Pikuniku review - A peculiar good time

A puzzle-exploration game set in a saturday morning cartoon-like world. Our review.

1

Pikuniku is a puzzle/exploration game from the team at Sectordub, published by Devolver Digital. On its surface, the world of Pikuniku looks cute and friendly, but as things unravel, it becomes apparent that everything is not what it seems. You play as a Piku, a small red creature with little known backstory navigating this strange world. You’ll use your unique abilities along with your witts to solve your problems and those of the characters you come across.

A strange little world

The campaign opens with Mr. Sunshine, a cloud-shaped purple creature, dancing around and cheering about wanting to give you free money. Exciting music plays, and it even rains coins on-screen. This overt celebration of generosity is the first clue to players that there’s more than meets the eye in this strange world. Initially, I found this to be a weird introduction to the story, but it later proved to be quite fitting. One of my favorite aspects of Pikuniku were the subtle (and not so subtle) hints that Mr. Sunshine and his company aren’t as kind as they let on. Small touches, like the hidden cameras that pop out when you walk past houses and trees spying and watching your every move. The fact that the citizens of the first town are so happy to be receiving money that they let Sunshine Inc suck away their natural resources. All of these elements come together and build toward some fun confrontations with Mr. Sunshine and his company that I won’t spoil.

Looking at the gameplay itself, Pikuniku is a well designed puzzler with some unexpected elements thrown in. Your main abilities as a Piku are jumping and kicking. The lack of core abilities makes Pikuniku easy to pick up and learn, while leaving plenty of room for different challenges to put your creativity to the test. The puzzles in this game do a good job at balancing your different abilities as a Piku. There are a few of them that feel pretty easy, and some others that had me stumped for a short while. Whenever a specific challenge had me stuck, I wandered around until I stumbled upon something that would help me out. This proved to be a useful tactic, but also brings me to one of the more odd components of Pikuniku.

Blending genres

While it is branded as a puzzle/exploration game, I was not expecting Pikuniku to lean into the exploration genre as much as it did. Although the game definitely has a narrative throughline, there is a lot more free roaming than in games of a similar nature. There were times where I just wanted to jump to the next story mission, but instead had to meander around the world doing some random side quests until I reached the next story point. This could’ve been better if there was a clear indicator of where to go to continue the main story, and made some of the side stuff clearly optional. My other main issue was that I found the opening hour of the game to be a little boring, but the story picks up and the puzzles get better once you reach the forest village. Some of the design choices present even make the game feel like a 2D RPG at times. You have dialogue options, which in some instances have a legitimate outcome on a given scenario. In addition, the protagonist feels and is viewed as a great savior to populations of suffering characters, a common trope in role-playing-games. The opening sequence in which you escape from a cave in the side of a mountain into a vast open land straight up reminded me of Skyrim.

Throughout Pikuniku, there are several instances where you’ll challenge another cpu/player to a minigame battle. These challenges ranged from a variety of different games and were my favorite part of Pikuniku. Car races, basketball, and even a game of Dance Dance Revolution against a robot in a nightclub; the minigames gave me the most entertainment out of the entire game. I wish that once completed, there was a tab in the menu where I could just replay the different minigames.

Kicking it together

Pikuniku, also contains a co-op game mode. Completely separate from the main story, where you can team up with a friend locally, and solve a series of unique puzzles together as Piku and Niku. On PC, one player uses the keyboard while another uses a controller via USB. On Switch, players can split joycons. Playing through these missions with my brother was pretty neat. The puzzles felt original, instead of just rehashes from the single player mode. There were also some funny twists thrown in to add layers of difficulty. For example, there were a couple of missions we had to complete while tethered together Unravel style. Thoughtful and effective communication quickly descended into arguments and frustration, it was great. I appreciate Sectordub creating a different set of levels specifically designed to be beaten by two players working together, rather than just throwing another player into the single player mode.

Lastly, I want to touch on the way the world looks and sounds. The developers chose to go with a very cute art style with this puzzler. The vibrant colors and character designs make Pikuniku look like a cartoon that would air on Nickelodeon in the mornings. This creates a comedic stark contrast in which we have this world that’s sweet and innocent on its surface, but is full of characters who curse and deal with some mature issues. The sound design present is something to be commended as well. The music is fun, upbeat, and catchy. I found myself walking around the house humming tunes from this game. In addition, the use of sound effects is also high quality. The “spring” sound made when jumping, the “doink” heard when kicking objects and characters, and the odd noises made by NPC characters are subtle but make the world feel more alive.

Conclusion

Pikuniku is a fun puzzle game based in a fascinating dystopian world. It’s look and feel gives it a charming aesthetic that draws you in, and its solid controls coupled with balanced puzzles makes you stay a while. A funny campaign that has some true laugh out loud moments, but sometimes has vague mission objectives forcing you to wander around aimlessly until you stumble upon the next step. The Co-op mode is a great way to share the experience with a friend, without compromising the work done in the single player mode. Add on top of that some of the most entertaining mini games I’ve seen in a puzzler in a long time and you’ve got a game that’s hard to pass up.


This review is based on a PC code provided by the game’s publisher. Pikuniku releases January 24 for $12.99 on PC and Nintendo Switch.

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. Donovan is currently studying broadcast journalism at Bowie State University with hopes to join the Shacknews team full time after graduation. He is a huge Star Wars nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

Review for
Pikuniku
8
Pros
  • Fun mini games
  • Good co-op implementation
  • Visual and sound design
Cons
  • Weak opening hour
  • Lack of navigation
From The Chatty
Hello, Meet Lola