Pikmin 4: Olimar the Break Pilot
Although Pikmin 4 has a fat four behind it, the current spin-off doesn’t really try to tell its own story: Once again, Captain Olimar is stranded on a planet he doesn’t know, and as in the predecessor, the once self-sufficient spaceman must be rescued by a team of outsiders. But because the Pikmin universe is apparently populated by consistently less competent adventurers, the commissioned rescue crew also fails and scatters to the winds after the crash landing. As unimaginative as the renewed fate of Olimar is, the short frame story is at least told with a successful silhouette animation.
So the last hope rests on the shoulders of a single spaceman who, fortunately for everyone, stayed behind in the headquarters and now sets out to set things right. Meaning me, of course, or rather my cute Pikmin persona, which I send to the celestial body where the other astronauts disappeared after a short stay in the character editor . Creating my own character is nice, if arguably limited: A handful of body types, a few cuddly potato noses and googly eyes, all of which capture the game’s delightfully quirky visuals. If you feel like a new hairstyle or hair color after a few hours, you can easily change your look again, though.
After a short sequence in which I slip into the role of Olimar and, uncharacteristically for the series, don’t walk through nature but through a living room, the extremely reading-intensive and paved with tutorials start sends me with my self-made character to the planet surface. Before I learn how to successfully scare Pikmin through the area, I stumble over the probably cutest member of the rescue crew: The space dog Ochin. The fluffy tracker is as strong as three Pikmin at the beginning, but later in the game he can carry as much as 100 of the plant creatures and not only destroy vases with his sprint, but also kill nasty predators.
With Ochin and the two rescued crewmates Collin and Shepherd in tow, we head to the wrecked spaceship, where we quickly set up a base camp that serves as a base during the entire rescue operation and gradually fills up with more and more rescued explorers. Because: Olimar and my rescue team are by no means the only ones who set out for an adventure to this alien planet. After four paragraphs of testing and a somewhat drawn-out game introduction, we’re now off on the first expedition, where the true stars of the game finally stumble across my feet: the Pikmin.
Gotta manage ’em all
Once again, nothing works without the colorful franchise mascots in Pikmin 4: The title heroes may be smaller than ants, but they are incredibly industrious little helpers and carry fruits, everyday objects and nostalgic Nintendo devices back to my portable base to gradually supply our stranded spaceship with enough energy. The well-tried game principle works perfectly in the current spin-off: While I explore the nature of the alien celestial body piece by piece, my Pikmin trot in step behind me, dragging treasures or defeated creatures through the area on command, where my faithful carriers are actually on the menu. So that the tuber pals do not loll around idly, but literally dance to my tune, I shoo them in turn with the shrill mouthpiece to me. To ensure that the colorful load carriers are pursuing a task at any second, I take a look at the display at the bottom right, which tells me how many of my Pikmin are just standing around bored. In Pikmin 4, this is much easier to handle, especially at the beginning, because you initially have only a measly 20 plant creaturesat your disposal.
You can increase this number little by little by collecting knob nodules, so that after a few hours you’ll be back at the 100 scurrying gnomes that filled the screen from minute one in the previous three games. Fortunately, because of the limited number, Pikmin 4 is pretty undemanding, especially in the first few hours – a problem I’ll talk about in more detail later. To add a bit more depth to the micromanagement, each Pikmin variety comes with different strengths depending on its color: Red Pikmin are especially strong and immune to fire, yellow specimens can be hurled higher than others and are not afraid of electricity, while the blue contemporaries enjoy walking through water.
In order to use the nine different species, of which the ice and luminous Pikmin make their debut in the fourth part, as efficiently as possible for my purposes, I have to take care of the right Pikmin with the right tasks, because red little helpers don’t tear down electric fences and yellow ones quickly burst into flames in battle with fire-breathing proboscideans. Meanwhile, I increase my army of seedlings by transporting colored flower discs to the home bulb, and if I let the Pikmin drink nectar, their head petals begin to turn into flowers and their speed increases, allowing them to get the job done even faster. And speed is of the essence, because there are a total of six large areas waiting to be scouted out and cleared by me and the industrious plant creatures.