Image: Nintendo Life

Last year we looked at the dormant Nintendo franchises we'd like to see return on Switch, and our desire to see any or all of those series again still burns strong in 2020. With Nintendo's biggest money-spinners having received a Switch entry already, it's now time to bring back some of the company's cult-classic IPs for a well-deserved encore.

However, there was one game we didn't even mention on that list, the main reason being that we've 'recently' had a Wii U entry as well as a 3DS spin-off, so the franchise couldn't really be described as 'dormant'. Still, after several years of vague statements (and very explicit statements) regarding its existence, Pikmin 4 still hasn't landed on a Nintendo console. In fact, it seems to have disappeared entirely. Miyamoto did say it was nearly finished... or did we dream that?

Has Pikmin 4 simply gone into hibernation, waiting to blossom when the time is right while other games jump the queue? Has it been scrapped entirely or restarted like Metroid Prime 4? Come with us as we take a look at the history of the game and explore some theories regarding its absence. Where is it hiding?

The evidence to date

Before we start deducing possible causes for its continued absence, it's worth looking at the facts and solid evidence proving the existence of Pikmin 4. As you'll see below... there actually isn't any. Nope, not so much as a single screen or leaked logo - just the word of one reclusive developer you may have heard of...

Direct from the dev’s mouth. — Image: Nintendo

These days Nintendo is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to commenting on projects in development. On the whole the company tends to only announce games coming within a year. There are notable exceptions such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (and its upcoming sequel) and Metroid Prime 4, but discussion is invariably focused on games we'll be playing in the next 12 months.

So, when Shigeru Miyamoto casually mentioned during an interview with Eurogamer in 2015 that Pikmin 4 was "actually very close to completion", we all got rather excited. No, the information wasn't coming via a Nintendo Direct trailer or official PR blurb in our inbox, but when the father of Mario himself says the Pikmin team has nearly wrapped up a previously unannounced game, one assumes he's not just getting ahead of himself or mixing up the words 'nearly finished' and 'only just thought about'.

A year later he stated to Game Rant that Pikmin 4 was still being worked on, although he had struggled to fit it onto Nintendo's "list of priorities". With Nintendo gearing up for a new console release the following year, Pikmin 4 seemed a good bet as a launch year title for the console we'd come to know as Nintendo Switch.

Skip to a couple of months later and Hey! Pikmin was announced for 3DS. After some initial confusion it was established that it wasn't Pikmin 4. Indeed, Miyamoto joked when speaking to Eurogamer in mid-2017 about the status of the numbered sequel, no doubt referencing the tension he had created behind the scenes by referencing the unannounced project:

"I've been told not to share anything about this from PR," Miyamoto laughed, "but I can tell you it is progressing."

'Progressing' it may have been, but since then it's been all quiet on the western, eastern or any other front where Pikmin is concerned. This very month we've heard rumours of a potential Switch port of Pikmin 3, and Nintendo's removal of the official North American Pikmin 3 website fanned the rumour flames. It’s puzzling, though, why Nintendo would port Pikmin 3 to Switch if the sequel was nearing completion four years ago.

It's a poser.

So then, where is Pikmin 4?

Image: Nintendo

Close to five years after Shigeru Miyamoto first mentioned it, and seven years after Pikmin 3 on Wii U, we're still none the wiser about Pikmin 4 or where it has gotten to. Having dipped into its history, it's time to start theorising as to the third sequel's whereabouts. Tin foil hats at the ready!

Theory #1 - It's a hilarious misunderstanding and Pikmin 4 never existed

Shigs and giggles
Image: Nintendo

One possibility is that Miyamoto was telling a big fat porky pie or joking when he said the game was nearly completed. Maybe his humour got lost in translation, or the master developer is also a master of deadpan, to the point that nobody realised he was joking at all. Horrifically embarrassed and desperate to save face, he decided to fast-track the game the moment he got into Nintendo's Kyoto offices the Monday after E3.

