Even though I’m doxxing myself with these little plant creatures.
I take a quick walk around the block between work meetings, and my avatar and his crew of Pikmin do the same, except they plant flowers as they go. I trudge up the deceptively hilly corner thinking about my to-do list, and my digital gang skips merrily along with me. Looking at my phone and the virtual game map that echoes the real world, you can see the trail of flowers we’ve left behind as we’ve traveled. That map and those flowers are viewable by anyone playing the game, and it’s easy to trace their path right back to my house. I could turn that feature off, but I’m the only person playing the game in my area and I kinda like that I’m some weird, digital lonely castaway leaving a decorative trace of my existence to would-be rescuers.
Pikmin Bloom springs from a partnership between Niantic, makers of Pokémon Go and other large-budget location-based games, and Nintendo, whose series of Pikmin games debuted in 2001 and have appeared on various video game consoles over the years. I haven’t played any of the Pikmin games, but I’ve always understood the franchise to be respected, even adored. Even so, with the spare details that came with the announcement of this game, I was curious to see what Pikmin Bloom would turn out to be.
Well, to put it simply, Pikmin Bloom isn’t much of a game, but more of a fancy pedometer for your phone. In these blog posts I usually try to avoid detailed explanations of a game’s mechanics because that’s boring to read, but with Pikmin Bloom it’s a short enough list that I’ll just barrel on ahead. You collect seeds, plant those seeds, and after a certain number of real-life steps those seeds grow into Pikmin that you add to your gang. You can feed your gang nectar and they’ll sprout flowers you can harvest (and you can later plant those flowers as mentioned earlier.) You can send Pikmin out on “expeditions” where they’ll fetch more nectar-generating items, or quirky costumes that they’ll wear. There are a couple more things you can do that unlock at higher player levels, but that’s the core of it; gameplay boiled down into a single paragraph.
And you know what? It all works pretty darn well. Sure, I’d prefer that mythical, lovingly-crafted narrative-driven location-based game that I’m always pining for, but at least it’s not another “slot-machine” game that’s meant to drain dollars from you forever and forever. Pikmin Bloom is a simple experience that requires very little from you. I check in maybe once a day, and sometimes go a week without opening it.
Mainly I’m spurred on by the game’s notifications about how embarrassingly-few steps I’ve taken in a day. The demands of work and parenthood (with a big ‘ole pandemic mixed in) mean that I can’t always do something about it, but after seeing that I barely cracked a thousand steps yesterday has driven me to take multiple long walks today. That’s probably a good thing.
When location-based game behemoths like Wizards Unite and Minecraft Earth are getting the axe for not being profitable enough, I wonder what future holds for an app like Pikmin Bloom.
Nevertheless, I appreciate its clear-headed design. Pikmin Bloom was purposely made to not be very demanding, and to emphasize basic healthy behavior. For at least the foreseeable future, I’ll keep covering my neighborhood with enough flowers that it’ll be hard to track them back to where I live.