My mom calls it Bloomies.
Following the astronomical success of Pokémon Go, the mobile market has seen its fair share of competitors and imitators trying to capture the magic (and profits) of Niantic’s global phenomenon. Everything from The Witcher to Jurassic Park to Garfield has launched its own location-based AR experience, usually with mixed results. Even Niantic has tried to replicate its success with similar games based on Settlers of Catan and Harry Potter. But much like their competition, they didn’t fare too well against the popularity of Pikachu and Poké Balls.
Pikmin Bloom goes in a different direction. It’s a more laid-back experience, letting players focus more on walking rather than collecting or battling. Where Pokémon Go might ask you to stop moving every 100 steps to catch a new ‘mon for your collection, Pikmin Bloom encourages you to keep on walking to get that step count higher and higher. If that makes it sound more like a fitness app than a game, well, that’s because it is.
Pikmin Bloom (Android [reviewed on a Google Pixel 3a], iOS)
Developer: Niantic Inc.
Publisher: Niantic In.
Released: October 27, 2021
MSRP: Free-to-Play w/ Microtransactions
Pikmin Bloom can best be described not as a game but as a companion app to your phone’s built-in fitness tracker. After you create your Mii in the app (or import it from your My Nintendo profile), you’ll be given the task of simply walking around your town or city, planting flowers as you go with Pikmin in tow. You’ll start with just one, but as you get out and move, you’ll find more Pikmin seedlings waiting to be plucked into existence. Like with the eggs in Pokémon Go, each seedling requires a set amount of steps to be walked before they can be pulled from their pot and added to your crew. The more you walk, the more you level up, and the more Pikmin you can have following you around in the world.
As you and your Pikmin walk, they’ll come across various fruits that are converted into nectar. Feed the nectar to your Pikmin and they’ll sprout flowers on their head. Pluck a petal from those flowers and you can plant it the next time you go for a walk. The color of the nectar you feed them determines the color of the flowers that you can grow. The idea is that you and people in your neighborhood will plant enough of these digital flowers as you go to make your town look like the flower dress from the end of Midsommar.
What’s nice about Pikmin Bloom is that it doesn’t expect you to keep the app open while you walk. Though you will need to boot it up if you want to plant flowers, you can close the app and carry on with your routine knowing that it’s tracking your steps and GPS location. Even if you don’t open it for a day or two, it’ll still keep track of your movement. If your phone already has a pathetic battery life, believe me when I say this is not going to help things. Ever since I started using the app, I’ve had to charge my phone an extra time each day to keep it from fully draining.
When you are done walking for the day or just taking a break in the afternoon, you can open the app to see all the pieces of fruit your Pikmin have found on your journey. Converting that to nectar will let them pick up more fruit the next time you get walking. As you level up, you’ll also be able to send them on expeditions to pick up any large fruit or seedlings you passed throughout the day. The further away the item is from your location, the longer the expedition will take, though, from my experience walking around my town, it’s never more than a 20-minute wait for them to return. If I still lived and worked in the Bay Area, I’m sure it would be a different story.
After you hit level 15, you can also send your Pikmin out on missions to destroy any mushrooms you crossed along the way. This will take a bit more time, but you are rewarded with more fruit upon completion. Mushrooms can be taken down alongside the Pikmin of other players, and if you can find anyone else using this app where you live, you’ll have to let me know what that’s like. I am, as far as I know, the only person in my town bothering with it right now. And I’m sure everyone just assumes I’m playing Pokémon Go when I stop on the sidewalk to take an AR picture of my Pikmin crew.
I’ve used Pikmin Bloom every day for more than a week now and I’m having trouble finding any reason at all to recommend it. Besides eating my battery faster than Joey Chestnut eats hot dogs, it’s a rather pointless app. This is nothing more than a gussied-up pedometer with non-intrusive microtransactions that is slower to load on your phone. It doesn’t have the excitement of discovering new types of pocket monsters on your journey or seeing the structures your friends have created in the now-defunct Minecraft Earth. Instead, it’s hoping you’ll care about beautifying your fake neighborhood with fake flowers (and the word “beautifying” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there).
Maybe for some, Pikmin Bloom will be a cute app they use with friends to track their steps and share photos of their Pikmin out in the real world. It certainly has the cuteness factor going for it. All Pikmin games do. But what it doesn’t have is a strong motivating element that’ll drive players to get out and explore the world. It’s fine that this is a more passive experience than other location-tracking games, and I appreciate that it works with my routine rather than forcing me to carve time out of my schedule to fit it into my life. But if my only reward for keeping the app around is a nearly dead battery and a flat map covered in flat flowers, I’d rather just stick with seeing my step count in Google Fit.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game downloaded from Google Play]