What is it An adorably presented dystopian tale
Developers Arnaud De Bock, Rémi Forcadell, Alan Zucconi, Calum Bowen
Publisher Devolver Digital
Reviewed on Windows 10, 16GB RAM, Intel Core i7-5820k, GeForce GTX 970
Release date January 24, 2019
Multiplayer Local co-op
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
I first saw Pikuniku at EGX. On a show floor you can’t really appreciate nuance so I’ll be honest, it was the bright, round characters which drew me over. I stayed because I could kick things with my character’s little red legs. I didn’t have enough time to get much more than that, so when it came to the review it was such a lovely moment to realise it wasn’t actually a Wattam-style interactive toy, but a little dystopian tale wearing a Mr Men and Little Miss storybook aesthetic.
After an opening cinematic where a pink cloud offers you free money, you, a little red blob with legs, wake up in a cave on a hill overlooking a town. A useful exposition ghost prompts you to head into the fresh air so you can start exploring the 2D world. Jumping, rolling, strolling and kicking are your primary forms of interaction. At first you’re just playing with them, perhaps enjoying the fact you can go a bit faster if you pull your legs in and roll, or bouncing around, trying to kick anything in the environment.
The local villagers believed you to be a scary beast and are not entirely sure how to handle the fact that you’re actually smaller than them, not threatening beyond delivering grumpy toddler-style kicks and pushes, and don’t look anything like their local beast lore descriptions. They settle on imprisoning you until you agree to repair the rope bridge connecting the village to the village crops (which you broke by bouncing on it) so that the villagers can tend their corn and be rewarded with rains of cash from the pink cloud.
What evolves from there is a cheery tale of endearingly bumbling and adorably illustrated violent resistance against a deep state social cleansing conspiracy. Despite that premise, the tone never tips over into insufferable didacticism. Instead it remains at “more affable and PG version of a Dr Evil plot from Austin Powers” for the duration. Supporting that tone, the rest of the cast of characters have that specifically 2010s slight archness to them which keeps them from becoming twee.
For example, after kicking a couple of eggs I found in a nest and watching the chicks they contained flap off, a mother bird descended. She demanded to know whether I kicked the eggs and I chose to deny all knowledge. I was still standing in the nest and she replied “What do you mean it wasn’t you?? Your feet are still on the shells!” Rounding up the chicks to make amends, one of them turned out to be a huffy teen (“why can’t I have my own life already”) and the other was fully conversant in self-help speak (“it’s true we haven’t bonded very much lately”).
Basic platforming is the canvas against which these little interactions play out. At first that’s jumping from ledge to ledge and pushing or kicking objects. Later you can start swapping your hats or using different objects to trigger new interactions. For example, one hat turns you into a mobile sprinkler system. If you target particular plants they’ll flower and provide a temporary platform which will let you access a new part of the level.
It’s these hats and objects which generally help you access all the little Easter eggs hidden around the world. It’s why I’m still playing even though I’ve long-since completed the main story. There are secret areas to visit, dungeons to explore, a wizard to please and glasses to purchase.
It’s not a perfect experience. I got frustrated with the bridge repair section before accidentally finding the solution, and I completely forgot where to find a particular character I needed for a quest. For the latter I ended up using my screenshots to piece together the location info as nothing in-game reminded me. The balance between exploration and design prompts or interface info thus feels slightly off in places. Otherwise, the game is small enough that messing about will reveal the way forward, and offer up adorable interactions along the way.