Pikuniku [Switch] – Review

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Free money… what’s not to love? And when’s its coming from a chap calling himself Mr. Sunshine, there’s no reason to question it. So what if his robots harvest all the corn crops? With all the money he gives away – for free, mind you – food can be bought! No reason to be suspicious, at all.

Alas, these were not the concerns of Piku, the bipedal oblong I played as in Pikuniku; at least, not at the outset. Produced by Sectordub, a collaborative studio with members based in London and Paris, Pikuniku was their debut work as a unit, although individually they have worked on a variety of projects. It was released digitally for the Switch and PC on January 24, 2019, having been published by Devolver Digital, the scrappy indie publisher whose presence acts like the Nintendo Seal of Quality. Which is to say if they’re on board, I know the game is going to be great, weird, or as in this case, both.

 

Piku, like Link in Breath of the Wild, awoke from slumber in a cave and ventured out into the world. Before leaving the cave however, a kind ghost helped Piku get his bearings, and gave me an opportunity to familiarize myself with the bouncy platforming I’d spend the next couple of hours doing. Considering Piku’s exaggerated movement, controlling the little guy felt good! He loped about with a goofy stride when walking, tucked his legs and rolled around like Samus Aran for speed, and man could he jump: he somersaulted responsively in the air, allowing me to fine tune my landing spot, if necessary. This was by no means a precision platformer, but there were some challenging sequences that required finesse.

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The world was Piku’s oyster.

Outside the cave, in a nearby settlement, Piku learned the residents feared him, and regarded him as “the beast.” It was a moniker they soon realized undeserving as they got to know Piku. I helped them with some odds and ends, like fixing a broken bridge, and designing a better scarecrow by drawing a more frightening face. Eventually I was able to move on, but Piku had the opportunity to help many folks across a couple more settlements. Just as in the first village, the tasks often introduced one-off minigames, such as a brief rhythm-based dance-off against one of Mr. Sunshine’s robots. I would’ve helped anyone I came across regardless, but the fact that I could look forward to fun surprises was just added incentive.

As I explored the island, an unbroken two-dimensional plane consisting of a few communities and in-between wilderness, Piku learned all that glitters was not gold. Naturally, there were nefarious motives behind Mr. Sunshine’s generosity. Some locals were on to him, and Piku joined their rebellious cause. Despite the discovery of a sinister plan, a lighthearted tone was maintained thanks to the game’s cohesive happy go lucky aesthetics. It’s distinctly simple visual style, funny animations, humorous writing, and cheerful tunes kept me beaming the entire time I played. In fact, Calum Bowen’s soundtrack is free on his Bandcamp and you need to give “The Mountain Village” a listen. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face and a hop in your step, well, I don’t know what will.

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Piku’s got the moves.

Back in March, Pikuniku was on sale for $0.99 in Nintendo’s eShop. I turned into Bixby Snyder when I saw Wario64’s tweet and immediately purchased it. Having played through it now, the game is easy to recommend even at its original, and current, price point of $12.99. It was a merry experience for all the reasons I’ve discussed, especially amidst the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In addition to the single-player adventure, there’s a smattering of unique local co-op levels that also seem great. I haven’t tried them yet, but I’m happy there’s more Pikuniku awaiting me. And if I had to sum up my time with the game in one word, that’d be it: happy.

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