Tag Archives: Calum Bowen

If you play Pikuniku, you’ll get free money (not really)

With a name like Pikuniku, you’d think this game would be harder to explain or some kind of Pokemon offshoot, like Hey You, Pikachu!. It is, in fact, deceptively simple, and that’s not at all a bad thing. Weird, for sure, but weirdly simple, and I’m sitting here smiling just thinking about it. Before you read anything further, I highly suggest you put this game’s soundtrack from Calum Bowen on.

Right, so…Pikuniku is an absurdly wonderful puzzle-exploration game that takes place in a strange but playful world where not everything is as happy as it seems despite all the bright colors and bouncy tunes. You play as a “monster” from a cave and must help out a number of peculiar characters overcome struggles, uncover a deep state conspiracy, and start a fun little revolution in this delightful dystopian adventure. Down with robots, as they say, and don’t let the free money bit fool you; when it comes to money, nothing is ever truly free.

The main thrust of Pikuniku is its platforming, which I can liken to things like Night in the Woods and LittleBigPlanet. A bit floaty, but you can still get to where you need to go and, if not, try jumping on a tree, cloud, or citizen for extra reach. After that, there are several light-hearted puzzles to deal with, but none of them are overly complicated, and the same can be said of the boss fights, which are fun and easy, grandiose even, and that’s all good. I’m not a huge fan of splatformers–I just started to play Celeste, and I don’t see myself getting too far up that mountain–and sometimes I just want to jump around in a relaxing fashion and explore the world leisurely without being chased by some nightmarish monster or having to have super reflexes when it comes to pressing buttons and landing on teeny-tiny platforms.

As the red “beast,” you can run, roll, and kick things, and the animations for all these actions are smooth and hilarious to see happen. Plus, you can put different hats or cosmetics on the main character to change its look and perform specific abilities, such as the watering can hat that lets you water flowers to reach new areas via jump-pads. There are coins to collect, along with trophy statues and small scenes involving bugs, but all these are just that–collectibles. The world is full of fun characters to interact with, ranging from web-spinning spiders to round worms to people that look like they came straight off the pages of the Mr. Men books. The dialogue is goofy and enjoyable, and it is worth chatting with characters just to get a vibe for how they live in this world, and you’ll occasionally get a dialogue choice though it definitely doesn’t make a big difference overall.

Alas, I did not get to try out the co-op mode of Pikuniku, but that’s okay, as I can only imagine it being slightly frustrating considering the somewhat non-precise controls for steering your character and hitting rocks around. But it’s there if you want it. The main story mode is only a few hours long and pretty linear, and I played through it in multiple phases, usually pausing after a boss fight; a part of me wanted to go back and find all the hidden collectibles, but I didn’t get a sense that anything would truly come of it…so I’ll leave those for others to gather up. I wonder how many hats you can get, too.

As it currently stands, Pikuniku is one of my favorite games of the year so far. It’s delightful. It’s quirky and embraces its strangeness, and I love that. Don’t be surprised when it shows up on my end-of-year GOTY list.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #22 – Pikuniku

Start revolution
Against tyrant, free money
Bouncy jumps, tunes, talk

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Winnose, a surreal puzzle game starring half of a moai statue

winnose final thoughts copy

All right. Deep breath. I’m going to do my best to explain Adult Swim’s Winnose without sounding like a complete crazy goof loose on buckets of acid, but it’s going to be a tough crawl. See, the great Winnowing has devastatingly split the world in two, including you, a moai statue, causing your flower to lose some precious petals. Hopefully you can find your missing pieces and get the world back to a more relaxed, unified kind of life, though that might require a little time-traveling. Spoiler: that’s not going to be a problem.

Created by Todd Luke and Calum Bowen, Winnose is undoubtedly a surreal experience. A fever dream come to life, one you just can’t stop bobbing your head to. It’s half a puzzle game and half a chance to show off its fantastic, flighty soundtrack, ranging from a soft, acoustic lick sung to you by a chicken to an eclectic mix of percussion and culminating with a bouncy, hyperactive J-pop track set out in space. Not lying about any of those things, I swear. This game goes places, carrying you on clouds of strange and unique sounds, certainly ones I don’t get to hear too often.

Playing Winnose is actually quite simple in that your control scheme is limited. You can move around in four directions only via the arrow keys…and that’s it. There’s no jump, no attack, no hold X to charge up your sword for a killer swipe, etc. The main gameplay goal is to reach the screen’s exit; enemies move according to specific patterns or special rules, and the moai head just needs to get by them without making contact. It’s pretty easy in the beginning, but the rules eventually stack, and there’s a lot more to consider later on as you enter and exit different portals. Regardless, I never got stuck for too long, and trial and error works well enough for figuring out the exact path you need to take to move on.

There’s a strange theme in Winnose, and I’m not even talking about its psychedelic, shroom-munching lining. No. There are constant references to, obviously, noses. First and foremost, the name of the game. You hear someone sneeze in one of the early songs, two tracks are called “Snot My Problem” and “Calm Before the Sneeze”, and the final boss battle has you…well, it’s again, without spoiling that truly special moment, related to sneezing. I don’t know if I missed something earlier, but I guess I can only take away from all this that the Winnowing was caused by some giant sneeze. Or maybe it all means something more.

But yeah, if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind experience and have an hour or two to kill, I urge you all to play Winnose. It’s free and can be sampled in your browser over at Adult Swim’s game page. I evidently missed out a chance to do a super secret speed run after beating it, so I’ll probably be going back real soon; really, I’ll take any excuse I can get to lose myself in this colorfully bizarre state of an underworld, where the beats never stop, not even after you pull yourself together.