Pikmin Bloom, a new Niantic Nintendo game, is now available
After the meteoric success of Pokémon Go, Niantic’s upcoming Nintendo-owned AR smartphone game will try to be a little quieter.
Today, the two companies are launching Pikmin Bloom on iOS and Android, based on a series of quirky games for Nintendo consoles. While Pokémon Go asked players to collect the game’s eponymous monsters in real-world hotspots, Pikmin Bloom is a more passive affair, in which players can grow Pikmin plant-like creatures whenever they walk around.
It’s the result of a three-year collaboration between Niantic and Nintendo, and an example of how Niantic wants to filter the world through the prism of augmented reality. Instead of trying to create virtual realities like Facebook, Epic Games, and Roblox do, Niantic thinks games like Pikmin Bloom can make the physical world slightly more pleasant.
“It’s about bringing things into the world that give it a certain flavor, a certain sensation,” says John Hanke, founder and CEO of Niantic. “And I think Pikmin’s a great example of this.
Why Niantic chose Pikmin
Of all the Nintendo properties that Niantic could have used for his latest game, Pikmin is not an obvious choice.
While the series has grown a modest fan base since the original Pikmin launched on the Nintendo GameCube in 2001, it has never enjoyed the enormous mainstream appeal of THE Legend of Zelda, Animal crossing, or any game featuring Mario. The Pikmin Console games can also be quite stressful, with players having to strategize how to best use their Pikmin for resource gathering while avoiding dangers and facing a timer.
Still, Niantic turned to Pikmin as he discussed potential game ideas with Nintendo. Madoka Katayama, director of UX design at Niantic Tokyo, said the studio knew early on that they wanted to create a game around daily walks and the journaling of life. The Pikmin creatures, which emerge from the ground growing flowers on their heads and rallying around the player, seemed like a natural fit.
“We loved the concept around Pikmin, the way they build things for you, they collect things for you, and we felt it worked really well with Niantic’s principles and vision,” said Katayama said.
Compared to console games, Pikmin Bloom is decidedly more relaxed. While walking around, players can view a map of their surroundings and look for seedlings that grow in Pikmin over time. The little characters will then follow the player and deliver items to them, and players can feed the Pikmin by feeding them nectar. Eventually, they will sprout flowers on their heads, dropping pedals that will turn into flower gardens for all other players to see.
Some elements of the game will still recall Pokémon Go, which challenged players to research rare Pokémon and compete with the rest. Players will occasionally see opportunities to collect special Pikmin that are not in their walking path, and Niantic plans to host community events where players can congregate and grow flower gardens together. (The monetization system will also be similar, with players able to purchase seeds and planters to grow Pikmin faster, and Niantic hasn’t ruled out advertising as a future possibility.)
But for the most part, the game will focus on harvesting the fruits of more walks. The walking process is what keeps Pikmin characters growing, and at the end of each jaunt, players can view a step count as well as a map of their route. They’ll also be able to take daily notes with text and photos, and send Pikmin-themed “postcards” to friends with photos they’ve taken throughout the day.
“We really wanted to make sure it was something that was not only desirable for the players, but also for the non-players as well,” Katayama said.
The unobtrusive nature of Pikmin Bloom– and the franchise’s obscurity compared to Pokémon – means it’s unlikely to cause the kind of frenzy that led to 500 million Pokémon Go downloads in the first months of its launch. Still, it feels like the project fuels broader goals for both companies.
Hanke says Nintendo was much more involved in development Pikmin Bloom than he was with Pokémon Go, which was a three-way collaboration between Niantic, Nintendo and The Pokémon Company. While Niantic handled all game design on it, this time Nintendo shaped both the basic game mechanics and character design. Even Shigeru Miyamoto, who created the Pikmin series and, more specifically, classics like Super Mario Bros. and THE Legend of Zelda– provided an entry.
So for Nintendo, maybe Pikmin Bloom is a chance to reframe a Miyamoto franchise that never had much love. Hanke notes that the two companies have become “collectively excited” about making a new Pikmin game because of how it fits into Niantic’s walking companion concept, and that of all Nintendo’s contributions, his attention to the characters stood out.
“I think the characters and the character design, as well as the importance of making the characters themselves so naturally attractive, cannot be understated,” Hanke said. “I think they are masters in this area.”
As for Niantic, Pikmin Bloom is an attempt to establish a new style of augmented play. Pokémon Go widely taken after Niantic’s first game, Entrance, and 2019 Harry Potter: Wizards Unite followed a similar mold. (The Potter game was also critical for its lack of original gameplay and blocked shortly after launch, while Pokemon Go is still popular.)
Instead of creating another hyper-competitive localization game, Pikmin Bloom try to be augmented reality entertainment for everyone. It’s a way, says Henke, for people to “make the world better” with digital objects, rather than a constant distraction.
“It’s specially designed so that you can pay a little attention to it and then put it in your pocket,” he says.
Whether this idea will resonate with a large number of players has yet to be tested, especially without the naturally addicting hook of catching Pokémon in the wild. But just like the Pikmin themselves, Hanke believes audiences will naturally increase over time.
“I think he’s going to find an audience that is going to make us happy,” he says.