Sometimes it’s fun to just go with the flow.
So many games out there try to make their main characters significant somehow. They’re legendary soldiers, prophesied champions, superheroes, or even straight-up gods. They are, if not the most important, one game world’s major characters. Given how most game stories are structured though, they kind of have to be. It’s a bit difficult to have an epic story if the main character is just some guy. However, that doesn’t mean it still can’t be fun. Case and point: Pikuniku, a puzzle-platformer starring some guy who isn’t really seeking adventure, but keeps stumbling into it anyway. He’s not the only one this charming world’s inhabitants can depend on, but he’s here so they might as well.
Pikuniku begins with a short commercial from Mr. Sunshine, owner of Sunshine, Inc. He’s here to tell you how awesome you are and deliver some good news: he’s going to throw a bunch of free money at you and then take away all your useless junk as an added bonus! Why? Because you’re just the best of course! This might sound just a bit too good to be true, but he’s offering free money, so why not let it slide for a little while? Next, we cut straight to Piku, the game’s main character, getting woken up by some ghost. Who is this ghost? We’ll get to that later. Right now, the ghost thinks Piku should leave his cave and stretch his legs. Exercise is healthy, so sure. Why not? We’ll just run through a couple of quick tutorial rooms to get acclimated to the controls, and then it’s time to kick the door to the outside world open and…maybe go see what’s up.
Despite this overly-relaxed tone, or perhaps because of it, Pikuniku’s otherwise simple story comes across as rather entertaining. All the characters involved are just a bit too relaxed about everything going on around them. Almost immediately after leaving is cave, Piku is captured by the nearby village because they think he’s “the beast.” What is the beast? They don’t know. Why are they afraid of it? Because it’s supposed to be scary. Piku isn’t scary though, so they agree to let him go on condition that he fixes the bridge he accidentally broke. How does one fix a bridge? By kicking a nearby spider across the gap of course. Don’t worry though; the spider is more confused than upset. With that done, the villagers’ trust is won, and Piku free to explore the village. This is more or less how the rest of Pikuniku plays out. Piku wanders into area, gets dragged into whatever’s going on, and is asked to help out if he feels like it. He might as well since he’s there. It’s not like he’s got anything else going on at the moment. It might sounds like there’s no hook here, but Piku’s tasks are often kind of silly so players will want to stick around to see what they have to do next.
As a puzzle-platformer, much of the gameplay revolves around exploring the world, overcoming various platforming challenges and light puzzles. Much of this isn’t actually required for the story though. Rather, it’s all just there for those who feel like looking for it. They can be found anywhere too; underground; in a statue, or even in someone’s toaster. Most secret spots only yield a trophy or dancing bug, but some hide platforming gauntlets too. These are worth seeking-out since they offer the most interesting level design in the game, and completing them usually yields an item. Not all of these items are useful, but the gauntlets themselves are pretty fun even without rewards. No matter the prize, it’s best to just take it, enjoy it and get to work either finding the next one or collecting the money Mr. Sunshine has thrown all over the place. One might as well do the latter at some point too, as it’s necessary for buying items in the game’s shops. Said items aren’t always useful, but there’s no shortage of money so go ahead and buy everything up. Who knows, maybe they can be traded for something more interesting.
Going back to the story, one might as well play along with the villagers asking for help, as this is where Pikuniku’s most unusual activities can be found. Robot dance battles, epic paddle-boat chases and high-explosive hijinks, all of these and more are what comprise the main missions of Pikuniku. Why is Piku doing these things? Good question. Is he going to ask questions? Nope, and that’s probably for the best. Just do as he does: buckle-in and enjoy the ride. Don’t worry, it all makes sense in context…for the most part.
Outside of the main game, Pikuniku also offers eight specially-crafted co-op levels to enjoy with one other player. Just like the single player platforming gauntlets and puzzles, these aren’t especially difficult. However, they are still quite well designed. Each one only takes a handful of minutes to complete, yet those minutes are filled with all the energetic and thoughtful coordination one would hope to find in a cooperative puzzle-platformer. Figuring out the solutions to these was thoroughly enjoyable, and that’s due in no small part to feeling like I could solve them my way. Basically, there’s enough freedom here to feel like you came up with your own solution despite knowing that the developers had something specific in mind. Really, the only problem with these is that they’re over all too quickly. In fact, that complaint could apply to Pikuniku as a whole. The whole game is just too short.
Presentation-wise, Pikuniku isn’t particularly striking, but its music and art are still worth noting because of how well they complement the game’s overall tone. It’s all simple shapes and bright colors without a single outline to be found anywhere. It’s very reminiscent of the art one sees in children’s picture books, and is somehow quite pleasant because of that. I won’t go so far as to say that it brings out one’s inner child, but there’s no denying the vaguely nostalgic feelings it evokes. Its music is very much the same: simply pleasant to the point of being forgettable, yet the experience somehow wouldn’t be as enjoyable without it.
Pikuniku is a thoroughly pleasant and enjoyable jaunt in the life of some dude just stumbles into an adventure. Its story is basic, but its chill tone, carefree characters and somewhat subversive writing make it into something thoroughly entertaining nonetheless. The platforming, puzzles and side-challenges never really get difficult, but then it’s not trying to be difficult anyway. It’s more like the developers wanted to provide players with a wide range of activities to enjoy, and they definitely succeeded in that sense. The lack of challenge might have been a problem if any one activity was particularly time consuming, but it all moves along at a brisk enough pace to sidestep that problem.
Exploration is heavily encouraged, even if most secrets don’t yield useful rewards. Beyond this, Pikuniku’s extremely simple art style and presentation will almost certainly inspire a smile, and its cooperative levels will definitely please those who enjoy team puzzle-solving. If one were to pick something to point out as a problem, it would be the game’s length. Pikuniku’s story plays out over a mere four hours. So even though everything is wrapped up and the credits are rolling, it still feels like we only just finished the first act. Despite this, Pikuniku is an enjoyable experience throughout, and it’s definitely worth your time.
- Available On: PC, Nintendo Switch
- Published By: Devolver Digital
- Developed By: Sectordub
- Genre: Puzzle-platformer
- US Release Date: January 24, 2019
- Reviewed On: PC
- Quote: "Despite being rather short, Pikuniku is sure to please players anyway thanks to its pleasant presentation, relaxed atmosphere, goofy characters, and its world that's just plain fun to explore."