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'Pikmin Bloom,' an AR step counter to improve your daily walk, is so simple it's magic

Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

The metaverse is hard to define because it's not one thing so much as an acknowledgment that our lives, too, are always on — that is, plugged into some piece of tech or a virtual world. I quite like "Pikmin Bloom's" thesis that our future isn't defined by the virtual worlds we disappear into so much as the combination of the real and the digital to enhance the one we live in.

I recognize that may be in part due to my current mind-set, where my emotional exhaustion is simply craving play and conversations in the real world rather than sliding deeper into screens, texts, DMs, emails, swipes, social media and any other poor substitute for actually connecting.

"Pikmin Bloom" isn't extremely communal, but when we walk we can plant flowers with others who may be doing the same and see them appear as avatars on our screen. A small thing, but a reminder that we connected and are out of the house beautifying a digital representation of our world. I like to think that it's an argument that tech can be beneficial — walking! exercise! — and that even our online selves are interested in self-improvement.

I haven't spoken too much about "Pikmin Bloom's" augmented reality attributes, but that's largely because the tech here isn't much advanced from "Pokemon Go." Yes, it's cute to take a pic of Pikmin under my Christmas tree, but they're more like stickers implanted in my world rather than characters truly interacting with it. The real-world digital mapping that Niantic has been fine-tuning is far more impressive, and that's why I found this step-counter so appealing.

At the end of each day, we're asked to rank it on a scale from frowny face to smiley face. While mine is mostly frowny faces these days, my Pikmin are still excited by the sight of a lemon and eager to show me a picture they took in front of a Spring Street mural while out grabbing a green apple. Adding gamification techniques to a pedometer is not an original idea, per se, but sometimes we need a reminder that our world is full of wonder rather than a notification to simply stand up.

Now I find myself stopping wherever my Pikmin stopped and looking more closely at the local building or monument where they chose to snap a pic. This weekend after a trip to the farmers market I also found myself taking a moment to admire the fruit I bought and imagined its journey to my home. This game is awfully excited about apples, for instance, so I suddenly found myself more in tune with their colorization patterns.

Ultimately, what I found with "Pikmin Bloom" is the reminder that right now I don't want a game to show me a new world; I want a game to rekindle my love for my own.

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'PIKMIN BLOOM'

Publisher: Niantic

Developers: Niantic, Nintendo

Platforms: iOS and Android smartphones

Price: Free-to-start (in-app purchases are available)

More information: pikminbloom.com

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