How far can I toss a wiggling plant man with a bright red body? Not very, but I sure do love finding out. I’ve been hurling cadres of my willing little friends at the same ledge hoping to breach a gap Pikmin 4 clearly has not intended me to. As their tiny bodies bounce off the wall, I whistle them to attention and hustle off to a flower marked with a big number 5. I toss them again, this time successfully; they bash the flower into bits and begin to cart back the remains to my local base.
For the next hour, this is how I spend most of my time with Pikmin 4, Nintendo’s playful real-time-strategy series in which a plucky little captain commands mobs of plantlike aliens. The game’s eponymous creatures each have special skills, signified by their color. Red are the most plentiful (see: basic) and typically do well against fire, for example; yellow can be tossed higher, and so on. Pikmin are hardy companions who will dutifully harvest and carry resources.
By discovering new species and creating a well-rounded team, it’s easier to successfully gather resources and accomplish goals before each day runs out and tasks roll over. The whole thing is pleasantly chill, like repeatedly scratching tasks off a to-do list— except for the times I have to watch one of my loyal troops occasionally get munched to death by the local fauna.
It’s been roughly a decade since the series’ last entry, Pikmin 3, arrived for Wii U, and this new installment for Switch has a few flashy upgrades. Pikmin 4 features a series first—night missions—complete with new Pikmin to assist. This time around, players also have a two-legged friend, Oatchi, to help them pull off rescues. The game’s puzzles, likely meant as a soft guide for a player new to the experience, are lightly challenging at best. Sometimes I needed to use special blue Pikmin to freeze and then break an obstacle, or Oatchi to smash some pots with his big head.
Oatchi, who looks like a puppy plush whose button nose has fallen off, is especially delightful to play with. His skills are upgradable—you can beef up his speed or strength to help with missions—and he’s a rideable companion who can haul Pikmin too. In the demo I played, one mission required me to swap between my captain and Oatchi in order to change trackways and open pathways. Oatchi is faster on his feet and useful in a battle, thanks to his headbutts, and I generally love being carted around like a tiny king.
If the demo is any indication, Pikmin 4 is a game that moves slow. There’s no need to rush to finish everything in a day. It’s better to head home early rather than race against the clock; any Pikmin not back at base before sundown get left behind. It’s a game about delegation rather than getting your hands dirty; the kind of thing you’d tinker around with on a quiet night when you need something pleasantly calming. Even encounters with Pikmin-murdering foes feel more like a strategy for you to sit back and watch.
The hardest part is when you lose a Pikmin to something disastrous, like a fire-throwing enemy or, in my case, a creature I ignored while I grabbed extra resources. RIP, little red buddy. May it bring you peace to know your brothers successfully snatched me that big glowing rock. At least I know there will be more Pikmin for me to pluck and place on the front lines.