Pikuniku May Look Like a Simplistic Game, But It Packs a Ton of Heart and Humor

All it took was a minute-long trailer to know that Pikuniku was my type of game.

The video featured a leggy red ball jumping around a colorful world, interacting with silly characters and getting into all kinds of trouble, and the visuals totally delighted me. I knew I had to try out the game, so I reached out to the kind people at Devolver Digital, who provided me with a review code on the Nintendo Switch—and I was really glad I did.

From the opening moments of the game, I was reassured that it was just as charming as I'd imagined it would be. The story begins with a pink, cloud-shaped character named Mr. Sunshine, promising "free money" in exchange for everyone's "trash"—by which he actually makes all their natural resources. The townsfolk are eager to let him take what he wants in exchange for cold hard cash, but there's an obvious flaw in their logic, and it's not long before their entire world is at stake. This all unfolds through some really silly animations that quickly make the game's humor apparent.

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(Pikuniku via Devolver Digital)

That's when the main character wakes from a deep slumber from the depths of its cave. A ghost explains that it's time to leave, and the caverns act as a tutorial to help players learn the ropes of how the game handles. As soon as I started traipsing around, I was immediately captivated by the way the main character walked with its silly, gangly legs—and every subsequent time I booted up the game, this movement caught me off guard and made me smile all over again.

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(Pikuniku via Devolver Digital)

But as soon as this character leaves the caves, it starts getting into big trouble with the townspeople in the surrounding village. It's only moments before you're mistaken for a terrible beast of legend (especially because you've accidentally destroyed the town's bridge) and it becomes your goal to prove that the critter isn't so beastly after all. It's not long before you get wrapped into Mr. Sunshine's scheme and become the only one who can stop him. From here, you'll always have one primary objective, and if you ever forget what you're supposed to be doing, you can simply go to the pause screen for a refresher.

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(Pikuniku via Devolver Digital)

But since Pikuniku is as comedic in nature, trying to set things straight means you'll have to get into a little trouble first. A lot of the problems in the game can be solved with a hilarious kicking motion. In most games, you probably won't kick eggs out of a giant bird's nest for good guy points, but in this one, it's absolutely necessary if you want to progress. At one point, I was stumped for a bit because I didn't realize I should be more aggressive with a spider in a tree. It's unusual for a game, but there's something super funny about it every single time.

The game also allows you to collect wearable hats and masks, as well as special items for your inventory. While many of these are purely cosmetic and just change the way your character looks, a couple of them are actually necessary for advancing the story. As far as I could tell, the game didn't explain how to swap them out that well, but I was able to figure it out by playing with the controls a little bit.

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(Pikuniku via Devolver Digital)

For most of the game, the play is relatively stress-free, and there isn't really a way to lose. This only changes when you're facing some kind of platforming gantlet (you'll know because the area will be filled with deadly fire, lava or spikes, and that frog critters will save your progress) or fighting a boss. The character's controls can be a little imprecise and floaty at times, which can sometimes make navigating sections harder than it needs to be, but if you're patient, none of them should be able to prevent you from progressing completely. Boss fights are about learning patterns, and if you can make it through three phases, you'll manage to defeat them.

Pikuniku's gameplay isn't very difficult, and isn't always the most exciting, but I was always driven by my curiosity to keep going. I really wanted to see where the game would take me, meet some adorable new characters and finally see how the whole conflict would be resolved in the end.

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(Pikuniku via Devolver Digital)

Overall, it's the little touches that make this game so memorable. Residents in the game's first town are obsessed with a sport called Baskick, which combines basketball and soccer into one frenetic game that uses a watermelon as a ball. Of course, players get to compete in a Baskick competition themselves.

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(Pikuniku via Devolver Digital)

Later in the game, you can acquire a hat that resembles a pencil tip. Using this artful hat, you can design a face for a scarecrow at the game's opening, and every time you return to that section, you'll see your artwork smiling back at you.

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(Pikuniku via Devolver Digital)

One of my favorite hidden collectibles were tiny insects living in hiding places throughout the levels. When you do locate them (they're invisible to the naked eye), the zooms way in on them shows them doing something silly. These didn't really seem to serve a purpose, but it made me really happy whenever I found them.

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(Pikuniku via Devolver Digital)

You even face off in a dance competition with a robot. Any time the gameplay threatens to start feeling stale or repetitive, something quirky gets thrown in to freshen things up.

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(Pikuniku via Devolver Digital)

This is especially true when it takes players somewhere completely unexpected. What other games have you exploring the domain of a giant slice of haunted toast? The game embraces the bizarre without ever feeling like elements are completely out of place.

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(Pikuniku via Devolver Digital)

Plus, the game looks amazing. Its look is simplistic, yet vibrant and eye-catching, and I find it totally irresistible. No matter how basic the character designs are, every critter is brimming with personality and humor. It's proof that games don't have to be realistic or ultra-detailed to be beautiful, and every character design and movement feels like it's designed to maximize the potential for charm. The physics in this game also result in a lot of hilarious physical gags that perfectly fit its tone.

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(Pikuniku via Devolver Digital)

The music is also offbeat and fits right in with the visual style. It was composed by Calum Bowen, who also created the soundtrack for Snipperclips, and these tunes are just as memorable as the ones from that game. The silly sound design is likely to get a laugh or two out of you as well.

Pikuniku isn't a very long game—I beat it in a little under five hours—but if you enjoy cute puzzles, a little platforming and a ton of heart, I think you might enjoy it as much as I did. There's even more to the game in the two-player co-op areas, which I haven't had the chance to experiment with yet, but I imagine that will also be a ton of fun once I dive in.

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(Pikuniku via Devolver Digital)

Pikuniku is available on PC, Mac and the Nintendo Switch for $12.99

 

Not sure if you're ready to invest in a Switch? Click HERE to find out why I'm more likely to play (and finish) games on the Nintendo Switch.