Welcome to the Mii Social Network
In March 2015, Nintendo announced a partnership with DeNA to bring games to mobile phones. Miitomo is the first app to be released under this deal. At first glance, Miitomo resembles Tomodachi Life, a 3DS game that lets you play, dress up, and interact with Nintendo’s iconic Mii avatars. However, upon further inspection, Miitomo represents a new kind of social network that happens to utilize Miis.
As implied by the title, Miitomo allows you to use your Mii as your avatar. You have a great number of ways to customize your Mii, from looks to voice to personality. While appearance and voice serve to distinguish your Mii from others, personality equates to a small profile that is displayed for your Mii and not much else. If your Nintendo ID is linked, you can even import your Mii.
You can dress up your Mii with a myriad of clothing options. However, clothes cost coins, so you are always limited by how much you can afford. As clothes are pricey and earning coins is a slow process, you will likely have to be picky with what you want to buy. In addition to that, there is a special shop that changes its stock everyday, so you may want to save up in the hopes of finding something good. Although it can be frustrating to come up short of affording that new cool shirt, this process works to bring you back constantly, enticing you with new gear and encouraging you to earn more coins. For those who absolutely must have a particular clothing set, Miitomo does support in-app purchases to use real money to buy in-game coins. Luckily, the process is so unintrusive that most people might never realize it’s there. Unlike Tomodachi Life, you can’t customize any other aspect such as your Mii’s room, hobbies, or love interests. Although it’s disappointing, it isn’t a big deal considering that the point of the app is the social function.
The Social Network
The real meat of this app is the social aspect. Unlike other social networks, which are usually more freeform and allow users to talk about anything, Miitomo guides conversations with questions. It begins with your Mii asking you questions such as “What did you do last weekend?” Questions are usually personal, but rarely deeply revealing. They could be thought of more as ice-breakers. Many questions are simple and ask what your favorite foods, colors, and TV shows are. Some are more conversational and ask about your relationships, hobbies, and jobs. On the deeper end of the spectrum are questions that ask what has moved you deeply in life, what the difference between beauty and cuteness is, and what you would say if you could travel back in time and meet your past self. There are unfortunately some oddly translated questions with a distinctly Japanese connotation. For instance, there is a weird question that asks how many flowers you can see blooming in your mind’s eye. What this question means is how many people you think you will date in your lifetime. This is most likely not what you intended to say!
You can answer questions however you want, provided you stay within the fairly generous nearly 200 character limit. Your answers could be short or detailed, serious or humorous, personal or vague. You could even answer completely off-topic or in another language. There are no rules dictating what you can and can’t post. In fact, unlike Nintendo’s practices when it comes to its own systems, you can say profanities and it will remain uncensored. However, keep in mind that anyone you are friends with will be able to read your answers. So if you are discussing your secret crush who happens to be on Miitomo, know that the conversation may take an awkward turn.
The public nature of these answers allows conversations to start between you and your friends. Your friends can like and comment on them, similarly to other social networks. The only difference is that in Miitomo, everyone’s Miis read aloud their own comments. This added charm makes social media feel more real as you are not just reading comments but also listening to these quirky Mii characters respond. Pronunciation may not always be correct, but Miis in general will say things correctly. Miis will even emote according to what words they say. For instance, saying “love” will cause hearts to sprout above a Mii and saying “cat” will give them a cat face. The discussions that ensue will depend on the relationships you have and the personalities of your friends. They can agree, debate, laugh about answers, or derail into memes and inside jokes. One of the best conversations I’ve ever had on Miitomo sprouted from simple answers like what my favorite lyrics are to a bunch of Miis singing the Pokémon Theme Song. Other highlights included sharing nostalgic memories of growing up with classic Nintendo systems and a bittersweet memory of leaving Japan somehow leading to a goofy conversation about how the main character of The Legend of Zelda was “Lonk.”
Fun with Friends
As with any other social network, mileage will vary depending on how often you and your friends use it and how interested you are in learning more about your friends. To get the most out of this app, I recommend that you limit it to friends who you know in real life or at least know closely online. Aside from answering questions, the app is also about listening to others’ answers and responding to them. If you are not interested in your random acquaintance’s favorite type of shoes, don’t add just anyone. You don’t get to choose what answers you get in your feed or in what order you receive them. Miitomo will decide for you. With a small number of close friends, you not only have to listen to fewer answers, but you are also more likely to be invested in each one. If you had the maximum number of 1,000 Miitomo friends and only 50 of them were your actual friends, you could go a whole day without a relevant response. In addition, you would have to sit through each question as it slowly loads and reads itself aloud. It is possible to use candy (which are prizes for logging in daily) to access specific answers to questions. However, instead of wasting a limited resource to hear from specific friends, it would be easier to just limit the app to those friends. It is generally the more entertaining way to experience this so long as they use it somewhat often. Plus, you will probably get to learn more about your friends since many of these questions do not come up in everyday conversation. And you will probably find more enjoyment in inside jokes and personal stories.
