'Pikuniku' Turns a Wild Imagination Into a Great Playset

You'll be surprised at how many random whims and dark impulses this charming little side-scroller shares with you.
September 9, 2017, 6:00pm
screenshot courtesy of Devolver

"You can't do much, alone." That's the tagline for Pikuniku, a game that looks like a platformer, sounds like a dystopian adventure, and plays a lot like a blobby physics experiment where people yell excitedly quite a lot. It's got the heart of Animal Crossing—friendship as its goal and perky whistles as its soundtrack—and a candy-colored playground to mess around in, filled with secrets and weird, tiny stories about the people that live there.

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It's the kind of game you want to tell stories about. Within my first fifteen minutes, I had rolled around a landscape reminiscent of LocoRoco, done a complicated flower-climbing puzzle where my reward was finding a bug doing a dance, and I found a secret underground rave, climbed onto the stage and kicked the DJ.

But the best thing is not the fact I can kick the DJ—it's that Pikuniku anticipates the fact that you, the player, are going to do something stupid. You're told early on that you can kick things, and so you do. You kick everything. You kick people, bottles, buttons - anything that looks kickable, you kick, and you do so with a cute little squeak every time, like a tiny mouse doing slapstick. And not only do those things respond with dialogue and retaliatory leg-jabs of their own, but sometimes your zealous kicking is the way to solve puzzles and help people.

Pikuniku knows that you—trained on platformers since you were old enough to hold something without sticking it into your toothless drool-hole—want to climb anything climbable and interact with anything interactable. It places tiny things just out of your reach, and unlike other platformers, where those things will be keys, coins or other point-scoring items, Pikuniku's surprises reward you with its weird sense of humour instead.

It's possible in the demo to gather sticks. I have yet to find a use for them (apparently there's some secret stick-loving character hidden away somewhere…), but I wandered around the town with a stick proudly displayed above my head for all to see instead. A demo I played a couple of years back involved talking to someone who really liked stairs. It's like playing in the toybox of someone else's imagination, or like that little box of curiosities you had as a child, a sewing kit tin full of buttons and weird-looking coins and bits of fabric that meant nothing to adults, but everything to you—trophies of your own adventures.

Which brings us back to the website's warning: "You can't do much, alone." It's a bit of a red herring: in Pikuniku, your greatest companion is your sense of curiosity, the desire to keep chipping away at the surface and finding the weird treasures within.