Sometimes the hardest thing about sharing your love of gaming with your kids is finding a good compromise on what you want to play. Anything too basic and I’m setting up the game and checking out. Anything too challenging and I’m constantly dealing with the cries for me to help and the frustrated huffs and puffs that come with them. Pikuniku is the rare game to come along where not only do my kids (4 & 6) like it, but I found myself playing after they went to bed.
Pikuniku is a deceptively simple platformer with funny dialogue and sometimes truly random quests that will make you stop and check to see if your kids names are in the credits somewhere. You play as an oblong red “beast” with wobbly legs and beady eyes that comically widen when falling from any height. Most of what you will be doing in the game revolves around kicking. Kicking rocks, kicking villagers, kicking spiders, kicking as you leisurely make your way around the worlds overly naive and happy residents. Because the game is so casual and open, it as sometimes not always clear on how to clear objectives, but most times the answer is to kick stuff. One minute you’re playing hide and go seek with a rock the other you are sucked into a toast ruled dungeon trying to get out. On occasion you will use the other buttons to jump, use mask specific powers and suck your legs up into your body to roll like only an oblong shaped beast could. You will sometimes acquire masks to help solve puzzles like a pencil hat to draw a new face for a scarecrow. I played it straight and drew a scary face, but I do wonder what I could have gotten away with. The whole experience is designed for you to go at your own pace with zero downside. Even in the games more demanding sections there are no life counters and you’re given very generous amounts of check points so you never feel punished for slipping up.
The game starts with a television ad for Sunshine Inc. a company that gives the inhabitants free money for just sitting back and letting giant machines do their thing. When players are given control you start the game in a cave, waking up and quickly prompted to go outside by a ghost. Interacting with characters and signs is how you get most of the story with some scripted sequences guiding it the rest of the way. The writing is clever and funny and there are some very minor dialogue options that no matter what is chosen is guaranteed a chuckle from me. One of my personal favorite moments when you are tasked with finding some baby birds and having them go back to their mom prompting some great text. Everything on the surface seems bright and cheerful. People are happy as long as they get their free money to spend in the markets. When you pay attention though, the story begins to take on a eerie sense. There are CCTV cameras hidden throughout, villagers are abducted under false pretense and a huge corporation is freely allowed to take precious resources as long as the money keeps flowing. All of this is wrapped in the adorable art design and cutesy characters. This game can be a perfect example life today, shiny happy exterior, but the closer you pay attention the darker it gets. And yet none of that detracts from the sense of joy you get while exploring for the three to four hours it takes to get to the credits.
You get exactly what you want from this game. If you want a neat little platform game to enjoy with your family, it’s there. If you want a dystopian game about fighting an evil corporation it’s there. It’s what you choose to pay attention to that further shapes your experience. The more and more I paid attention to the music, the more I focused on how it made me feel like a kid again. It hearkens back to a simple 8-bit adventure game that I could see myself playing on the NES. The only thing it can’t be is longer. As stated the main campaign is only about 4 hours long. You can continue to explore once the credits roll and there are plenty of trophies to find as well as making sure you pick up every last coin. To add to the game there is also a Co-Op mode with 9 levels to play and a mode where you can just play the basketball/soccer hybrid invented to make use of the kick mechanic.
I would whole heatedly invite anyone to give this game a shot. If you liked the writing in Donut County, if you grew up in the NES age, if you have kids that you play games with…anyone. Sectordub have built a game that can do that rare thing of making you feel like a kid, to transport you to a time when everything was seen through rose colored glassed. Look for Pikuniku on Nintendo Switch and PC from Devolver Digital.