It has been a few weeks since Pikmin Bloom landed in the UK, its arrival coming alongside the untimely demise of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Pikmin yellow, Pikmin blue; out with the old, in with the new, I suppose. You do have to wonder that if HP couldn’t replicate the magic sauce of Pokémon Go, how can a game based off one of Nintendo’s more niche titles? Will this just be pruned in the same way a year from now? Only time will tell.
The good news is that unlike Wizards Unite, Bloom is not trying to be the next Pokémon Go. While there are stark similarities, such as real-world points of interest (POIs) being objects in the game and some virtually identical gameplay systems, the needle has swung the other way with regards to player demand. Where Wizards Unite demanded and commanded your constant attention while out on a walk, you can quite happily open the Pikmin Bloom app and throw your phone in your bag when you leave the house.
By this metric, Bloom is more of an AR experience than a game, and a fairly calming and relaxing one at that.
“So, what do you do in Bloom?” I hear you ask. The long and short of it is that your Nintendo Mii walks around the overworld with you, tied to your phone’s GPS tracking. Along the way, you pick up Seedlings and chuck them in an incubator slot in your bag. After a set number of steps (1000, 3000 or 10,000), a Pikmin will pop out and join you on your adventure.
Feeding your Pikmin nectar will make it sprout petals that you can then pluck and use to grow other flowers. Those flowers make Big Flowers (the aforementioned POIs) bloom, giving you more nectar to feed your Pikmin — and so begins anew the endless play loop.
This combines with the level-up mechanic where, once you’ve walked enough steps and completed a banal task like hatching a Pikmin of a new colour, you gain a new level and unlock a new gameplay mechanic or Pikmin colour.
Once you get enough Pikmin, you can send them off on expeditions (fetch quests) and challenges (raids). These are both automated, and I often start them, chuck my phone on my desk and play another game while I wait for things to happen.
If you think this all sounds rather dull, you’re not wrong. It’s far less compelling than Go, especially as you can’t go out and hunt the monster of your choice. You just walk.
And yet, this does Bloom something of a disservice. It’s nice to have a game that you’re not glued to for once. Pokemon Go and Wizards Unite both require constant attention to do things properly. Bloom, on the other hand, you can open two or three times per day and be perfectly happy. If you’re into walking but want to avoid constantly being drawn to look at your phone, that alone is probably reason enough to download Bloom and give it a shot.
There are other things to do in the game, of course. Interacting with your Pikmin causes them to raise their friendship level. When this maxes out, you can send the Pikmin out to pick up a Gift at the location where it was hatched. Said gift contains some sort of outfit, which they don and — if it’s a new one — add to your Pikmindex, for want of a better word.
While these are vaguely cute and amusing, you have no agency over what they pick up, which makes filling out your compendium an extremely time-consuming task. Whether this delights or abhors you is obviously going to split the room. What’s worse is that trying to find this compendium in the UI is a Sisyphean task.
Pikmin Bloom may well be an interesting experience, but sadly it’s not a great game, and it’s certainly not without its flaws.
Of course, being a Niantic game means that it is buggy as all hell. I’ve had the app crash my phone so hard it took several minutes to reboot — this happened three times in the first week, and I continue to get crashes. Niantic has also had to patch up issues with notifications simply not appearing – I even had notifications from other apps on Android not work because Bloom was interfering with them – and the game at times refused to count steps, which was all kinds of frustrating in what is effectively Pedometer: The Game. Again, there have been a couple of updates fixing some problems and mitigating others, but there are still issues that really get in the way.
Last but not least, the game also has design flaws and problems with communication — again, something that Niantic is not only known for, but renowned for. The case in point here is the in-game economy. Nowhere in the game is it explained that you need to plant 500 flowers within a single session to pick up one free coin, up to a maximum of 30 coins per day. That’s something you just need to figure out for yourself.
Gather enough coins and you can buy stuff from the shop. Ignoring the stuff you can pick up by playing normally, it’s a whopping 150 coins for a single-use hatching slot in your bag. Add to this the fact that expanded storage for Nectar, Petals, Pikmin and Seedlings are all independent cash-based microtransactions at £1.99 each, and you have yourself raising one eyebrow. Most games like this have a way to play and earn, but not in Pikmin Bloom.