Pikuniku (Switch eShop) Review
Every now and then, you come across a game that, in one way or another, is totally unique. Sometimes that’s not really a good thing, but other times it results in a game that leaves a lasting positive impression. Pikuniku, thankfully, belongs to the latter category. While it might be a little on the short side, Pikuniku delivers an utterly bizarre and amazingly charming experience, while also managing to tell a great story.
Pikuniku tells the story of Piku, an adorable little “monster” who doesn’t really have a great deal of things to do. After waking up in his cave, Piku sets out to discover the world and all its wonders… only to be trapped in a cage by a bunch of terrified villagers. After a brief conversation explaining that they’re not, in fact, a bad monster, but just a regular old run-of-the-mill monster, Piku is released, and free to help the citizens of the world with their problems. And boy, do they have a lot of problems.
The world of Pikuniku is filled with a bunch of not-very-smart people, all of whom are constantly under the watchful eye of Sunshine Inc, a hyper-capitalistic corporation operated by robots who are sucking all the precious resources out of the world. But hey, they’re going to give you heaps of free money in exchange! And for a lot of citizens, that’s enough. But some aren’t happy, and that’s where Piku comes in. As Piku, you must travel the world (or a small selection of a few villages) and help as many people as you can.
It’s a simple enough story to follow, and it’s fascinating to see a silly little puzzle platformer take on complex subjects like industrialisation, gentrification, and capitalism while still remaining a hilarious bit of fun. Obviously these subjects lack a great deal of depth, given the platform through which they’re presented, but that’s not a bad thing; it shows that we can tell good, interesting stories without compromising the tone of a game.
And it is hilarious. Pikuniku has a very dry, deadpan style of humour, with a few little references thrown in here and there. It’s an absolute joy to follow the story because of this, and I found myself talking to absolutely every character I came across just to see what wacky thing they’re going to say next. And I know, it sounds a bit like it might be “crazy for the sake of being crazy”, but Pikuniku never manages to overstay its welcome. It’s understated, and that’s probably the game’s biggest strength.
In terms of the gameplay itself, there’s not much to write home about here. It’s a physics-based puzzle platformer, but it’s pretty light on the puzzles, and pretty light on the platforming (save for some incredible “hidden” challenges). The moves available to Piku are: jump, kick, and turn into a ball. That’s it. There are a few hats that have special abilities, too, but these present themselves more as contextual button presses more than anything else. The upside is that this limited approach to features means that there’s not much of a learning curve, at least in terms of basic controls. Once you’ve spent a minute or so in the game, you know pretty much everything there is to know about controlling Piku.
And that’s pretty much the game. You’ll travel from place to place, do a bit of light platforming, solve a few puzzles, fight a few boss battles (yes, there are boss battles too), and after four or five hours, you’ll be done. It’s a short and sweet experience, and if you feel it ran a bit too short, there’s always plenty of sidequests and challenges to complete, too.
But then there’s co-op. Oh boy. Pikuniku’s two-player cooperative mode is, to say the least, astonishing. It’s here where the puzzle platforming goes into full swing, with players taking control of Piku and their almost-identical twin Niku as they travel through nine challenge maps, solving some increasingly difficult and ridiculous physics puzzles. There’s no story here, just you and your friend, doing your best to get to the end of the level. And it feels almost like a completely different game.
I truly think Pikuniku is at its best when played as a co-op game, and I wish there was a two-player campaign, or at least a way to play through the current campaign with a friend by your side. The puzzle design in this mode is magnificent, with tough but fair challenges, and I got very strong Snipperclips vibes throughout the whole experience.
It’s a shame, then, that there are only nine co-op levels in total, with playtime for each level ranging from just a couple of minutes to about 15 at the most, depending on you and your partner’s skill levels. That means that, at the very most, it’ll take probably no more than two hours to knock out all the co-op levels. It’s really not much time at all, and I’d honestly have paid for another 10, 15, even 20 more levels. If there’s ever to be an expansion or sequel to Pikuniku, I’d say that co-op is the best place to start.
Pikuniku is a strange little game. It’s unique, hilarious, and extremely fun, but it shines most when it’s played with a friend. It’s a little on the short side, and some of the campaign’s level design is basic at best, but there’s no shortage of charm on display, and it’s hard not to walk away with a smile on your face.
+ Great story and humour
+ Fantastic co-op levels
+ Charming as heck
- Not enough multiplayer content
- Slightly uninspired campaign level design
- Short runtime