Every now and then a game comes along that takes the genre of 2D platformer and uses it in new and interesting ways. After the days of Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Bros. we've come to think that this type of game means getting from the start of a level to the end, but games like Night in the Woods have taught us that they can have so much more depth if you look outside the box.
Sectordub's Pikuniku is another fine example that has just released on PC and Nintendo Switch, and when we played it on the latter we thought it was a perfect fit. After all, it's colourful and has simple visuals that work excellently with the portable screen in particular, but this isn't something to rival New Super Marios Bros. U Deluxe - this simple exterior belies the real quality that lies underneath.
At the very start of the game, we're greeted by a cloud-shaped fellow called Mr Sunshine, and he says that he'll give everyone money if they allow him to take away their goods, from crops to water itself. Sounds tempting, right? After we get that rather bizarre announcement we start the game as a little red blob with long gangly legs in a cave, and with the help of a ghost, we stumble our way out and into the open world, armed with the context that Mr. Sunshine is out taking stuff from the land.
If that all sounds pretty weird and wonderful, you've not heard the half of it. The game is full of these little moments and asides that come straight out of left field. Throughout the three hours or so that it's with you, Pikuniku puts you in a pedalo chase in a volcano, a dance battle with a killer robot, and even pays homage to Dig Dug in a little mini-game. It's got tons of these totally unexpected moments that never outstay their welcome as you make your way through, and when one is over you can be sure another is on the horizon.
The premise is as simple as the controls, as you jump, kick, and roll your way into town and find yourselves embroiled in an uprising against Mr Sunshine. The raging capitalist promising everyone free money while taking their goods is actually evil? We couldn't believe it either. The whole map is one flat surface, and so you'll find yourself moving from one location to the next and even underground in search of new tasks to get stuck into.
We say it's simple, but there are added elements like hats that keep things fun and exciting. One hat lets you water plants that provide extra platforms, for example, while another lets you draw on certain canvases when prompted. Then there are the added mini-games as mentioned above, meaning the platforming goes out of the window in favour of rhythm-action dancing or whatever the game feels like.
It's a story-driven game in a sense, but there are puzzles involved that require a bit more logical thinking. How would you repair a bridge using just a spider? We won't spoil that particular solution, but everything requires you to be inventive and do an awful lot of kicking. With particularly cartoonish physics all of the puzzles are very entertaining as well, often requiring you to move things about while your own guy struggles to retain his balance.
Of course, there's platforming too - who could forget. Most of this is simple enough but then there are optional extra levels for more rewards like coins - which buy collectibles and extra hats - and trophies, which of course are something for completionists to go back and collect. It never gets too taxing, but there are certain levels that require a bit more precision platforming than most, so you'll still need to hunt far and wide and try your hardest to reach the 100% mark.
If you hadn't guessed by now, and from the screenshots attached, the game is genuinely funny. It's hard to find convincing humour in games these days, but the sparse lines that are offered are full of dry wit. That's without mentioning the slapstick humour that comes from the characters awkwardly bouncing around the world, and of course when you kick them with your gangly leg and send them flying and cursing.
What we've talked about so far is the adventure mode, the campaign if you will, but there's more to see in Pikuniku. There's a co-op mode that lets you take on platforming puzzles with an equally gangly goofball, as one of you plays the red Piku, while the other plays Niku. If the platforming is weird and wacky on its own, it's even more so with friends, and we had a blast just messing around on the Switch with another person. It's so simple that it never becomes frustrating either, so it's perfect for all ages.
At first glance, Pikuniku looks like an odd little game, what with its eye-searingly bright and cutesy colours and lovable mascot characters, and the reality isn't much different. The point is though that it's got way more to it than that because it's genuinely funny and there's joy to be had in every moment from the platforming to the mini-games and the absurd plot you get sucked into. It's not the most substantial of games and it won't last you hours upon hours, but it does what it sets out to do with confidence and flair, and delivers on all fronts.