First Look: Pickmin Bloom, Niantic’s Walktastic, Pokémon GO Sequel, Today’s Soft Launch

Image: Nintendo / Niantic

If golfing is the best way to ruin your walk, Niantic hopes that Pickmin Bloom, the long-awaited sequel / sister title to the wildly successful Pokémon GO, is meant to create the exact opposite – something that “spices up your daily walks” and transforms your daily outing into something full of flowers and joy. Spreading globally “in the coming days” through a phased launch starting today in Australia and Singapore, it was developed by Tokyo studio Niantic in direct collaboration with Nintendo and is more of a style app than a “game” in design.

When Pokémon GO becomes an obsession, Pikmin Bloom, according to Niantic CEO John Hanke, is software designed for fit in instead of fighting for attention in everyday life. In it, you collect seeds on the go, grow picmins by placing them in a backpack with an incubator pedometer before collecting them, name them (if you like) and add them to your little army of hunter-gatherers.

We were invited to a Zoom group meeting with Hanke and Madoka Katayama, Head of UX Design at Niantic Tokyo Studio, where they talked about the ambitions of this new app and the wide audience they hope to attract. Chestnut “ages 8-80” was involved in the discussion of the target demographic, although after spending time with the app in beta it definitely became clear that this is a much broader experience than even something like Pokémon GO. Pikmin Bloom is a very enjoyable walking app that counts your steps and gently promotes the mental and physical benefits of getting out of the house and back without having to catch them all.

In addition to seeds, Pikmin periodically collects fruits as you walk and they turn into nectar – by attracting the attention of your small squad with a whistle (in AR mode, if you like) and feeding them nectar, the bulb on their head begins to bloom and produce petals. The petals are used to activate the flower trail (with a corresponding high spirits) that remain wherever you go and offer several benefits. First, the longer you plant the flowers, the greater your seed growth bonus (and therefore the faster your Pikmin seeds will grow). Secondly, if you leave a trail of flowers around the giant plants in your area – analogous to Poké Stops in this game – they will bloom too. You can do it yourself (if you want to walk in circles for a while) or join other blooming blooms to bloom.

Pikmin Bloom is a very enjoyable walking app that gently promotes the mental and physical benefits of getting out and about without having to catch them all.

While the app is a far cry from Nintendo’s mobile version of the RTS series, it is packed with adorable audio clues and cute animal moments that first attracted Pikmin to GameCube owners back in 2001. It is obviously no coincidence that Pikmin Bloom is launching a soft launch on the 20th. anniversary of the franchise. In fact, you will be forgiven for thinking that Niantic had been holding this bank for months and they were just waiting for the pandemic to die down to launch their walking app at a time when players could, you know, freely walk. However, Hanke informs us that while it has been in active development for a long time, the launch was not delayed due to COVID-19 – it just took a while for this seed to germinate.

The team apparently experimented with different Nintendo IPs for a long time to find the most suitable one. Hanke and Katayama did not elaborate, but one can only imagine that Animal Crossing was another series with quite wide popularity. However, we are told that the most “famous” IPs are not necessarily suitable for a game that needs to interact and interfere with the real world, and Pikmin was obviously a natural choice.

Pikmin app for Android
Image: Nintendo / Niantic

When you launch the app, you will be asked to create a Mii avatar from a limited palette that will be visible to other users if you choose (like your flower trail, although you can turn off public visibility). The idea behind these visible elements is to convey the “footprints and feelings” of other players and to encourage collaboration in a shared asynchronous world, although you don’t need to participate in either if you prefer not to. …

After playing the beta of the game, we didn’t have enough time to explore every aspect, and the various elements are closed off by a level system that unlocks as you complete tasks and register steps. We were told that you can send your Pikmin on expeditions to obtain items, but the general flow of growth-based gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has hatched an egg in Pokémon GO, although pulling Pikmin out of their backpacks is endlessly more fun than knocking on egg.

The familiar way to drain your battery when you’re out is perhaps less welcome, but mileage – and battery life – will be different. If you link the game to your phone’s health and pedometer apps, the steps you take when the app is closed will also count towards your grand total. Unfortunately, the game is very much tied to your StepsThis means disabled people with disabilities will have to shake their mobile devices for these seeds to germinate.

This diary style life journal element transforms the experience into a cross between a game and a Memories slideshow from your Photos app.

Lifelog is another aspect that sets Bloom apart from GO – it is a daily summary of not only the steps you have taken, but also your mood and memories captured using photos taken from your Camera Roll (if you grant access). This diary-style element turns the experience into a cross between a game and a Memories slideshow from your Photos app. Also mentioned are special costumes for your picmin that we haven’t seen in the game yet. In fact, dare I say, Miitomo’s softest scent is at the very edges of this app. It may be the Mii avatars, but the life journal and postcard mechanics (where Pikmin will retrieve postcards from the places you visit) are small but key indicators of the game’s vastly different ambitions.

In fact, as Katayama points out, Pikmin Bloom is actually not as similar to Pokémon GO as you might think. Monthly community days are planned, but if the games have anything in common other than of course basic technology and map data, it’s a sense of exploring and collaborating with strangers. The only level of competition here is bragging about your level, the medals you unlocked, or the flower trails you left around.

A notorious design weakness for Pokémon GO is that it relies on noisy urban environments to function at their best, and Niantic has sought to address this issue here by making “conscious decisions” to make the game more accessible to players in remote areas. Monetization seems to be very much in line with Pokémon GO’s approach to Pokécoin – speed up seed growth by purchasing an extra doohickey, but extra petals, nectar, and disposable seed slots and the like.

We are told that Bulborbs may be included in the future and you may even lose your beloved Pickmin.

We’re told that Bulborbs could be included in the future and you could even lose your beloved Pikmin, although the director struggles to say they don’t “die.” She also mentions the possibility of a new, previously unseen Pikmin in the game. But for now, it’s all about delivering flowers and building a small army of plant buddies.

Which is okay. We have so far enjoyed playing very nicely as a little accompaniment as we wander around town. We don’t foresee legions of Pikmin fans coming together to plant flowers in the same way that Pokémon GOers meet to fight in raids and catch rare pocket monsters, but as a minor addition to your daily outing, Pikmin Bloom was extremely enjoyable.

Again this word: pleasant… It sounds like a curse with faint praise, but it’s rather unusual for such an ambitious release to be so bold and deliberately secondary to the player. We’re used to games – at least the most famous ones – taking over our lives, feeding on our unhealthy impulses, and draining our vitality with addictive mechanics that turn one-more into seventeen more. In many of these experiences, there is an inherent anxiety, a little panic that you will miss the opportunity or fail. My God, what if I don’t catch them all ?!

Pickmin Bloom is the complete opposite of this; obviously happy just to be there when you need company or a little distraction on a gray day while you’re on an errand. With its ease of use, the app makes a good first impression and feels like a welcome breath of fresh, floral-scented air to enjoy on a busy autumn walk, especially after you’ve been locked up for most of the past year. It remains to be seen if its widespread appeal can turn into something of the financial success of its stablemate, but we’ll definitely be taking a walk through it in the coming weeks and months.

Provided, of course, that our battery can handle it.

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