It is rare to play a game that I can honestly recommend to anyone. It would need to be so accessible, so smooth, and so delightful that I couldn't imagine telling someone they wouldn't like. Well, with Pikuniku, I have found a rare title I think anyone would like it. This is a consistently fun, fresh, smooth and engaging experience from start to end. There’s accessible gameplay, simple, delightful visuals and audio, clever humor, and a lot of well-wrought design packed into this tiny, short-and-sweet game. It’s a must-play.
Pikuniku is styled as a simple, accessible 2D platformer. The controls and gameplay are easy to understand: you move left or right, jump, kick, roll, and otherwise pick things up or talk with NPCs. It doesn't bring overcomplicated controls into play. You do pick up items, notably hats that your character wears to gain different abilities, but accessing the inventory and using them is all straightforward. I played on PC, using a keyboard, and found the key assignments easy to understand and execute.
The visuals are simple, on the level of what you may see in a small Flash game or something presented in PowerPoint. By that, I do not mean to belittle them. They're excellent for what they are. Character’s eyes suddenly pop open when they realize something, pauses in dialogue create great “blank stare” moments, and so on. The visuals, like every piece, are clean and smooth to a point that their simplicity is welcome, and you will not wish for greater detail.
The graphical look lends itself well to the game's sense of humor. Hilarious and clever moments are consistent from the start of the game to the end. They are well-placed such that they never get old and seems to come at just right the moment. At the start, an ad plays in which a “Mr. Sunshine” promises everyone “free money.” He asks, therefore, that no one disturb his giant robots whenever they are seen messing with their town’s agricultural supply. Nothing sinister here, right? Indeed, the premise is that giant robots are fleecing the land of resources in exchange for dropping down free money. There’s clearly an evil scheme afoot, that the ad assumes no one will notice. No one does, until you - "the Beast" - comes along.
That's the other funny plot point: you play as one of the cutest little walking oval guys in videogames, but all the denizens of the island think you're the Beast. They scream and panic when they first see you. They even lock you up, though you are freed when they decide that you aren't that bad of a cute little oval guy. The absurd ideas that your character is a beast and that a company called Sunshine, Inc. is giving everyone free money so giant robots can take resources is indicative of the kind of humor you will find in Pikuniku. It's crazy, silly, and subtle.
I could write the rest of this review with memorable scenes from the game. I'll confine it, however, to just a couple. If you enter a certain house you will fall down a ledge and break a table. The sentient rock who owns the house then forces you to play hide-and-seek to make up for ruining his furniture. Another of my favorite moments is when you discover the sport of “baskick.” This is a very basic sports game and the reigning champion is its inventor. She created it “last month” and it’s now the “best sport around.” The characters also speak with gibberish noises that match their behavior. You will love the clever humor throughout, and aside from a scant amount of mild language, it’s for everyone.
Here's a test to see if you'll enjoy Pikuniku's humor: ask yourself if you liked the RPG Paper Mario titles. It’s that same flavor that’s subtlety woven into all the characters’ movements, facial expressions, and actions. It's the type of writing that adults can appreciate while remaining appropriate for children. Further, I got strong Paper Mario vibes from the whole game experience, not just from the humor. The soundtrack in a certain area especially screamed “Paper Mario." As a longtime listener of the Paper Mario and The Thousand Year Door soundtracks, I thought Pikuniku’s score joyful and inspiring. The simple 2D visuals are also very Paper Mario. Were it not for the single plane of movement - and you could also walk deep into the world and then back towards the screen - it would be a near replica of that series' RPG entries.
In greater part beyond Paper Mario vibes, Pikuniku feels like it could be an RPG. There are towns, denizens you talk to, dialogue choices, side-quests, and items. At one point, an objective is to “explore the world.” You stumble on new, hidden areas. A lure to dallying about the environment even after completion is picking up all the trophies. These are in-game items you receive by finding secrets areas or completing certain tasks. Later on, there are segues into boss fights such that they feel like turn-based battles. They are not – they are action-based – but the feel is there nonetheless. Pikuniku bears the same character and story richness an RPG might have.
Do note that this game is primarily a platformer, and any connections to RPG design are light. The late stages contain a lot of puzzle platforming. There will be switches you press for raising and lowering platforms, buttons that won’t stay down so you have to place something on them, and other similar designs. Pikuniku isn’t heavy in any one gameplay design, though. It is a smooth, accessible, boppy experience, with some platforming gameplay and some RPG elements. Rather than being either genre, it's just "Pikuniku," its own style.
For the duration, every element stays fresh. New locations keep popping up. The story will branch and give you new elements and characters. At times I thought the story was leveling out or winding down, and then a new character would pop in. A new plotline would unfold. A new, hilarious scene or joke would ensue. Surprises keep coming and it moves at a good pace. It is short: my Steam playtime shows 5 hours, with a little idle time included. But the entire experience flows greatly. This game doesn’t get old.
There is also a surprising amount of hooks in the storyline. There’s mystery, humor, and suspense, all with well-crafted characters and dialogue. Every moment of the story, even when it doesn’t take itself seriously or plays around, fits. Like every other element in Pikuniku, it will pull you in and remain engaging.
I don’t know how I could not recommend Pikuniku to you. Even if cursory surveys of its look put you off, once you begin playing I bet it will suck you in. It’s so fun, so crisp, so smooth, so accessible, and so engaging an experience that anyone is more likely than not to love it. With a short playtime, it will not demand too much of your schedule, either. I can wholeheartedly recommend it if you’re itching for a pleasant entertainment experience.
TechRaptor reviewed Pikuniku on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available through itch.io and GOG, as well as the Nintendo eShop.
- Accessible Gameplay
- Smooth Visuals
- Clever Humor
- Boppy Soundtrack
- Consistently Fresh Start to End
- Short-and-Sweet May Be Too Short