Every so often, a long-running series will throw a brand new feature into a game that makes me think to myself, “I hope that they never drop this”. The Melee Counter from Samus Returns; Animal Crossing: New Horizons‘ crafting system; and, most recently, Tears of the Kingdom‘s Ultrahand and Ascend abilities. I simply can’t understand how each respective series can move forward without bringing these wonderful additions along for the ride (albeit with improvements and tweaks along the way).
In July 2023, I experienced it all over again. With a dog.
Oatchi was of no surprise to me when I first picked up Pikmin 4. This space rescue pup (which I still believe should canonically be called ‘Pupmin’, but what can you do?) was revealed way back in the February 2023 Nintendo Direct showcase and, of course, I was immediately on board. His fluffy little ball of a design, his wagging tail and don’t even get me started on that adorable little tongue. It was all enough to make me completely overlook the fact that this creature only had two stumpy little legs and no nose — a pretty accomplished feat, I’m sure everyone can agree.
This Direct trailer even showed some of the abilities that Oatchi would bring to the table: sniffing out Castaways, carrying corpses and transporting whole hoards of Pikmin across watery terrain on his back. But despite all of this, nothing could have prepared me for just how much I would love the little guy.
Let’s rewind a bit. Prior to picking up Pikmin 4, I played through Pikmin and Pikmin 2 after they were shadow-dropped on Switch back in June. It was when I entered the latter days of the first game that I realised, despite my love for the Pikmin, those petite plants sure are annoying. It seemed that with every corner I turned, some got caught on the wall and were left behind; I couldn’t even think about going near water without hearing the fateful “walalalla” from a group of Yellow Pikmin who decided to take a poorly-considered dip; crossing a bridge or navigating a narrow gap was a trial all of its own. I rediscovered my love of the 2001 title, but boy did it manage to grind my gears along the way.
Smash cut to one month later when I finally had my hands on Pikmin 4 and I was introduced to Oatchi. During the first few days exploring Blossoming Arcadia, the canine companion was as I had expected: very cute and rather strong, but nothing more than a novelty teammate with some cute puppy-dog eyes. But then Captain Shepherd — your one-stop-shop for all things Oatchi — taught my tiny planet explorer how to climb onto the pup’s back and use him to better navigate the surroundings, and everything changed.
Oatchi became my one and only form of transport. I hopped up ledges, crossed water (when he learnt how to swim) and navigated tight corners all without a single worry of whether I was leaving any Pikmin behind along the way. My loyal troop stayed clinging onto the fluffy back, never deviating from the course, never getting left behind. Of course, I should note that the Pikmin commands have obviously improved from the first game — your plant pals rarely chuck themselves into nearby water on a whim and crossing bridges is no longer a headache — but compared to the constant watching-your-six form of exploration that comes with walking, riding on Oatchi’s back was bliss.
Yet despite this ease of movement, my love for Oatchi does not live or die on his ability to operate as a stand-in mode of transport. You see, Oatchi is not just a canine companion, but a captain all of his own.
I let out a cheer when I first realised that you could switch to Oatchi and use him as your player character instead. An actual cheer. It baffles me that Pikmin 4’s co-op is limited only to a Super Mario Odyssey-esque pebble-pitcher mode when the chance for some split-screen treasure hunting is right there with Oatchi in tow, but perhaps that’s a discussion for another day. In single-player, Oatchi’s usefulness cannot be overstated.
I won’t go into all of Oatchi’s upgrades and new-found abilities, but having levelled up his Rush and Command skills, we were an unstoppable team. Like the best Pikmin games always do, I soon found myself working on four different tasks at once, picking up treasure with my member of the Rescue Corps and sending off Oatchi to attack oncoming enemies, take out elemental gates and pick up any stray Pikmin that got lost along the way. In short, he became the goodest boy.
Pikmin games have always had this sense of tactical flow, but with Oatchi it feels different. The space pup is simultaneously an asset and a captain, something that you can command and be commanded by. This is no Louie from Pikmin 2, nor the spare captains of Brittany, Charlie and Alph from Pikmin 3 — Oatchi is the sweet spot, the pinnacle of Pikmin planning.
So, where do we go from here? You can’t just introduce a feature as beneficial as this boi and then forget all about him moving forward. Pikmin 4’s post-game content demonstrates just how important the space pup is to the members of the Rescue Corps, and Olimar clearly feels the same way. Could we really have another Pikmin game without such a fantastic friend along for the ride?
The answer is no. At least, I certainly hope not. In my playthrough of Pikmin 4, I watched Oatchi change from a cute companion to something that I consistently relied on in every single mission. Heading into another game without him would feel like playing with the odds stacked against you, an Eventide Island-like challenge to see just how far you can go when all of your hard-earned tools are taken away from you. Nobody really wants that, right?
Let’s admit it, it may well be another 10 years before we get anything that vaguely resembles Pikmin 5 (if such a thing will even exist), which is more than enough time to figure out how the series’ freshest feature evolves from here. Sit, stay, good boy.