A blooming good first impression?
It's hard to play Pikmin Bloom and not imagine Shigeru Miyamoto smiling over my shoulder as I walk around my neighborhood planting flowers... And he might be considering Pikmin Bloom tracks your location while playing. Pikmin is one of Miyamoto's brain children, and just like his Mario or Zelda franchises you can feel the love that was poured into every Pikmin sized inch of this augmented reality game. That said, I hesitate to call Pikmin Bloom a "game" when it's moreso a fun wellness app at this time.
Developed by Niantic's Japan office in collaboration with Nintendo, Pikmin Bloom was released on October 26th 2021 and I have been playing since launch. I should also mention that I hit level 50 in Pokemon Go on April 9th 2021 and I've been playing that since its own launch, so I'm what you might call/probably won't call a seasoned veteran of Niantic's games. Well at least one of them.
It's easy to compare Pikmin Bloom against Pokemon Go considering they are both developed by Niantic and both Nintendo IPs. Thus it seems fitting to compare Pikmin Bloom's current barebones structure to Pokemon Go's lack of features in July of 2016. The key difference being that people were overwhelmingly excited for the launch of Pokemon Go. The the world of Pokemon fit into Niantic's real-life AR gaming strategy so darn well that people were stampeding to catch Gyarados regardless of that game's initial lack of content. Of course Pokemon Go has changed a great deal in the 5 years since its launch and this isn't a review of Pokemon Go.
So what exactly are Pikmin and are they blooming? Pikmin are adorable tiny creatures that carry stuff, but the blooming part takes a bit more time to explain. It's clear that the game has a central gameplay loop, which might sound a bit odd (and complicated) to describe. Essentially after creating your Mii you can start walking to plant flowers, and make no mistake that Pikmin Bloom's core mechanic really is walking. You walk to plant flowers, which then grants you expeditions that your Pikmin found during the walk. The expeditions reward you with either a.) seedlings which can grow into new Pikmin or b.) fruit that can be turned into nectar. Expeditions take a certain amount of time to complete depending on how far away you currently are from where your Pikmin need to travel. Once your Pikmin complete their expedition you then feed the newly obtained nectar to your Pikmin so that they will grow flowers, which you can then plant during your walks. The game doesn't get too much more complicated than walking to collect Pikmin and fruit, although you do eventually unlock mushroom battles at level 15 (this game's version of Pokemon Go's raid battles).
It's clear that Niantic has created a streamlined gameplay loop, but your personal experience might depend on how much you enjoy walking. The app does not explain much at all and initially I started to wonder what sort of end-game there would be, if any. There are very few tutorials in-game to explain the mechanics. However as I continued playing I quickly discovered that there were costumed Pikmin to collect sets of (shudders in 1,000 hat Pikachus). It wasn't until one of my purple Pikmin put a baguette around itself that I realized the end game for Pikmin Bloom is to collect all of the various costumed Pikmin.
There are sets of Pikmin wearing different outfits depending on where they came from - Some of the coolest ones I've encountered so far are from train stations and art museums. Not only is there the collection aspect, but you can also level up your friendship with Pikmin which in turn increases the amount of damage they can do in mushroom battles. Are costume collections and trying to min/max your Pikmin's battle stats enough to sustain the game in the long term? My opinion is no, but it's enough to sustain my interest for the next several months where I have to assume Niantic will update the game with new content. As someone who logs into Pokemon Go daily, I also appreciate that Pikmin Bloom is a somewhat passive experience - Giving you things to do based on your walks and not demanding that you always look at the screen. Just remember to start planting flowers before you head out for a walk.
Pikmin Bloom also wants you to play with friends, but I haven't actually played alongside anyone except for my wife who I forced to play with me (just like I forced her into Pokemon Go). I think if the game was going to blow up like Pokemon Go then we'd have local Discord servers for it by this point, but alas I really only discuss the game with my local Pokemon Go Discord server. The game does have a neat "play with others" option where you can see other players on the map if they also turn on the feature. I think the "play with others" feature is fun, but can 100% see where others would find that it breaches their privacy. Luckily it doesn't need to be turned on. Speaking of neat features, I also really appreciate that the game can run in the background and require absolutely zero interaction from the user while planting flowers and walking. For reference, Pokemon Go requires a physical Go Plus connected to Bluetooth in order to run in the background. If I had to pull my phone out to play while walking my dog then I guarantee I would lose either my phone or my dog... But maybe that's more of a reflection on how my dog behaves than a reflection on the game.
One last feature that I enjoy is the game's daily mood tracker - Every night around 9:00 PM Pikmin Bloom asks to rate your day either sad/neutral/happy. I've personally never kept a mood diary, so I quite enjoy the opportunity to try it through the app. My only hope is that Niantic eventually provides analytics on the mood information provided, or at the very least give us a way to export the data and build our own analytics.
On the life & death of service games
Another important item to consider... No more than 1 week before Pikmin Bloom launched, Niantic announced the closure of one of their other games - Harry Potter Wizards Unite (HPWU). In my opinion J.K. Rowling has utterly decimated the potential of the Harry Potter brand overall with her terrible opinions, but nobody would argue that HPWU had serious potential to overthrow Pokemon Go back when it launched in June of 2019. So while I'm optimistic about the coming months of Pikmin Bloom and updates with additional content, it's hard to shake the feeling that the app could also be dead in 2 years with no way to save your in-game progress or any money that you spend.
I actually don't think there's much reason to spend any money at all in Pikmin Bloom, other than perhaps you like the game and want to support the developers.
Within my local community, I'd say I'm one of the more enthusiastic adopters of Pikmin Bloom. Anecdotally speaking, I think people dismissed the app because they were unfamiliar with the Nintendo IP. Additionally, many Android users deleted it soon after starting because Pikmin Bloom was causing major interruptions to notifications. And that's beyond the near total lack of marketing that Niantic has put behind Pikmin Bloom. As for myself, I don't think I would even be playing Pikmin Bloom if I didn't take my dog for a walk 2+ times per day and have a backyard that leads into the local park.
So what can Niantic and Nintendo do to ensure Pikmin Bloom doesn't go under? I'd say the current status of the game is that it's more of a really fun health/wellness app that tracks your steps and mood than a full-fledged game. In my opinion it's pretty obvious that the developers need to look directly at the main series Pikmin games for features that they could add (and they probably are). For example, it would be great if we could battle against actual monsters instead of colored mushrooms. I really doubt Niantic would let our Pikmin die considering we can name them and build friendship with them, but I would absolutely love the higher stakes that come with Pikmin potentially dying in glorious battle. Maybe Niantic can add a way for us to revive a few Pikmin. Augmented reality CPR??? Hmm, maybe not...
Now 1 month into Pikmin Bloom I'm still having fun collecting the costumed Pikmin and building a small army, but I think unless Niantic has the drive to turn this into a more fulfilling game experience then maybe they'd be better off improving the health/wellness features and calling it a day. Niantic still has more games on the near horizon (see Transformers: Heavy Metal), but without some serious development it may be impossible for them to ever top Pokemon Go. And considering the billions made from Pokemon Go each year, I have a feeling Niantic doesn't particularly care about creating a game better than Pokemon Go.
Gamifies health and wellness activities more than any actual health apps
Very passive experience - Doesn't demand much time in your day
Currently not much end-game beyond collecting costumes
Very few tutorials explaining how to play