News on Niantic’s latest AR title has been scarce recently. The company first announced the project back in March but has been relatively quiet about the app since. For this iteration of the developer’s familiar formula, the Pokémon Go creator partnered with Nintendo to make the titular creatures in the Pikmin series your walking buddies, and it looks like they’re ready to take their first steps.
The newly titled Pikmin Bloom rolls out in select regions today, with its worldwide release coming in the following days. I took a stroll with the upcoming title recently and got a sense of its early gameplay. So far, Pikmin Bloom feels like a gamified exercise app as opposed to Niantic’s Pokémon Go which feels more like a mobile game that happens to involve walking, and it seems like this is what the creators were going for. Niantic Tokyo Studio director of UX design Madoka Katayama explained in a recent preview event that the game’s goal is to enhance your typical walking experience. So, if you’re already hoofing it to school or work, Pikmin Bloom is there to make your journey more delightful. The app nails the charming feel of the Pikmin series, and the helpful plant-based beings are just as adorable on your smartphone as on Nintendo platforms. Whether that makes its gameplay compelling is still questionable.
You begin Pikmin Bloom by setting up your avatar, though the range of customization is limited to a few pre-created options. Even before getting into the meat of the experience, it’s easy to see how the game captures the original IP’s pleasant mood. The music is gentle, though upbeat, and the recognizable sounds of the Pikmin are as endearing as ever.
First, you receive red Pikmin seedlings. By planting them in your special Pikmin-growing backpack and walking the specified amount of steps, you’ll grow fully-formed creatures. If you are a fan of Pokémon Go, this process works a lot like egg incubators. These Pikmin can then follow along with you on your excursions, finding more seedlings or picking up fruits along the way. Harvesting these fruits for nectar allows you to feed your little group some snacks and make the flowers on their head grow, giving you a supply of flower petals.
Flower petals fuel the game’s most unique aspect: planting flowers. When you open the app and have petals on hand, you’re able to turn on flower planting. This will leave a trail of blooms behind you, helping your Pikmin grow faster and marking your path as you wander through the real world. Other players in the game will be able to see these blossoming pathways and add their own flowers. This comes in handy when you come across a giant, unopened flower bud in the game. So far, I’ve seen them appear in places that are also Gyms or Poké Stops in Pokémon Go, and Pikmin Bloom’s version of these locations asks players to plant a certain number of flowers in the designated space around the large, closed bloom to make it blossom.
At the end of each day, the app will catalog your daily steps, award achievement badges for things like growing a set amount of Pikmin and give you the option to make a kind of memory log with notes and pictures. Your actions convert into points that help you level up; reaching higher levels grant perks like letting more Pikmin join your active walking squad, unlocking different colored creatures, or gaining a few useful items.
I’ve only had a short time with Pikmin Bloom, but my initial impression is there isn’t much to do, though that might be by design. You are not actively searching for anything, and there’s no combat. In fact, if you connect the game to a fitness app to record your steps in the background, you don’t really have much reason to open the game except to pluck Pikmin out of your backpack or turn on flower planting. It’s entirely possible that might change as you level up, and Niantic has promised a monthly Community Day, which may add more to the gameplay. However, if daily walking is already a part of your routine, or you just want to lead a herd of leafy buddies on a stroll, Pikmin Bloom will add a dose of cheer to your day. The game is out on Android and iOS as a free app in Singapore and Australia today, and the creators promise Pikmin Bloom will release in other regions soon.