Jul 19, 2023 - Technology

Nintendo's Pikmin 4 is a terrific game about being an effective boss

Pikmin 4. Screenshot: Nintendo / Axios

Nintendo’s newest video game, Pikmin 4, may be full of astronauts, tiny plant-people and giant bugs — but it’s ultimately about time management, delegation and how to make the most out of being in charge.

Why it matters: Pikmin 4 wouldn’t serve as a replacement for a good book on management, but Nintendo itself is promoting it using the word “dandori,” Japanese for planning or, as Nintendo puts it, “to think about planning and efficiency in advance to get things done smoothly.”

  • The game has a “dandori” mode and characters repeatedly urge the player to improve their “dandori” skills.

Details: The main gameplay in Pikmin 4, as with early entries, involves playing as a space traveler (member of a rescue team this time) who can command up to 100 bipedal Pikmin creatures. The Pikmin are plucked from the ground like plants, follow the player’s astronaut as a loyal pack, and can be hurled at giant enemies and treasures to attack or haul them away like a swarm of ants.

  • Pikmin 4’s opening hours are easy, gently introducing or re-introducing players to the basics across levels set outdoors on a mysterious planet (Earth).
  • The game soon becomes sufficiently challenging, especially in its proliferation of underground cave levels, that multitasking and effective delegation of those Pikmin swarms is a must.
  • In Pikmin 4’s toughest and most interesting areas, simply charging a pack of Pikmin toward one task after another leads to failure. The more successful and satisfying approach: send the red fire-proof Pikmin against flame-spouting enemies, the electric-proof yellow to knock down a wall, the heavy-hitting purples to retrieve enemy carcasses, all while dispatching the sequel’s new, trainable space dog, Oatchie, to haul treasure back to base.

Between the lines: Nintendo has long tied the origins story of the 20-year Pikmin franchise to a moment when the company’s renowned top designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, observed ants carrying leaves in his garden, but Pikmin 4 makes clearer than ever that the series is heavily informed by its developers’ thoughts about real, human work.

  • One major character is described, in-game, as “a hard worker and family man who often sacrifices his time off to support his family.” Another is a “midranking travel agent” trying to save her company from bankruptcy, and so on.
  • The whole game is a fictionalized job: The player is a new recruit who initially has to rescue their co-workers and boss, train in the art of dandori, then teach Oatchie new tricks. Those tricks tend to involve better ways to manage Pikmin swarms, like being able to summon stragglers back to pertinent tasks.

What they’re saying: “I've always wanted to create this kind of gameplay where you manage things,” Miyamoto said in a Q&A about the series’ creation posted by Nintendo this week.

  • “For example, as a manager in your workplace, you think about who should be given what task to get things done. You have a small project here and a large, resource-heavy project there, and there’s this sense of accomplishment when you're able to streamline and manage all of that efficiently.”

Be smart: Pikmin games fit within the medium’s vast strategy subgenre, alongside the likes of Blizzard’s StarCraft and Sega and Creative Assembly’s Total War.

Yes, but: They’re also some of Nintendo’s toughest sells, with Miyamoto expressing disappointment the franchise hasn’t performed better. Players might be intimidated by them and find them too difficult, he recently mused.

The bottom line: Pikmin 4 is immediately more approachable than its series predecessors thanks to the space dog helper and seemingly smarter AI that ensures Pikmin less frequently fall behind.

  • Later, it becomes even more challenging than the old ones, as its adventure extends well past the initial roll of credits and introduces more complex enemies and challenges.
  • That's good news for aspiring Pikmin-managers who are up for some tough dandori tasks.

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