It’s sweltering outside, which is perfect weather for staying indoors and firing up a fun video game for the whole family. Nintendo’s Pikmin 4, available on the Nintendo Switch on July 21, is the kind of game we haven’t seen a lot of this year: something safe for kids that doesn’t feel too simple for adults. You can—and we did—spend hours wandering the game’s planet, ordering Pikmin around, and solving puzzles, all the while enjoying the hum of an air conditioner on full blast.
What’s a Pikmin?
Pikmin are humanoid creatures with little plant bulbs sprouting from their heads—when you accumulate more of them, you literally pluck them out of the ground like a vegetable in a garden. In the game, you order them around to gather materials, attack mysterious alien creatures, and drag sparkling treasures back to your ship. The treasure serves as fuel, and as you find more of it, you gain access to more and more levels to explore. More on that in a minute.
Who should play Pikmin 4?
If you’ve played earlier entries in the Pikmin franchise, you won’t be surprised that behind this game’s cute exterior lies a deep action-puzzle game. It’s the quintessential Nintendo game: An approachable surface hides a refined game with constantly evolving puzzles and things to do. Grown-ups with a sense of wonder or an appreciation for cute things should find a lot to like here.
Kids are also likely to be fascinated and entertained by the inherent ridiculousness of the game, and in my several hours playing the game so far, I have been, too. The one stumbling block for younger kids is that characters talk with each other and with you in an alien language, so you have to rely on subtitles to follow the action. Kids will also need some help navigating the menus and tutorials before they’ll be able to spend time with Pikmin 4 unattended.
Parents and kids can play together. Pikmin 4 allows a second player to help you out by throwing rocks at enemies and encouraging your Pikmin to move faster by also throwing rocks at them. It might not set the best example for kids, I’ll admit, but you could do a lot worse. The game also has a competitive multiplayer mode for older children (or fellow grown-ups) to join in.
How do you play Pikmin 4?
Pikmin 4 follows the story of, well, you: the newest member of an alien rescue team sent to find the famous Captain Olimar, who has been stranded on a world that looks suspiciously like Earth. The problem? The rescue team crashed as it attempted to enter the planet’s atmosphere. Now it’s your job to find the team, acquire fuel for your ship, and ultimately rescue Captain Olimar. You’re joined on your mission by Oatchi, an adorable alien rescue pup, but you’ll also quickly find yourself aided by the mysterious, plant-like Pikmin.
Pikmin 4 is mostly a puzzle game with a bit of action here and there. Different colors of Pikmin have different properties that allow you to solve different problems, and you slowly gain upgrades to Oatchi that give him access to more areas and help you move around the world faster. All of that takes place in a playful world that looks an awful lot like the real one—from a miniature, ground-level perspective.
My one complaint regarding Pikmin 4 is that the introductory parts of the game are loaded with tutorials, which can drag on. The various types of Pikmin and their interactions with the world are doled out over time, which helps to build a sense of learning and challenge throughout the game. But some of the simplest mechanics, such as jumping, are bizarrely gated behind several levels of progress.
However, the puzzles, while obvious early on, become pleasantly more sophisticated as the game goes on.
Why we love Pikmin 4
This year has seen a slew of high-profile video game launches, but surprisingly few have been family-friendly. Even Nintendo’s own The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom deals with some dark themes and includes some fairly graphic violence, which feels like just a little too much for younger kids. Don’t even get me started on games like Resident Evil 4, Dead Space, or some of our other favorite games so far in 2023—they’re tremendously fun to play, but you’d have to quickly turn off the TV if a child were to walk in.
Pikmin 4 is silly and full of friendly characters, and maybe just as important, it approaches the world from a small-scale perspective that lends some childlike and kid-appropriate wonder to every object, from screwdrivers to plant pots to classic Game Boy consoles. But adults will find plenty to appreciate, too—jokes about management culture, scientific mishaps, and more are clearly designed for an older audience.
Pikmin 4 is available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch starting July 21.
This article was edited by Caitlin McGarry.