I’ve only just awoken from my cavernous slumber and my day is already not off to a good start. The locals are terrified of me, saying I’m a ghastly beast of legend. They capture me and string me up in a cage. I’ve broken the village bridge, an anthropomorphic rock’s tea set and a momma bird’s eggs, letting her young escape off into the world. These were accidents, of course. Mostly.
But as the “beastly” Piku, no more than a red blob suspended on two dangly legs, I soon have bigger things to worry about. The entrepreneurial Mr Sunshine is sending his giant robots across the land, harvesting its natural resources. He claims it’s all for the greater good and placates the populace with his mostly meaningless wealth, but something about his secret volcanic lair and shady top hat reeks of villainy. Piku soon becomes the reluctant hero nobody asked for but everyone needs, in a wacky, hysterical adventure.
Pikuniku rarely stays the same, liberally transitioning from a classic platformer one minute to a puzzler the next, to a chase sequence and then a boss fight. Better still, it constantly surprises with sudden mechanical and even visual changes in minigames that riff on retro classics, rhythm games or something entirely off-the-wall, like designing a scarecrow’s face for a floundering artist.
Sometimes, you’ll do stuff purely for fun. Keep an eye out for special patches of ground, for example, and you’ll zoom in on snails and insects dancing about or even performing a display of acrobatics. Some side quests and encounters do nothing to further your progress but reward you with a funny scenario and a cute trophy or hat. Pikuniku isn’t afraid to be whimsical for the sake of it.
Take Piku’s legs, for instance. It’s hard to put across how delightful those gangly little limbs are. Jump and they flail wildly, like a tube man that’s taken flight. Balance on a ball and they’ll tussle with it in desperation to stay upright. Kick forwards and they’ll do so with a resoluteness that shouldn’t have been possible to portray with just a few red pixels. Those legs may get Piku into trouble sometimes but they also let him bounce high into the air, take down enemies and win dance battles.
Piku meets a lovely roster of characters on his adventure, all looking straight out of a kid’s cartoon. There are wiggly earthworms, colorful rotund townsfolk and an omniscient, interdimensional ghost. Even Mr Sunshine is adorable, a plump pink cloud of a scoundrel, too bumbling and absurd to bear a grudge against despite his nefarious plans.
Even more delightful is the dialogue, full of whimsy and some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. The writing never resorts to coarse language but remains hilarious throughout, fleshing out the world with daft, flawed characters that are hard not to love. It has a universal appeal.
That said, Pikuniku’s accessibility is its main foible, at times. The platforming levels are rarely challenging and the brainteasers aren’t very teasing, more of a gentle tickle, with straightforward solutions. The surprising exception is a couple of puzzles at the beginning of the game – fixing the bridge you broke and scaring away birds blocking a cable car – which are made difficult by the presence of red herrings, intentional or otherwise. This can stymie your progress to start with, but once past these sections, the rest is plain sailing.
Visually, Pikuniku is also a little primitive. While the art direction is appropriately cute, on a technical level it’s a flat aesthetic devoid of texturing and light, straight out of a basic image editor. And while the soundtrack has some great bouncy tunes that harken back to something out of Super Mario, it also suffers from a few rudimentary tracks with very repetitive melodies or percussive beats.
Rounding out the package, Pikuniku includes bonus co-op multiplayer levels with Niku, Piku’s yellow counterpart. Many of these hinge on asymmetrical tasks in which one has to push buttons or pull levers to help the other, but it also surprises with rule changes – like having to progress while tied together with a length of rope – and even the occasional competitive racing level. Again, there’s nothing too taxing or elaborate here, but the co-op is a welcome addition.
Pikuniku is relentlessly charming throughout its short-but-sweet several hours of play. Many of the more enjoyable moments aren’t even mission-critical, so you’d do well to keep your eyes peeled for bonus nonsensical hijinks rather than just speed your wobbly red appendages towards the conclusion. While not the most sophisticated experience, Pikuniku is a bonkers trip worth leaving your cave for.
[Reviewed on Switch]