The monolith that is Pokemon Go (which I last blogged about in 2019) seems to still be going strong even 5+ years later, whereas Niantic's Harry Potter game will be shutting down in a couple of months. Perhaps that's to make room for their latest release, Pikmin Bloom. It's hard to believe that it's also been more than five years since I played Pikmin 3 on Wii U, so just on that level it was fun to see the Pikmin back in a video game.

The NintendoLife review has a good run-down of what Pikmin Bloom is all about, but at its core it's basically very similar to Pokemon Go but with more of an emphasis on counting your steps. In Pokemon Go steps hatch eggs, whereas in Bloom they make seedlings grow, whih sprout into Pikmin. Rather than collect a ton of different species as in Pokemon Go, in Pikmin Bloom you gradually unlock the full roster of seven types, but based on where they originated they can unlock little costumes (e.g. a chef's hat if they were found near a restaurant) after you reach a certain level of "friendship". Collecting all the costumes will certainly take quite a bit of time, and there are a number of useless medals tracking your progress (e.g. number of steps, number of Pikmin grown, etc.).

The game ends up being about carefully balancing all of you inventory so that you don't max out your storage of any of them. You use nectar (gained by sending your Pikmin off to collect fruit), to feed to your Pikmin to get petals, which you use on walks to collect more fruit. And so the cycle continues. It's easy to max out your petals and nectar, and your storage of seedlings, but it will take much longer to max out your army of Pikmin (I've been playing for just under a month and am at 165 Pikmin out of a max of 300). Your Pikmin can also collect postcards of nearby locales, much like in Pokemon Go, and as with Go you also can gain some of the virtual currency (coins, at a drip slow pace) that can be used to unlock petals, nectar, or temporary slots to hatch more seedlings at one time. You'll have to use real currency to unlock more capacity for any of the inventory storage, though.

Overall Pikmin Bloom has been a genial little entertainment, although it cribs from Pokemon Go rather too closely, in all the game's mechanics, but even down to the interface and aesthetics of the in-game shop. NintendoLife calls it "a glorified pedometer", and they're not too far off there, but this is still an enjoyable experience overall and one that I'll continue using, if for nothing but at least to keep track of my daily count of steps. Right now raid battles are against inanimate mushrooms, but I'm guessing there's a whole schedule of features that will roll out over time, such as expeditions that require Pikmin of a certain type (right now all expeditions can be handled by Pikmin of any type) and raid battles against familiar Pikmin series enemies. The current set of features feels a bit basic, but over time this could grow (or should I say bloom?) into a much more worthwhile gaming experience.

I've had Pokémon Trading Card Game Online on my laptop for years, but aside from a few matches at the beginning I hadn't really spent much time with it aside from signing in occasionally to redeem the freebie codes that are given out periodically if you subscribe to the Pokemon emails. My nephew had gotten really into the physical cards and I'd played quite a bit of the Game Boy game, but it didn't seem substantially different than Yu-Gi-Oh, the only other TCG game I've really played.

It was only the threat of the game being shut down in order to make way for its replacement, Pokémon TCG Live, that I was kicked into gear and gave the game a closer look. It's been a while now that I've been much less into building my own decks and content on relying on theme decks, and the game has a daily challenge (e.g. knock out opponent's Pokemon with a fire type), a player levelling up system, and a vs. CPU mode that offers increasing levels of challenge, and those provided me with some motivation to play beyond just one or two matches. In addition, you're free to use any of the available theme decks, and those too feature a levelling up system where you have to win a certain number of matches in order to unlock all the cards in the deck. Of course, you can also play against real people, and there are one-off matches and on-the-fly tournaments you can join.

In terms of the game's mechanics, there weren't a whole of surprises for me since I stuck mostly to vanilla theme decks, but I think subsequent series and expansions introduce additional mechanics inspired by the video games. The game's interface works extremely well, and it's easy to keep track of everything that's going on, on your side of the board or your opponent's. It's fun to see the arwork and Pokemon characters on the cards themselves, although strategizing with the type advantages (which are a bit simplified compared to the video games as some types are consolidated together) seems a bit difficult given the big disadvantage the person with the type disadvantage has. I'm guessing there's some way that real life tournaments negotiate this deck selection process. Anyway, overall this was an entertaining enough diversion, although not hugely memorable. It turns out I have a bit more time to play this game if I want, as its successor has been delayed to next year. I don't expect that game to draw me in more than this has, but I'm sure I'll be checking it out at some point anyway.

