Out now on PC and the Switch, Pikuniku is an exploration-based puzzle platformer who’s whimsical appearance belies a sinister undercurrent. Developed by Sectordub and published by Devolver Digital, Pikuniku is a light, breezy platformer that’s deceptively gripping and leaves you wanting more.
At the heart of Pikuniku‘s whimsy is a playful send up of late Capitalism. It takes some tongue-in-cheek swings at Big Business, which you probably wouldn’t expect from a game that looks like it’s aimed at preschoolers.
The game opens with an ad for Sunshine Inc. – the corporation that’s just giving money away! – and you get immediate taste of the edge that accompanies the game’s softer side.
Help the Town
You play as a cave-dwelling creature known as The Beast, essentially a red orb atop a pair of gangly legs. You decide to leave your cave and end up stumbling upon a small farming town of blob-like villagers.
Being a Beast, the townspeople are pretty hesitant to trust you. You have to gain their approval by helping out and doing odd jobs around town. Most of these jobs are puzzle based, requiring you to seek out specific characters or push rocks into certain areas to activate switches.
There are also tons of optional games dotted throughout the world. Visiting people’s homes will get you invited to help record a song, play a round of baskick(like basketball, but with kicking) and give an artist inspiration. These minigames will have you doing all sorts and extend from from rhythm-based sequences to drawing.
But it’s not long before Sunshine Inc. shows up in town, scattering money and wreaking havoc in equal measure. This leads into more complex platforming, as you scale the increasing heights of treetops and clouds to grab those coins. From here on out the tone continues to shift increasingly darker, culminating in the reveal of a terrifying conspiracy surrounding the town.
Swing and Kick Your Way to Freedom
As platforming goes Pikuniku has a laid-back feel. There’s never a sense of pressure as there’s no real failure. Mistiming a jump or getting hit by a projectile simply means you try again until you get it. But this lack of pressure doesn’t make it boring – instead you’re left with an ultimately relaxing playthrough.
You have no real abilities besides kicking and curling up into a ball, so it’s up to the springier parts of your environment to fling you from place to place. Bouncy mushrooms and rubberized branches shoot you up into the air, while floating hooks let you swing across the sky.
As you’re basically just a pair of legs, the loose feeling controls are a perfect fit. Add this to your giddy, shambling animations and it really feels like you’re a lanky creature gambolling along through the world.
The only mechanic that could use tightening up is the sky hooks. Swinging feels unwieldy and there are huge inconsistencies with how high you need to jump – and how close to a hook you need to be – to be able to latch on. A hook you should be able to latch on to will sometimes leave you hurtling towards the ground for no real reason. It’s frustrating enough to stand out as the only real part of the game that’s annoying instead of fun.
Pikuniku is at once funny and adorable. The culmination of its visuals, music and charming writing burst with joyous character. Even the environment, which could easily have a much more static design, is chock full of personality. Almost everything you run past produces a satisfying wiggle accompanied by a bubbly sound effect.
The characters are lovable, with stripped-back dialogue that surprises with how funny it can be. The humour often comes from this simplicity, as they blithely ignore the fact that you’ve just jumped on top of them and kicked over everything in their house.
The ultra-simplified, colourful 2D art style looks just like what you’d expect from a lower-budget children’s cartoon, the perfect contrast to the game’s sinister twist. The ominous undertones are hard to be believed at first, but the surveillance creeps in early as cameras pop out from behind trees shortly after your arrival in town.
Once you beat the game you can look forward to returning to the world to find a bunch of hidden secrets and Easter eggs. There’s also a co-op mode that gets more adventurous with the physics, where you and another can play through a series of increasingly challenging puzzle rooms.
- Clever platforming sequences
- Engaging puzzles
- Funny writing
- Cute art style
- Inconsistent swing mechanic
Pikuniku is cute, funny and surprisingly disconcerting at times. Lovable characters and fun gameplay make for a uniquely charming experience. If you enjoy a mixture of playful and dark you’ll love the games’ singular take on blending its starkly different tones.