App

Is it an app, or is it a game? We investigate Nintendo’s bizarre first entry into the smartphone market

Price: Free
Version: 1.1.1
Size: 61.9 MB
Platform: iPhone and iPad
Developer: Nintendo

app-store-badge
Nintendo, the gaming giant responsible for Mario, Zelda and Pokémon (to name just a few), has released its first entry to the App Store – somewhat surprisingly, it’s not strictly a game. Despite this, delve a little deeper and Miitomo is actually a lot of fun and only marks the beginning of Nintendo’s iOS output. With a reported four “proper” games to come later in the next year, how does this bizarre social communication app fare?

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Breaking the fourth wall: the Miis are surprisingly self-aware

The Miis (custom cartoon avatars) here are identical to those first seen on the Nintendo Wii more than a decade ago. It’s still fun to design a character, but it’s nothing new. Alternatively you can scan your face with your device camera to automatically generate a Mii, which outputs barely recognizable but very amusing results.

Once created, your Mii introduces itself to you – they can speak! – and thus begins an endless back-and-forth question and answer session with your friends’ own cartoonish avatars. Sometimes your Mii will return from a hard day’s socializing to show off weird and wacky photos it’s taken with its buddies. Customizing the characters with new outfits is a big part of the experience, and true to form they range from eccentric to adorable.

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Dressing your Mii for ‘style points’ is a surprisingly big part of the experience

The meat of this game is the social element – you definitely need a few friends on board to get much mileage out of Miitomo. Linking up with pals via Facebook and Twitter is quick and easy though, and once found your Miis will start to interact with one another. It’s social interaction by proxy; communication through a virtual third party.

Nintendo describes the Miis as “social go-betweens,” prompting responses on subjects that range from what you did over the weekend to your favorite type of bread. It’s a cute, unusual way to get to know your friends better, encouraging more direct responses than a conventional social network. The experience might sound tedious, but it’s presented with such offbeat charm it’s hard to remain cynical.

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Your friends will routinely pop by to tell you about themselves

Arguably the best feature of the app is Miifoto: a photo editor for your avatars, complete with stickers, speech bubbles and fun backgrounds. It’s a surprisingly good editor, easy-to-use with a lot of cool features. Miis have dozens of preset facial expressions and animated poses, plus you can add actual photos so the real you can interact with the Mii version.

Miifoto is funny and silly and has a lot of potential for making viral, super-shareable images, which you can track on Twitter via the #Miitomo hashtag. Expect to see these colorful, often bizarre images become commonplace on the web as the app gains popularity.

Just a few examples of the bizarre images you can make with Miifoto

 

There’s a lot to do in Miitomo, and it can be a little overwhelming. Tamagotchi-style Mii maintenance, social interactions, mini-games, missions, gifts, coins. Nintendo is great at hand-holding without being annoying, though, so you never feel purposeless. Even the load screens are adorable, as your Mii (or sometimes a friend’s) breakdances or shimmies or air-swims around the screen.

The closest to conventional “gameplay” the app gets it a section called Miitomo Drop, a mindless pachinko-themed affair in which you drop a Mii onto platforms to win items. Coins are used to make purchases and enter mini-games, which introduce a mild virtual currency element to proceedings. Compared with other “freemium” titles, though, Miitomo is easily playable without spending real money, and doesn’t push you to do so.

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This mini-game is purely luck-based

Ultimately Miitomo is a fun distraction, a lighthearted and very Japanese-style attempt at social networking. Although it’s not strictly a game, the app can be a lot of fun – especially if you can get your friends to join in. Despite the amount of content here, it may have a tendency to wear thin when the novelty wears off, but if nothing else we expect the photo editing features to endure. It’s free, so why not give it a try?

Review: Miitomo – Nintendo's bizarre gamified social network
Nintendo crams a lot of light-hearted, weird fun into its first app without any actual gameplay
For
  • Miis are cute and funny
  • A unique way to communicate
  • The photo editor is really great
Against
  • Only really works with friends
  • The mini-games wear thin quickly
4.2Overall Score