Saturday, February 2, 2019

Pikuniku Review

Pikuniku is a side scrolling puzzle platformer/adventure game from developer, Sectordub. It's published by Devolver Digital, and it's available on Nintendo Switch and PC for $12.99. Pikuniku is all about exploration, wacky platforming puzzles, and doing goofy quests for even goofier NPCs. It's kind of like a Metroidvania with off the wall situations and an environmentalist message. I guess you could call it a Hippievania.

Pikuniku takes place in a weird and colorful world full of silly looking creatures. This world isn't all happy little clouds and trees, though. There's this guy called Mr Sunshine, who runs a big company called Sunshine Inc., and is wreaking havoc on the environment with his giant robots. Mr Sunshine has been chopping down forests, draining lakes, and taking all the corn harvest for himself. He's giving everyone money, though, so it's okay, right? No! Because he also plans to blow up a volcano and destroy the whole island, kill everyone, and build his new city on top of it. That money won't do anyone any good when they're dead. There's a lot of environmentalist messages here, but this isn't a serious or preachy game. It's a very lighthearted game full of clever dialogue and funny situations.

Pikuniku is part physics-based platformer and part adventure game. Most of the game is about jumping around with this weird creature with spindly legs and kicking stuff. Kicking stuff seems to often do the trick. Since Piku has no arms and can't carry anything, you just kicks things. You kick doors open, kick boxes around to use them as platforms, kick rocks on top of switches, and even break walls by kicking them. Piku can also tuck its legs in and roll around to squeeze through small spaces, and use its legs to grab onto hooks around the world and swing on them, not unlike Simon Belmont in Super Castlevania IV.

There is a lot of platforming in this game, but the feel of the controls is the complete opposite of Mario. Piku feels very clumsy while walking, because its feet kind of move independently from its body when it walks, like a puppet. Piku's footing also matters, so it can't jump with one foot hanging off a ledge, for example. Piku's jumps are also floaty and hard to control because of the way Piku somersaults, and its kicks are unpredictable and hard to aim. Combine these controls with a world with wacky cartoon physics, and you have a very awkward controlling, funny looking game. Playing as a drunk puppet might be a good way to describe how this game plays.

But Pikuniku isn't about jumping around looking goofy for no reason, Piku is trying to help people. Piku is your friendly neighborhood red puppet thing. There's towns, and you run around talking to people, and do quests for them. Sometimes these quests require you to get an item from somewhere, complete some kind of minigame or platforming obstacle course, beat a boss, or just go somewhere to move the story forward. There are a few items you just use right out of your inventory window, but the main mechanic for using inventory items is wearing them like hats. Most of these objectives have something to do with Mr Sunshine and the trouble he's causing, but there's also sidequests that are just there for fun, like one that has you playing hide and seek with a rock creature. I put on shades to look cool and get into a dance club, I played basketball with my feet, I drew a face on a scarecrow, I played a Dig Dug knockoff, I did all sorts of fun things. It's these sort of quirky objectives that make this game so charming and unique.

Pikuniku is a very chill, slow-paced game. Sometimes maybe bordering on being a little too unexciting. There are no enemies roaming the world, like Goombas in a Mario game. The only things you ever fight in this game are Mr Sunshine's robots. You can't even die outside of these boss battles and a handful of obstacle courses. And when you do die, you're never sent back very far. You can't drown, fall to your death, or anything like that during most of the game. There isn't even a health bar. The most challenging thing about the game is fighting with the physics in some of the later puzzles.

There's also a multiplayer mode, separate from the story, that strips the gameplay down to just the platforming. In some stages, 2 players each control a Piku and work together to open the path forward. Sometimes one player must pull a switch to open a path in the section the other player is in, or maybe one player will need to use the other as a platform to jump higher. It kind of reminds me of Gyromite on NES. Some of these levels also have the 2 players tethered together, for even more physics-based hilarity. There's also a few Sonic-like racing levels in which you can ride on cars, and the basketball minigame is also playable here. Sadly, there is no online, and trying to play this mode by yourself is extremely hard, unless you can play with your feet. There's a good idea for one of those charity streams.

Pikuniku has very simple graphics with lots of flat colors with no outlines, gradients, shading, or much of a texture on anything. There is also no real lighting, and very few effects. The game is not technically impressive, but it has a nice looking cartoon style. I think the art style works well with the lighthearted vibe of the game. The music in Pikuniku is also very mellow and quirky. There's a lot harmonica (or accordions) and bongo drums, and it often reminded me of Animal Crossing's soundtrack.

Pikuniku didn't exactly blow my mind, but it's a fun little game. It's not very challenging or super exciting, but it doesn't overstay its welcome, and it's over before it has a chance to get boring. It's really short. You can beat it in about 5 hours. I think it's worth playing for the cute story, clever dialog, and chill soundtrack. The controls are awkward, but looking stupid and fighting the physics are part of the fun of the game.