Likelihood: 0/10 - Miyamoto's been around the block enough times to know not to joke or casually drop unannounced projects into conversation. It's one thing to say "we're considering a potential sequel, although we're only in preliminary planning stages" and quite another to say - out of the blue, remember - that a previously unannounced game is "actually very close to completion". PR nightmare or not, it's unimaginable that Miyamoto was simply having a laugh. Yes, we ravenous video game fans can be humourless pedants with no sense of irony, sarcasm or joy, but come on!

Theory #2 - Pikmin 4 was taken back to the drawing board, Metroid Prime 4-style

Please Understand
Please understand... that we would have gotten away with this if it wasn't for 'Motor-Mouth' Miyamoto.Image: Nintendo

When asked about other franchises that we haven't seen for ages, the response from Miyamoto or other developers is usually that they'd need some new direction or hook to warrant a new entry in Fan Favourite Series X. That fits in nicely with Nintendo's desire to keep offering new experiences, so perhaps Pikmin 4 simply wasn't up to snuff.

Likelihood: 4.372/10 - This sounds somewhat plausible, especially when you look at Pikmin 3. It's a fine game, but it's also hard to argue it accomplishes much more than the glorious Pikmin 2 hadn't already two generations previous on GameCube. The GamePad is an obvious addition, but stylus input wasn't an option at launch and most players favoured the precision of the good ol' Wiimote and Nunchuk anyway. In fact, HD graphics were arguably the most impressive addition Pikmin 3 brought to the table. We're not complaining - that fruit never looked so juicy! - but mechanically it certainly wasn't a Pikmin paradigm shift.

Bearing all this in mind, it's not inconceivable that after three very similar games Miyamoto realised the version of Pikmin 4 nearing completion didn't offer anything 'new' - just more Pikmin. Frankly, we'd be happy with 'just' more Pikmin - more competent, lovely Pikmin. See also F-Zero, Wave Race, etc.

Theory #3 - Hey! Pikmin was actually Pikmin 4

Oi, Pikmin, Nooooooo
A case of mistaken identity? — Image: Nintendo

Hey! Pikmin was developed by Arzest, the studio behind games such as Yoshi's New Island, and the game released in July 2017 to average reviews. As a little Pikmin-flavoured platform experience it wasn't awful by any means, but it was the Pikmin game absolutely nobody asked for. There were fears that this was the Pikmin 4 to which Miyamoto was referring. Maybe he was using Hey! Pikmin's working title?

Likelihood: 1/10 - Slim to non-existent. In addition to Miyamoto stating Pikmin 4 was still progressing after the announcement of Arzest's game, there's also nothing in Arzest's CV (which includes the 3DS port of Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and Streetpass Mii Plaza) to suggest the studio would be given the keys to the 3D Pikmin series proper.

Theory #4 - Pikmin 4 is actually an unannounced mobile game

We said when Miyamoto first made comments about Pikmin 4 that there was a very slim chance that it could be a mobile project related to the then-new DeNA partnership Nintendo had announced (which is also when Iwata mentioned the existence of 'NX', the console that would become Switch, to assuage fears that Nintendo might be exiting the dedicated hardware business).

Likelihood: 2/10 - As we said at the time, we don't see Miyamoto bigging up a mobile version of any Nintendo franchise by making it a numbered sequel to the main series - and especially not one as close to his heart as Pikmin, which has always been his baby. We imagine stalwart fans would also respond poorly to this, too. Can you imagine? "PIKMIN 4 ANNOUNCED... for mobile". Oof.

Theory #5 - Pikmin 4 became something else

You all remember Super Mario 128, right? The tech demo where 128 Marios ran around a deforming sphere? That name became something of a legend, the near-mythical 'sequel' to Super Mario 64 which disappeared as other projects like Super Mario Sunshine saw release. But where's Mario 128?? the internet pleaded. We're sure you could ask some people today and they'd tell you that Nintendo is secretly beavering away on the true sequel to Mario 64 even now.

