natch – lost space travelers and stranded explorers from anywhere within the vast reaches of space. In “Pikmin 4,” the Rescue Corps is drawn to the same Mysterious – yet not mysterious, as it is obviously modern-day Earth, only without any humans or normal animals present – Planet where Captain Olimar crash-landed in the original game… in search of none other than Captain Olimar.

Yes, “Pikmin 4” attempts to retcon and rationalize all of the previous games in the series into a single cohesive narrative… and actually does an okay job of it. Of course, because of how dangerous and stricken with Murphy’s Law the Mysterious Planet always seems to be, the Rescue Corps also crash-lands, and its members are scattered to the winds. Thus, it is up to the player’s Rookie member of the Rescue Corps, who was originally left behind at HQ, to fly to the rescue in a single one-man ship.

Upon meeting up with the Rescue Corps commander, Shepherd, an incredibly stupid woman whose only redeeming characteristic is that she likes dogs, our hero gets teamed up with Oatchi, the Corps’ trained rescue space-dog and saddled with the responsibility of rescuing the Rescue Corps, rescuing the missing Captain Olimar, and, lastly, rescuing the huge number of space-tourists and other space-idiots who followed Olimar’s distress signal and met a similar fate.

Unlike most ‘Pikmin’ games, “Pikmin 4” has a LOT of characters and a LOT of dialog. While some of it is amusing, it does tend to get repetitive, and while there is definite character development and attempts at plot twists, none of them are particularly surprising or interesting. Indeed, nearly every character in the game is incredibly annoying… but I really can’t stand Collin, the Rescue Corps coms officer who looks like Lindsay Graham and whose vocal quip is shouting, “Hani!” (which sounds like “honey”).

Thankfully, “Pikmin 4” does away with any idea of time constraints on the length of the game, which hampered the original game and “Pikmin 3,” allowing it to clock in at a much beefier 35 hours for a playthrough of both the main story and the robust and well-realized post-game epilogue. I never got bored with the game, but I did get tired of the characters and their formulaic dialogs, and thus took advantage of the ability to completely skip them. I could see a player who refuses to skip dialogs taking 40 hours to get through the whole game… yes, the space-idiots really are that long-winded!

Gameplay
When “Pikmin” first came onto the scene as a Gamecube launch title, it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. Shigeru Miyamoto had, it seemed, successfully taken his new hobby of gardening and successfully turned it into the type of weird, surreal adventure that only he could come up with.

And here we are 23 years later, and “Pikmin 4” is basically just “Pikmin” again, with a larger scope and a handful of modified mechanics.

‘Pikmin’ has always been a weird series that’s hard to pin-down with genre definitions. Most gaming outlets and databases classify it as a RTS – Real-Time Strategy – title because it involves moving groups of expendable, easily-replaced units; micromanaging these groups during combat; and sending multiple groups to perform different tasks simultaneously in order to accomplish the most stuff as efficiently as possible during the arbitrarily-short in-game days, which are still roughly 15 minutes, as they always have been. And, yeah, that does describe ‘Pikmin’ in a nutshell.

Efficiency has really become the focus in “Pikmin 4,” as it has been officially introduced to the game’s lexicon in the form of a Japanese loan-word, dandori, which translates as something like ‘planning’ in English. While “Pikmin 4” still features large, expansive maps based on mundane locations, made magical by seeing them from the perspective of someone who is only an inch tall, it also brings back the cave mechanics from later games in the series. Many of the game’s caves are traditional, multi-floored affairs filled with hostile wildlife and lots of treasure. However, there are at least the same number of dandori caves, wherein the player will be challenged by a hostile NPC either to a direct Dandori Battle, where each team competes to score the most points by hauling the most treasure to their ship – complete with not-so-friendly interference; or to a Dandori Challenge, where the player must race against the clock to clean up at much treasure as possible with a severely restricted starting group of pikmin.

The dandori aspect of the game was… okay, but I generally found the Battles and Challenges to be just annoying enough that I never went back to them after completing them, even though there medals and a high-score leaderboard.

No, I enjoyed the classic ‘Pikmin’ gameplay far more, and found it to be the most polished and enjoyable in the series to date. Throughout the course of the game, the player gains access to all of the pikmin types that have appeared in the series – fireproof reds, electric yellows, aquatic blues, burly purples, toxic whites, destructive rocks, flying… uhh… flyings, and the new type, ice pikmin, who can freeze a body of water solid if enough of them float in it at the same time. The environments are rife with little puzzles, hidden discoveries, and obstacles that require the player to figure out what pikmin groupings will be the most useful. Likewise, while nearly the entire bestiary is recycled, there are just enough new twists on enemies to keep long-time series fans on their toes.

There is also a new mode that takes place in the overworld environments, only at night, which, in series canon, is a time where nobody wants to be on the surface of the Mysterious Planet for any reason. But really, Night Expeditions aren’t that scary, as they are a Tower Defense mode that tasks the player with protecting a Glow Hive using glow pikmin… who are kind of… undead. In this mode, the player has a short period of time to take their starting squad of glow pikmin and grow it into a large enough army that they can take down the conga-line of enraged wildlife headed toward the hive (or hives, as some Night Expeditions have two objectives to defend).

Perhaps the best new feature in “Pikmin 4” is the replacement of other ‘human’ allies, like Olimar’s Louie, or the trio of Koppaites from “Pikmin 3,” with a cute pet, which looks like what you’d get if you crossed my dog, Barkley, with… Chris. Oatchi is a fat, two-legged (no-armed) dog-thing that can either act as a co-leader, commanding his own group of pikmin, OR who can act as a unit on his own, digging, carrying, and fighting in ways that the game world’s typical tiny astronauts just can’t. Even better, Oatchi can learn and upgrade a large number of skills that make him more useful. Having Oatchi around unlocks plenty of new strategies due to the fact that he learns how to swim early in the game, and the player’s entire mob of pikmin (max 100, as per series tradition) can grab onto his fur and ride him like a swarm of fleas. On the other hand, because Oatchi is fat, he can’t always fit into the same tight spaces that pikmin can, leading to some truly interesting level designs, especially in the game’s dungeon-like caves.

Overall
After a disappointing showing on the WiiU, I’m happy to declare that ‘Pikmin’ is back and (almost) better than ever! “Pikmin 4” offers an unfettered exploration experience with plenty of new tools (and a cute, fat dog) at the player’s disposal, though some of the efficiency-obsessed dandori modes don’t quite hit the mark. Likewise, the series’ audiovisual prowess really hasn’t changed or improved at all, other than gaining resolution. The storytelling tries to retroactively make all of the previous games fit together better, but generally ends up feeling like a rehashed retcon with far too many characters, all of whom are stupid and/or annoying. Still, I enjoyed my time with “Pikmin 4” a lot, and heartily recommend it to series fans,

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5

 

 


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