There’s a point about halfway through Pikuniku where you meet Ernie. Ernie is the son of the gigantic worm with whom you’ve joined forces to defeat an evil corporation that’s draining all your corn, trees, and, in her case, water. Ernie drank nuclear waste and turned into a bloated, bright green blob with the consistency of a water balloon. And, in doing so, Ernie reinforces the great lesson of Pikuniku: “Maybe this problem can be solved by kicking.”
Welcome to a wonderfully simple, delightfully odd game where you play Piku, a red dot who walks, rolls, jumps, and kicks his way through a landscape built on the concept of “sproing.” In fact, Pikuniku may be the sproingiest game I’ve ever played—walk through flowers in the 2D world and they bend and pop back, kick acorns and they bounce off trees, jump past lanterns and they swing and chime. Seemingly everything in the world has a texture and tone as you move through it, full of delight, soft shapes, and color.
In fact, Pikuniku will lull you in with a sense of how harmless the game is. Your first encounter is with a ghost who just wants you to wake up and get moving. Then you encounter a village terrified of Piku because you fit the description of “The Beast” from legends. Except they almost immediately realize you’re harmless, and apologize. This tone goes on for a bit as you complete minor quests. But then you encounter Sunrise, Inc., a company made up of robots and flying drones that promises everyone FREE MONEY just for the privilege of sucking up, oh, all their resources and and homes.
No subtext, here.
Subversive storytelling aside, the world of Pikuniku is a delight to explore. Your interactions with the environments are, as I say, limited to jumping, rolling (by pulling in your legs), activating switches/talking, jumping and swinging. There are coins to collect, hidden paths to explore, and trophies to find, but the real joy of the game is figuring out what you can get away with. Find a hidden dungeon and the biggest challenge isn’t getting past the shooting spike traps (which just send you back a few feet, rather than all the way to the beginning), the bigger thrill is discovering that you can jump on clouds that will take you to hidden sections.
Sure, Pikuniku has a “story” on the level of classic console games like Megaman—make your way through the levels to defeat the villain who wants to destroy the world—but that’s not the point. Pikuniku is a game that revels, absolutely glories in inconsequence. The plot is unimportant compared to the oddities you’ll discover along the way. Do you have to defeat a robot in a dance contest? Yes. Can you earn masks and hats that have absolutely no use? Yes.
Is there a secret toast level? Yes, yes there is. And if the words “Secret Toast Level” don’t make you want to play this game, I simply cannot help you.
Review: Pikuniku (Nintendo Switch)
Pikuniku is an entertaining distraction, a wonderful game world to romp around in. And when you’ve finished the entire story in a day or three of casual play, you can look forward to restarting it with your inventory intact and exploring all the nooks and crannies to find what you missed before, and going back to finding Ernie, and kick, kick, kicking him back up through the tunnels and back to safety. Tell him I said, “Hi.”