As previously said, mileage will vary and not everyone has the same feelings about limiting it to personal friends. Additionally, not everyone will have friends who will use Miitomo often or at all. If you do enjoy hearing about people you don’t know, then you can still use Miitomo as a sort of social message board of random topics. Miitomo could then function as a way to network, meet friends, and just spend time. Miitomo is great in allowing you to use the social network as you see fit, whether with personal friends or an expanded world of new acquaintances. Whatever your personal preference, Miitomo depends on the effort that people put in to keep it alive.
A small criticism is that you can only add people with whom you are friends on Facebook or Twitter. A third option is adding someone in the same room as you, but you are more likely to depend on the former two options. This is probably Nintendo’s way of saying you really should be friends with the people you’re adding (which makes sense given the personal uncensored information shared). However, when adding random people, giving them access to your other social network profiles allows others to see a personal side of you that you may not have wanted to share. Considering all you wanted to do was play a social app where you answer questions, needing to be connected in this way is perhaps a bit much. Interestingly enough, you cannot use your Nintendo Network ID or friend codes to add others, likely because people who you play with online may not be your close friends.
Miifoto is a fun little part of Miitomo that could have been its own separate smartphone app. Through it, you can make photos with up to 5 Miis using any background from your phone or a set of stock photos. You can animate your Mii, and you can also include any mix of outfits, expressions, stamps, and text in your photos. Overlaying Miis onto real-life pictures can lead to creative and funny situations. Being able to instantly share a Miifoto on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or via text message allows Miis to be an engaging way to share media. The ability to create and share these silly photos is likely to be the lasting feature of this app.
Finally, Miitomo Drop presents an alternate way to earn clothes in a pachinko-like minigame. By using in-game tickets or coins (earned from logging in daily and answering questions), you can take a shot at dropping a Mii from a claw and hoping that it lands on a platform with the clothes you want. The boards are tricky and filled with obstacles that try to prevent you from earning those clothes. However, if you win, you will be treated to a limited-edition, specially themed set. Miitomo Drop is an interesting way to collect unique prizes, but it is otherwise frustrating and not that entertaining on its own.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics are simplistic and use the same Miis that you’ve seen before on other Nintendo systems. It certainly looks acceptable for a smartphone app. Miis are as cute as ever, expressively making faces and displaying other special reactions when saying key words. Nevertheless, the graphics and interface are simple and user-friendly.
The music follows the Nintendo trend of easy-listening menu music. While you may not even notice it while playing, there are unique tracks for different menus. Calm tunes play as you answer questions, and a different samba song plays when a Mii is visiting your Mii’s room. The Mii voices depend on each user’s customized settings, but they generally have the computerized voices from Tomodachi Life. Overall, the sound design of Miitomo has that Nintendo polish that shows the care that went into this app.
How often you come back to Miitomo is entirely dependent on how much you and your friends put into it. If you put more into it and it’s reciprocated by friends, then this app will have lasting power. If you have friends who regularly answer questions and you find them interesting, then you will have lots to look forward to every time you log in. By continuing conversations through responding, each answer can become a new forum topic. It can get old when questions are repeated or the app runs out of interesting questions. Also, you may not be compelled to play for long periods at a time, but you can at least find enjoyment from breaks or lulls throughout the day. At the very least, trying to get good outfits from the daily shops and taking silly Miifotos extends the life of this app. Finally, by linking the game to a My Nintendo account, you can earn bonuses for doing daily missions, such as responding to comments, having answers liked by others, and changing your clothes. These can lead to real-life prizes so playing the minimum amount daily has some worth.
In the end, Nintendo’s first mobile game actually turned out to be a social networking app. Luckily, it is a well-made app that adds in the charm and quirkiness of Miis. It also guides conversation well by asking questions that are designed to break the ice and garner interest from others. Not everyone will find use out of it, and even people who use it much at first might fizzle out after some time. Personal enjoyment will also depend on your own interest in others and the proportion of close friends you have using Miitomo. Although I have tried experiencing it with both close friends and random people, I realized that my best Miitomo experiences were laughing and sharing inside jokes with an inner circle of friends. If you are able to find a good group of friends who regularly use Miitomo, then you are set to enjoy a fun app that will leave you coming back everyday!