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Pikmin 4 does some truly weird things with the series' story

Leaving its timeline up for debate.

Pikmin 4 artwork showing a bulborb enemy attacking.
Image credit: Nintendo / Eurogamer

On its surface, Pikmin is a cute strategy game about growing little plant people and gathering treasure. Delve deeper into its lore, however, and you'll find fans debating the series' apparent commentary on human extinction, and all sorts of timey-wimey shenanigans going on to make its many story elements match up.

Spoiler warning: the following article discusses endgame details for Pikmin 4.

Before Pikmin 4, I'd never spent much time trying to make Pikmin's setting make sense. It's based on Earth, obviously, though a version with different animals and no humans in sight. And yet, you can still run around and find evidence of human existence - and seemingly very recent human existence at that, with freshly-baked food and other objects simply lying about. Are humans extinct, or have we all simply popped out for tea? It doesn't really matter to the simple stories Pikmin games tell.

Fans believe there's something behind all the spaceship crashes across the Pikmin series.Watch on YouTube

Now, however, Pikmin 4 is making fans pay attention to its timeline because of some rather odd things it has decided to include. (Also, because Pikmin 4 probably has more story in it than the previous games combined.) For starters, Pikmin 4 presents, via text logs from the lost Captain Olimar, something of an alternate version of Olimar's initial crash from Pikmin 1. You can read about Olimar encountering Pikmin, Onions and familiar enemies for the first time, and later on get to play this all out via an alternate Pikmin 1-like flashback story where Olimar races to repair his spaceship, on what he describes as an entirely "unknown planet".

There could be a very simple explanation for all this. And the simplest explanation is - Nintendo really doesn't care too much about Pikmin's story, and doesn't want to confuse new players down by explaining that actually Olimar has already visited Earth multiple times before across Pikmin 1, 2, and 3. And, initially, yes - there's enough wiggle room that you could explain away Olimar's storyline here as having taken place after Pikmin 3's ultimate ending - which sees him headed back to Earth once more.

A Pikmin 4 screenshot showing Olimar's dream, foreshadowing Pikmin 2.
A Pikmin 4 screenshot showing Louie dreaming of Golden Pikpik Carrots, foreshadowing Pikmin 2.
Pikmin 4 text logs foreshadow the events of Pikmin 2, suggesting these are yet to occur - or have done so in an alternate timeline. | Image credit: Nintendo / Eurogamer

But the more you play Pikmin 4, the more you can't handwave some truly odd things going on. Olimar's later logs begin detailing his dreams - including one which specifically foreshadows the plot of Pikmin 2, where his company's financial ruin sends him to Earth in desperate need of resources. Olimar states that such a thing would never happen. Later, a log from his counterpart Louie also references Pikmin 2, and more specifically sets up the fact its events are yet to occur. Here, we see Louie dreaming of consuming the rare golden Pikpik carrot - something which triggers the events of Pikmin 2 to begin.

The events of Pikmin 3 are also foreshadowed. In that game, a trio of scientists head to Earth and bump into Olimar while attempting to solve a food resource crisis on Koppai, their home planet. In Pikmin 4, you can chat to another trio of Koppai scientists - who are stated to share family connections with those from the previous game - and learn that Koppai's food crisis is yet to take place, though there are warnings it could occur in the future. Additionally, one of Pikmin 4's music box treasures plays Pikmin 3's main theme - which Olimar notes is like hearing "a warning about unexpected troubles in the future".

A Pikmin 4 screenshot showing Koppai scientists discussing family members seen in Pikmin 3.
The events of Pikmin 3 are also referenced, with the suggestion being they are still to come. | Image credit: Nintendo / Eurogamer

All of this places Pikmin 4 as something of a retelling of Pikmin 1, and a precursor to later entries - leaving fans to debate whether this is an all-new timeline, whether future games could retell elements of Pikmin 2 and 3, or branch off on an entirely new tangent.

Nintendo itself recently touched on the curious timeline of Pikmin 4 in its brilliant Ask the Developer interview series for the game. "Even if you're not familiar with past titles, you'll be fine," Nintendo's Yutaka Hiramuki says at one point, when asked if players will need to have played previous games to understand what's going on. "Of course, we've put thought into developing features that add to the fun for players of the previous titles, so they've got plenty to look forward to. As for the story's timeline, I'll leave that to players' imaginations. (Laughs)"

Well, players are certainly using their imaginations - and taking a leafmin out of Nintendo's own book to try and work out what's going on. Pikmin wouldn't be the first Nintendo franchise where alternate timelines are needed to thread everything together, of course - with Zelda requiring a convoluted three-pronged timeline route to stitch everything together. Fans are now drawing their own for Pikmin 4.

Where does this leave the Pikmin series in the future? Well, the fact Nintendo included these hints at the series' timeline has encouraged fans to hope they'll find out more in the future - either through expansions to Pikmin 4, or a new instalment of the series (though here's hoping Pikmin 5 doesn't take another decade). Fans want to know what's next, and why the series' timeline appears to have shifted. There's discussion, too, of the series' vague hints that something is behind all of the various ship crashes across the four games to date. Some fans believe one of the series' more otherworldly bosses is to blame, while my personal headcanon is that it is, somehow, the Pikmin themselves - and that they are seeking someone to come in and guide them, as they slowly become Earth's new dominant race.

Or maybe there is nothing to it. After all, Pikmin is just a cute game about plant people and treasure - right?

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