A weird and charming adventure that is easy to fall in love with.
First impressions are funny in that they contain an element of both truth and fiction. It is easy to take a single glance at Pikuniku and judge it for its simple presentation, thinking it a game meant purely for children, but there is both much more and yet not quite enough to this latest game from publisher Devolver Digital. I ended up being quite captivated by Pikuniku, but I also wanted just a little bit more from it in terms of depth and gameplay.
Before gaining control of your character, you meet the eccentric Mr. Sunshine, who implores you to come closer. He wants to give you free money, but of course, there’s a catch: he’s going to send robots to your town to collect all of your junk, and it turns out that what he calls junk is the food, trees, and water the world needs to survive. This opening scene sets the stage beautifully for what is a wacky and wonderful journey on which you meet people who call you “the beast,” leaf-shaped members of a resistance, and a worm who looks like a green balloon. These are just some of the individuals you encounter as you work to uncover Mr. Sunshine’s motives and learn more about the world. Note that I’m choosing to keep story details brief so as not to take away from anyone’s enjoyment.
The beast is easy and fun to control, and the platforming is simple and never punishing. You move around with a comical gait and can turn into a ball to roll around more quickly and fit into tight spaces. You can also kick objects and NPCs and use your legs to grab onto hooks to swing in different directions. Pikuniku is meant to be played at a leisurely pace, with only a handful of situations, namely boss fights, requiring any real timing on movement or jumps. Exploring the colorful world, meeting new characters, solving their problems, and listening to their dialogue are what make the game enjoyable. I took my time to search out items and hats to add to my inventory, which in turn would allow me to fulfill the requests I had been given. The incentive for doing so is often achievement-like collectables in the form of trophies and accompanying comments and scenes. One such trophy comes from challenging and defeating the champion of “Baskick,” a game where you kick a ball into a basketball hoop. While certainly not required to complete the game, fun diversions like this are at the heart of Pikuniku.
Even though the gameplay isn’t deep nor the puzzles overly challenging, the charm and simplicity of Pikuniku make it stand out in a world of twitch platformers, speed-run modes, and life-like graphics. The art style reminds me of the TV shows that my toddler watches, but coupled with its quirky soundtrack and sound effects, it juxtaposes well with the game’s themes, which I won’t spoil in this review. In Pikuniku, it doesn’t take 30 minutes to travel from one end of the world to the next, but there are enough secrets, hidden tunnels, and worthwhile interactions that you are rewarded for slowing down and being thorough. You can reach the end in about an hour if you know and follow the critical path, but that simply isn’t how you are supposed to proceed.
For all it does well, Pikuniku seems to suffer from a lack of depth and content. The beast gains no new abilities and plays the same throughout the adventure. Collectable hats do allow you to solve some puzzles, but none of these puzzles require much thinking, and so I never really felt tested. However, I realize that my concerns stem from deliberate choices that make Pikuniku what it is, so I am little torn in this regard.
All in all, Pikuniku is a unique and stand out experience that makes you feel good to play it. It certainly isn’t for someone looking for action or a serious challenge, but those who want a relaxing game where you bounce around, kick things, and make friends will find a lot to like here. Adding to the replay value are the trophies that I mentioned, 9 co-op stages, and the ability to play Baskick against a friend. That said, I do wish there was a little more to do, especially since the world and characters are so unusual and entertaining. Anyone with even a little interest in Pikuniku should consider picking it up and going in as blind as possible. Much of the enjoyment is in simple, child-like discovery.