I’ve loved Pikmin for about as long as I can remember. While I did play a lot of Pikmin 1 when I was younger, Pikmin 2 has always been my favorite game in the series. I don’t know if it was the cave exploration, the lack of a time limit, the bigger emphasis on the series’ sense of humor, purple Pikmin, or a combination of all of that (probably just purple Pikmin, though), but I always find myself getting sucked into it more than its prequel or its sequel. Pikmin 4 returned to the style of Pikmin 2, which is great for me but not as great for people who prefer the stricter style of Pikmin 1 and 3.
To keep fans of the older style happy and to add some spice to the formula, Pikmin 4 introduces Dandori challenges to test players’ skills under time pressure. The tighter, puzzle-box design of these challenges becomes almost a game within the game as you progress further. Here’s how.
How Pikmin 4 Changes its Gameplay Loop
Dandori Challenges fundamentally shift how Pikmin 4 is played. Typically, you would be taking your time going through each massive area and expansive cave to find every castaway and piece of treasure you can. Dandori Challenges are set by a castaway who has been turned into a Leafling. Finishing the challenge means saving the Leafling, so there is a story incentive to find them. Dandori Challenges are focused in one room with a strict time limit and a score that you have to aim for. This means that you can’t approach them in the same way you would with the rest of the game. While normally, you could approach treasures or encounters one at a time, the time limit forces you to multitask.
The score system is directly tied to the weight of each treasure and enemy. So, the crux of the mode becomes how to distribute your Pikmin and your time effectively to reach that goal. This is much closer to the structure of Pikmin 1 but in a bite-sized package. You get the tension of a time limit and a more tightly designed gameplay experience without the fear of a scuffed run. Even the Pikmin you’re given in each challenge are only available to you for that specific challenge. The lack of permanent consequences for failure makes Dandori challenges a lot less intimidating. That said, this also allows them to be more difficult, especially in the postgame.
How the Dandori Challenge Adapts
Dandori Challenges also have a ranking system if you want to push your skills to the limit. Ranks range from bronze to the elusive platinum that is only achievable if you collect everything in a challenge. If you want a platinum medal, you have to use everything the game gives you. This includes all of the upgrades for your captain and Oatchi, as even aspects as simple as increased plucking speed can make the difference between a gold and a platinum-ranked run.
This gets especially complicated when different Pikmin types are thrown into the mix. Ice Pikmin freeze enemies, but killing a frozen enemy shatters it. While this doesn’t seem like a problem initially, a shattered enemy can’t be cashed in by your Pikmin. You’re then locked out of a platinum rank. There are plenty of other similar challenges. These include deciding whether or not to freeze a body of water or use winged Pikmin and figuring out the best way to use purple Pikmin, which has the strength of 10 regular Pikmin. The simplicity of the concept of the Dandori Challenge allows intricacies to emerge based on the player’s progression through the main game.
But Wait, There’s More
Pikmin 4 only reveals its hardest challenges in the postgame, and Dandori Challenges are no exception. After completing a special requirement that I won’t spoil, you unlock the Trial of the Sage Leaf. It’s a gauntlet of 10 Dandori Challenges with unique goals. These challenges also change how Platinum medals work. You aren’t scored on the amount of objects you collect. Instead, you get judged on how quickly you can complete each goal. Suddenly, the skills you learn from previous challenges are put into new contexts. You have to adapt your playstyle again if you want those platinum medals.
Dandori is the Best of Both Worlds
Combine that with everything else, and it doesn’t take much to see how these challenges can become absolutely brutal. That said, there is no reason to get a platinum medal other than for completionists. You can easily save every Leafling and get every reward from the Sage Leaf with just a bronze medal.
I think that’s the core of what’s so great about Pikmin 4. It manages to appeal to both newcomers and lifelong fans like myself with the different ways it adapts its core gameplay. Dandori Challenges serve as both a change of pace from the regular gameplay loop and a nod to fans of the traditional Pikmin formula. The flexibility in how you play Pikmin 4 and the hidden depth in its core systems are probably some of the main reasons that it has sold so well. It’s either that or twerking Olimar. Who knows?