I’ll freely admit, this one has been on my radar for a while. I’m a sucker for any game that has a unique feel to it that tries to stand out from the crowd, if it has a unique sense of humor or vision even better. That’s one the reasons I keep bashing on about Iconoclasts so much and why games like Pikuniku are always going to get the most attention to complete. They also typically tend to be quite short which given modern living and work this can be a godsend if they hit that Portal (yes it’s a tired example but it’s still true) sweet spot of being short but incredibly well produced. Given it’s scope and the addition of a 2 play co-op mode are we looking at a new Donut County in terms of unique fun or just another stand out that doesn’t go anywhere?
Pikuniku is a basic 2d physics platformer with occasional puzzles but nothing more complex than push the button and kick the block/ball to the button. Simple controls of jump, roll, kick and switching out hats and items to continue along a simple story. There is the additional goal of collecting coins and trophies but most of the time you’ll be remembering where to go and exploring what feel like linear dull nothing areas, occasionally stumbling across interesting fleshed out hub-like villages. Unlike other platformer games of this ilk the game never really evolves or introduces new mechanics more than use an item or hat to continue to next area and these moments are simple use the context item for a premade animation to progress rather than a new ability to use.
That being said, there are amazing little moments that changes up the gameplay throughout from the platforming norm but all of them have problems and are small scripted instances. You have the painting that comes from the pencil hat but the eraser tool wipes the entire page and you can only use 2 specific canvases in the entire game, you get a hat that grows flowers but it’s only very specific flowers for platforms and every new unlock only seems to be there for 1 or 2 very specific uses. There are a few highlights like this that break out from the norm but all of them come back with caveats. It doesn’t help that the more you play the more it becomes a grind to get to these little gems, slowly rolling from place to place just to be disappointed.
Coop is also disappointing. The mode consists of 10 coop specific levels where hats and items are swapped for happy and angry emotes. You’re both progressing to the common goal of finding the sailboat and getting the best clear time with no challenge other than a few hidden trophies. It’s fun for a few moments helping to jump over platforms but again the frustratingly slippery platforming and frustrating physics resulting in heavy feeling objects just brings another cloud of frustration. After a while more fun was had kicking and smashing each other around trying to see who could knock the other into the sea.
Now I’m all for unique aesthetics, it’s one of the reasons Pikuniku stood out as much as it did for me in the first place. The problem is that after the initial wow factor it never evolves past it. Pikuniku looks are the basic of basics and despite this simple aesthetic I can’t see kids putting up with the frustrating gameplay for very long either. The text is readable and well written full of brilliant moments and they are definitely Pikuniku’s diamonds in the rough. The problem is that they are sparsely laid out and the levels are just large open blocks of colour with little of interest in-between. It only starts to advance in detail towards the end and by then it’s too little too late. There is clearly a design aesthetic at play here and I commend the creators for trying something new, it just feels like it was a few steps off something incredible. There is also a strange motion blur effect when you start to swing between hooks when the Switch is in docked mode that doesn’t show in screenshots and isn’t present in handheld mode.
One of the biggest problem Pikuniku has is the soundtrack. The long rolls through the desert and getting through the forest would have been more enjoyable had the music not been so short and looping. It quickly becomes infuriating after a few minutes in each area. It reflects the problem of never taking a concept past its initial start as there are a few interesting tracks and moments but they are horribly few and far between. Once you complete the game you can easily look back and remember some great moments but you risk overlooking the drudge to get to them. Most of the game you’ll be turning the sound down rather than hearing the same loops again and again which is a shame.
Unfortunately for me, I found Pikuniku starts off as a bright and colourful new vision to stand out from the rest but just keeps throwing me back to yet another platformer that feels like the unity tutorial full of frustration and repetitiveness. The boss battles are just incredibly frustrating trial and error slogs and yet the results of the victory are always great little cutscenes. It’s so middle of the road for the majority of the time and completely brilliant and terrible the next. Essentially Pikuniku has a fair amount of good content but it’s stretched to hide how little of value is here. It’s the panda pop of the indie market. Short, sweet hits of flavour but after a while it’s disappointing and you wish you’d just had a glass of water or can of fanta instead.
4/10 – Rolling into a red ball of frustration