I got a pretty decent laptop upgrade not that long ago, and so I thought I'd give the free to play game Genshin Impact a try. The game is a whopping 30+ GB to download and makes my laptop's fan go into overdrive, but it does look great and it plays smoothly. Even before its release the game drew comparisons to Breath of the Wild as the lush environments feel natural are realistic, but the similarities are a bit more than skin deep as you also have a stamina meter, the scenery is dotted with collectibles you need to gather for crafting and to use with the game's extensive cooking mechanics, there are small enemy camps all over the place that will net you minor rewards, and you can jump off of high places and glide down. These mechanics are all secondary to the other differences between the two games which are all major. In Genshin Impact you have a whole cast of fully voiced, anime style characters you can switch between, each with their own special abilities and upgrades and can equip weapons and items (which you'll also need to upgrade). You accrue a few characters through the game's story, but the bulk of your team will have to be earned through the game's gacha mechanics.

The game plays fine, but even after spending hours on it, I just didn't feel very invested in it. The game is generous with items to level up characters (although you have to hunt down special items to "ascend" them to unlock their level caps), but it's really gated by the "adventure rank", which is only upgraded via completing tons of missions. The bulk of these are little side stories that I just found to be all the sorts of things I've already seen hundreds of times before (e.g. looking for ingredients for a cooking contest), and I got bored of them pretty quickly. The story missions are marginally more interesting, but the game is set up so that you have to complete these other missions in order to get to the appropriate adventure rank to go back to the story missions. I'm guessing that many players get enough out of these missions and exploring the vast world (which I wasn't particularly interested in doing) and the combat system (which I didn't bother to master since I could just button mash my way through battles), but I just didn't feel like the game was unique enough to be worth my time. Perhaps it also doesn't help that the game is designed for the long haul. A year after its release, only two of its 8+ chapters have been released, and even after all the hours I'd spent on it, I still hadn't even finished the Prologue. I'm not saying that I need to have instant gratification or anything, but the story progression just seemed incredibly slow.

Overall I didn't mind playing Genshin Impact, but for me its long haul setup is a big turn off. I was astounded to see that after a year the game is "the third most financially successful mobile game in the world", but I guess I can sort of see its appeal for action RPG fans who find its anime trappings to be appealing. I don't really see myself coming back to this one for any extensive amount of time anytime soon, but I might log in for the occasional special event.

I'd been really impressed with the atmosphere and gameplay of The Voxel Agents' gentle puzzle game, The Gardens Between, so I'd downloaded their earlier, free-to-start puzzle game called Puzzle Retreat on my phone and recently fired it up. This is going to be a short "review", because Puzzle Retreat is a very straightforward sliding tiles type of game, which are a dime a dozen (although most are actually free to play or free to start haha). I think the the most recent game I played of this type was a game called Quell Reflect (also on mobile) from a few years ago, and the two have a similar laidback vibe. In this particular game your goal is to slide blocks of ice to fill the board, and a block will slide over already-placed ice blocks until it reaches an empty space. The game is easy to pick up and understand, and the game introduces new elements pretty steadily, such as blocks that spawn multiple blocks, arrows that change the direction of a block, and blocks that act as a "stop" block and prevent other blocks from sliding over them. I played through all of the first set of puzzles and a chunk of the next set (both free), but additional sets of puzzles cost $1 each. I felt like I'd seen all I needed to see, though, so even though it was a generally genial experience, I don't expect to be returning to this one anytime soon.

I enjoy a good rhythm game, and although Sega has put out quite a few over the years I don't seem to have sat down and played through very many of them. (The last one I can think of playing was the Wii-make of Samba de Amigo, which I played more than a decade ago!) I'd heard good things about their 3DS rhythm game Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure, and I've been playing it off and on. I finally finished it today, and although the game is enjoyable, there's not a whole lot to it. As many reviwers have noted, the game has a very Professor Layton-like presentation, although not as warm and compelling. The story is pretty standard fare, and although there's a decent variety in the types of rhythm games, every mechanic reappears several times so by about less than a third of the game's seven and a half hour's running time you'll have seen pretty much everything the game has to offer.

As with the aforementioned Samba de Amigo, in this game you have a meter that determines what your end rank is, and each stage is divided into three sections, and if you make just one or two mistakes in the final section you can quickly drop from an A down to a C or lower. I was able to pass every stage with at least the lowest rank with minimal effort and retries, which was fine with me, although people looking for more of a challenge would have to wait until they beat the whole game once, after which a hard mode for each stage unlocks. The game features a couple of extras, like single-card download multiplayer, and you can always go back and replay any stage to chase after a higher rank. Post game apparently there are also three bonus chapters, each with their own bonus stage. You earn each of the first two by finding all of a certain type of collectable within the game, and the last one unlocks when you get an A rank in all of the normal stages.

Overall this was an enjoyable game, particularly for fans of rhythm games. The references to previous Sega rhythm games (including Space Channel 5 and Samba de Amigo) were fun, and although this isn't an essential game in the 3DS's library, it does fill a particular niche and any rhythm game fans looking for something to play should enjoy it.