If at first you don’t succeed, kick a spider over a canyon.
That’s one of the many valuable life lessons I’ve learnt from Pikuniku, a puzzle-exploration adventure which channels Katamari Damacy’s surreal aesthetic. I’ve also discovered that you can get into a nightclub nude as long as you’re wearing sunglasses, and that you should never trust a blancmange who offers you free money.
Yes, Pikuniku is a silly game – although its store page seems oddly unwilling to embrace this, claiming that you’ll “uncover a deep state conspiracy, and start a fun little revolution in this delightful dystopian adventure”. Pikuniku is an absolute delight to behold and a lot of fun with it, but it’s about as deep as a paddling pool.
Instead, the best way to enjoy Pikuniku is to lean into its absurdity, rather than asking why a pine cone can be used as an explosive device, or how a single strand of spider-thread can support the weight of your blobby protagonist.
Pikuniku‘s world, while relatively small, is packed with all manner of endearing inhabitants who are relying on you to save them from the evil Mr Sunshine and his resource-harvesting robots. Assuming, that is, you actually get round to aiding them, since just roaming around the (relatively) open world is a joy in itself. The game’s subdued soundtrack further adds to its chill factor as you, employing your blob’s only real means of attack, kick acorns into the river for no reason other than to hear the noise it makes; or swing across the landscape in search of golden coins and other hidden treats.
Pikuniku’s puzzles are pleasingly varied and amusingly bizarre. One moment you’ll be squeezing through holes, tripping switches in the correct order; another you’ll be shoving a giant green worm around in an effort to return him to his mother. All are solvable with a little effort, though the real reward is seeing the sheer relief on the faces of the inhabitants who, thanks to your help, are one step closer to freedom.
Lacking a mouth, your protagonist expresses their own joy (or terror) through their eyes, in a suitably adorable fashion. In theory, that is; in practice, as soon as I discovered I could put sunglasses on my blob, they were wearing them for the rest of the game. Even as I was kicking and blasting my way through an underground mine, miles from daylight, the shades remained firmly attached to their crimson bonce.
For the most part, Pikuniku’s world is devoid of enemies, with boss encounters only being triggered when you reach a specific point. You can repeat each encounter without being forced back to the beginning of the area but a single hit is all it takes to kill you. They’re not game-breakingly difficult and you will learn to master each boss’s attack pattern. But they are disproportionately more challenging than the puzzle sections and the initial spike in difficulty can be a little off-putting.
To further mix things up, Pikuniku throws in a variety of wonderfully absurd mini-games, including a basketball competition and, my personal favourite, a dance-off against a robot. There’s also a heavy helping of humour which lands more hits than it does misses, the jokes often stemming from how naive and oblivious the land’s inhabitants are. It’s not the longest game in the world, taking three hours or so to complete, but there’s still plenty to explore even when you’ve beat the game and are allowed to continue to roam. Since completing Pikuniku I’ve returned to it several times, both to bounce around the landscape and also complete the various side-tasks that I missed.
Pikuniku is an eye-pleasing, entertaining outing that just oozes charm, with characters who are endearing without ever becoming irritating. If you want a game that will have you grinning with joy, then pick up Pikuniku.
Be sure to apologise to that spider, though.