The reality is that it was simply a GameCube tech demo and that tech found its way into a variety of other games, perhaps most notably the original Pikmin. Maybe the code that made up Pikmin 4 was disseminated into other games we've been playing on Switch. Which ones, you ask? Erm..., well, Cappy in Super Mario Odyssey? Er..., the extendable ARMS tech, perhaps!? Yeah, we know that's a stretch.

Likelihood: 2/10 - There'd be something poetic about the series which benefited from the demise of Mario 128 paying it forward to other games, no? Seems unlikely, though, and there are no obvious candidates, either. The whole Mario 128 debacle came at a time when Nintendo's messaging often wasn't so hot (right around the same time as the 'Celda' controversy) and since then the company has got much more savvy when it comes to managing expectations and very clearly labelling things.

No, we're confident Pikmin 4 is still 'A Thing'™ and is not the new Mario 128.

Theory #6 - Pikmin 4 will arrive in 2040

Image: Nintendo

The original game came out in 2001. The sequel landed three years later in 2004. Pikmin 3 gestated for nine years until it launched in 2013. If this pattern of tripled development time for each entry continues, we'll see Pikmin 4 sometime in 2040, 27 years after the last sequel.

Likelihood: hahahahaaa... C'mon people, have a day off.

Theory #7 - Pikmin 4 keeps getting bumped to the development back burner

Pikmin might be have a solid following, but it is not a system seller. It would be disingenuous to describe it as a cult classic - each of the mainline games has sold over a million copies - but it certainly doesn't have the mass market pull of the Mario or Zelda franchises. As Nintendo's take on the Real Time Strategy genre, it's always going to have a smaller audience than Nintendo's tentpole series, regardless of how cute, engaging or critically-acclaimed the package.

Compare the original game's 1.6 million sales - the highest achieved by the series to date - with the 22.96 million copies of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sold (so far), or 17.68 million units of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and it's easy to see why even Miyamoto finds it hard to prioritise Pikmin over more profitable projects.

Likelihood: 8/10 - The least interesting explanation is probably the most likely. Looking at the first-party offerings over the first three years of Switch, Nintendo has hit all the right crowd-pleasing notes: launching with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild out of the gate and following up with Super Mario and Splatoon 2 within a few months, all the while bolstering the lineup with some choice Wii U ports and a continual supply new software. Pikmin simply wasn't at the top of the pile. Until now, perhaps...

Theory #8 - Surprise! Pikmin 4 is coming to Switch in 2020

What The

One of the benefits of Nintendo only discussing games coming relatively soon is that we don't have to wait until E3 for huge announcements - a megaton Nintendo Direct could drop at anytime. It's one of the reasons that Nintendo's rather blank slate for 2020 (post Animal Crossing: New Horizons) doesn't concern us too much. 2019's schedule was looking similarly tumbleweed-y until the Feb 2019 Nintendo Direct when all hell broke loose, and 2019 turned out to be a scorching year on Switch.

So, with that in mind, could Pikmin 4 be a lovely 'surprise' coming soon in 2020?

Likelihood: 7/10 - Stranger things have happened and the timing couldn't be better. With all Nintendo's tentpoles established on Switch, now's the perfect time to unleash Olimar on a new planet. The New Play Control Wii ports aside, Switch provides a far more prosperous foundation for Pikmin to flourish on than either GameCube or Wii U. Perhaps on Switch Pikmin would finally gain the mass following it arguably deserves.

So, will Pikmin 4 be seeing the light of day anytime soon? We can but hope. With 2020 ripe for announcements, it would certainly slot in beautifully to Switch's diverse library but we'll have to wait and see what Nintendo has in store. If the worst comes to the worst, we'll pester people at E3 2020 for an update.

Are you desperate to play Pikmin on Switch? Would you be content for a reheated Wii U port or would you rather wait for a full-blown Pikmin sequel. Why do you think we haven't seen it yet? Feel free to share your personal thoughts and theories below.