THE key theme of the real-time strategy game Pikmin 4 is ‘dandori’, a Japanese word that refers to the act of organising tasks strategically and working effectively to execute plans.

In this game, you play as a recruit in an intergalactic space rescue organisation, tasked with rescuing Captain Olimar after he crash lands on an Earth-like planet. You encounter Pikmin, who are cute half-animal, half-plant creatures that the player mobilises to locate key items, fight enemies, build bridges and traverse the environment. As it’s too dangerous to explore at night, the strategy of the game is too accomplish as many tasks with the Pikmin as efficiently as possible before the in-game day’s end.

Not a lot has changed in the core gameplay of this 22-year-old series, and one may wonder if the series had run its course after Pikmin 3 was released a decade ago. But after playing this for over 25 hours and enjoying both the small and major changes, this new instalment may have emerged as the best in the series. It’s a polished and technical marvel for the Nintendo Switch – the environments and characters look beautiful and the game runs well in both handheld and docked mode.

The levels are wonderfully designed and are a perfect size too. From the moment you lay your eyes on them, you have a joyous curiosity to explore, but also a sense of dread as you don’t know what awaits. If they were any bigger, they would feel frustrating and overwhelming. And it doesn’t end there as underground caves return from Pikmin 2, and there are also new tower-defence-like stages at night to help keep things fresh.

When you’re not trying to stop your Pikmin from being swallowed whole by enemies, you feel the serenity as you look at the environments, listen to the calming music and watch your Pikmin carry objects to your ship. It’s weirdly relaxing. The controls are very comfortable and once the large number of mechanics click, you’ll be throwing Pikmin into battle with ease.

RPG elements have been introduced, and you now have an adorable space dog companion named Oatchi who becomes stronger over the course of the game. He’s a great addition to the series as he has his own strength and weaknesses, allowing the player to learn over time the best time and place to have him with you and your Pikmin, or send him off to assist with multitasking.

Repetitive dialogue drags down the first couple of hours, which of course forms part of the tutorials too, but later on, the story becomes engrossing as you build your Pikmin army and your team of loveable space explorers in the hub world. The standard Pikmin gameplay is as addictive as ever, and once you’ve unlocked a handful of upgrades, levels, challenges and Pikmin types it’s hard to stop playing. It’s quite a long game too – there’s always something to do.

The only real downside to this game is its lack of challenge for veteran Pikmin fans for much of the main story, but it’s perfect for new players because it eases you into its many concepts. There’s an unlimited number of days and a newly introduced “rewind” feature to correct your mistakes. While you can choose to simply not use the rewind feature at all, its inclusion certainly makes this the easiest Pikmin game by far.

If you are after a challenge, you’re rewarded with post-game content which includes more levels and an extra mode that pays tribute to the first Pikmin game’s 30-day time limit. The latter puts the “strategy” in real-time strategy, as having a limited amount of in-game time to complete this mode gives it a satisfying stress that the rest of the story does not have. The game has trained you for this mode with its dandori challenges where you learn to manage your Pikmin more effectively. And that’s why dandori is so important – it’s integral to Pikmin 4’s great game design.

The Pikmin series has never reached the popularity of other Nintendo series such as Mario or Pokemon, but this is the most newcomer-friendly and accessible instalment yet, while also rewarding long-time fans. With the high install base of the Switch, the quality-of-life changes and the addition of Oatchi the adorable space dog, this is best-placed to be the breakout hit the series has deserved. If you’re finished with The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, give Pikmin 4 a look, because it’s a charming game that developers put a great deal of love into.

Pikmin 4 is out now on Nintendo Switch, with a free demo available to download. Review copy provided by Nintendo.