Dandori is a pretty simple word in the Japanese language. It simply means “plan,” “arrangement,” or “organisation.” A person that’s really effective at organising their time has good dandori. A person that is always late to meetings has poor dandori.
For most Australians, dandori isn’t that important. If I could charge people for the times I’ve sat around and waited for them to bother showing up for a meeting, I would be a very wealthy person. I, personally think that having good dandori is a case of good manners in such circumstances, but Australians are also notorious for having poor manners, so…
Anyway, the actual point here is that for the Japanese, dandori is a cultural philosophy that means a lot more than the basic dictionary definition. Being on time, organised, and having effective triaging skills are all critical for being able to manoeuvre around the Japanese lifestyle. As Pikmin 4 itself describes the extended philosophy as “dandori is the art of organising your tasks strategically and working with maximum efficiency to execute your plans quickly.” Pikmin is the most charming and wholesome implementation of a philosophy that can actually get pretty stressful that you’ll ever see, and Pikmin 4 is another excellent implementation of that concept.
To start with the negative, though, Pikmin 4 has so little new stuff in it. In the main game, anyway. Too many features don’t add much to what we already know about Pikmin. You get a dog-like creature as an ally (Oatchi), and while he’s cute enough, he doesn’t do much more than add a few new options to the game’s puzzles. Oatchi can ferry Pikmin across water, for example. His strength is equivalent to a few of the little plant-monsters by himself, and he can drag heavy objects around. All of that is fine, but he’s hardly revolutionising the basic Pikmin experience.
Similarly, some of the new Pikmin don’t offer much beyond some new puzzles. Did we really need an ice critter that could freeze bodies of water? I would argue not. On the other end of the spectrum, however, are the glow Pikmin. These do change things up a bit. In previous games you had to be back to your base by the in-game sundown, else you would be caught by the aggressive nocturnal beasts and your little Pikmin buddies turned into a snack. With the glowy guys, you can continue to explore at nightfall, and even collect new resources, but it comes at a much higher risk, because while the glow does allow you to explore, the monsters out there are still faster and more aggressive.
Pikmin 4 flirts far too close to being a “by the numbers” game at times, with the differences and additions to the formula being too subtle for any but the most hardcore Pikmin fan to appreciate. You’re still a tiny-sized space person exploring a human world that looks huge around you (like you’ve been hit by a shrink ray), and using the various Pikmin and their special abilities to open up new pathways. It’s all just a touch too familiar. But then you participate in your first Dandori Battle. I must admit I wasn’t too enthusiastic about these, since both Pikmin 2 and 3 had “competitive modes” that were quickly forgettable. But Dandori Battles are the real deal.
Dandori Battles are a far more pure implementation of the Pikmin philosophy. I would also have been genuinely happy to see the rest of the game removed just to focus on these. Rather than explore and solve puzzles to unlock new pathways, Dandori Battles are one-on-one competitive experiences where you need to work fast and collect resources scattered around an area faster than your opponent.
That sounds simple enough, right? Well, in theory, but Dandori Battles at their peak will really test how efficiently you can work. You need to split your time carefully between recruiting new Pikmin, using them to overcome obstacles, and then collecting the treasure. It’s a constant test of your ability to triage, because you’re going to constantly feel the need to do all three, and you’ll always have the ability to, but, moment-to-moment you’re going to need to make decisions on which move would generate the best outcomes at that point in time. Would spending some moments to gather more Pikmin boost your resource collecting speed enough to compensate for the extra seconds your opponent will have focused on gathering? Is there a way for you to wait for your opponent to deal with walls so you can spend some time focused elsewhere… knowing that you may give the opponent a slight advantage for the resources behind the wall? What are the shortest pathways and the most efficient resources to gather? At its best, those Dandori Battles test your ability to be efficient down to the second. Because of that, it’s such an excellent switch-up from the usually lethargic pace of the Pikmin main game.
What I find most enjoyable about those Dandori Battles, though, is the fact that they finally realise the potential for the Pikmin series to be “real-time strategy” games. For years the series has been classified as that, but they’ve been much closer to a time management/puzzle simulator. With the Dandori Battles, you do everything that you would in any other RTS. Sure, there isn’t the same violence, but being efficient in your resource building so you can steadily overwhelm your opponent. That’s fundamentally how Command & Conquer, Starcraft, Age of Empires and Warcraft worked.
Heck, it’s how MOBAs work today. A good MOBA player is an expert in dandori. What I wouldn’t give for Nintendo to build its Dandori Battles out into something with that kind of competitive infrastructure behind it… with the kind of workloads I juggle these days, I’m quite an expert in dandori too. This has the potential to be an esports thing that I could actually get invested in and do decently well at. Though, ironically, I probably wouldn’t be able to find the time to commit to an esports Dandori Battles experience…
I digress. The point is that those Dandori Battles really elevate the Pikmin 4 experience. Without them, what you’re looking at is a perfectly pleasant but too-iterative addition to the Pikmin series. However, with them, Pikmin 4 becomes the finest execution of the Pikmin philosophy to date. With any luck, Nintendo will see this as an opportunity for a dedicated spinoff, and continue to build on the excellent foundations it has established here.