When I try to sum up Miitomo, Nintendo’s first-ever mobile app, the best way I can think to do it is The Sims meets OkCupid (for kids). You’re picking cute outfits and accessories for a digital version of yourself or someone else depending on your preference (as in The Sims) and answering all kinds of random personality questions to help other folks get to know you (just like dating site OkCupid).
In typical Nintendo form, some design features are bizarrely clunky, others are intuitive and clever. Let’s break it down.
What Can You Do?
The app starts up by asking you to design a Mii of yourself. You can make your Mii look however you want, and you don’t need to use your real name. The Mii design process is very similar to designing your Mii on a Wii or a Wii U, and it works really well on a smartphone. It’s complex enough that you probably won’t run into another Mii that looks like your own, but it’s simple enough that you don’t have to worry about the small size of your touch screen.
In Miitomo, you also get to design a voice for your Mii and pick some basic personality traits. I had a lot of fun dragging around the Pitch and Depth graph to create a voice that sounded—well, not very much like my own, but not terrible either. The personality stuff is pretty simplistic, but it was a nice addition.
Once you’re all set up, you have a few options. You can answer questions about yourself, like “What is your favorite food?” or “What did you do last weekend?” (You can skip any question that you want). You can go clothes shopping to stock up your Mii’s closet with a bunch of mix-and-match-able outfits. You can go listen to answers posed by your friends and leave comments on their responses. You can play a strange mini-game called Miitomo Drop that’s kind of like pachinko. Or you can take silly photos (“Miifotos”) of your Mii in strange poses.
Miitomo awards you with coins or game tickets for completing missions like changing your outfit every day or responding to the questions asked by other Miis. You can give hearts to your friends’ answers or read comment threads and listen to the various Miis speaking to each other in their customized robot voices. The speech software is actually pretty good and has been able to pronounce almost everything I throw at it. It also recognizes certain words and will have your Mii do an animated motion to go along with what you’re saying. This usually works pretty well, too.
Important note: Right now, Miitomo does not have a profanity filter. That’s expected to change soon, but if you or one of your friends drops an F-bomb, it will show up like any other word.
Why Do You Do It?
Like answering questions on OkCupid, or like designing a family of Sims, it’s just fun. A lot of the entertainment value for me came in creating my initial Mii design, but there is something really absorbing about listening to your friends’ answers. Sometimes your Mii will ask someone else to answer a question about you, and that’s fun too. It’s nice to see how well your friends know you.
The thing about Miitomo is that it’s useless if you don’t have in-game friends because you can never talk to someone who is not an approved friend. There are a few ways to friend someone: You can connect Miitomo to Twitter or Facebook (which is where most of my friends came from), you can connect face-to-face, or you can send requests to suggested friends. Miitomo will only suggest people that you have mutual friends with.
This friending system, integral to the game experience, is possibly the biggest win Nintendo has gotten from the entire app. I don’t know about you, but before Miitomo, I had about five Nintendo Network ID friends. In one day of playing Miitomo, I had 15 friends. In two days, I had 40. All kinds of people are popping out of my social woodwork to connect on this app because the more people you connect with, the more interesting the app becomes.
What Can’t You Do?
Miitomo is not really a game, but as soon as you compare it to social apps like Twitter or Facebook, the interface seems dismally inaccessible. Your notifications are listed all together with updates from all of your friends, so it’s hard to quickly see if someone has actually commented on a thread that you’re following. There are just too many steps involved between every interaction. It’s not streamlined in the slightest, and after a few days of playing with it, I admit that I began to get bored.
But, Nintendo had already gotten what it needed from me—I have a Nintendo social network now, and we have been connected for the explicit purpose of talking about Nintendo products. When future games and apps come out down the road, my network will be incredibly valuable to Nintendo’s marketing campaigns.
And I don’t mind. Miitomo has only been around for a few days, and I get the feeling that lots of changes are just around the corner. (I, for one, hope there will be options to decorate your room in the future.) Smart touches, like giving the shop new clothes every day or rotating out different game boards for Miitomo Drop, will have many users curious to check back in from time to time. And even while you’re gone, your Mii will continue to “talk” to its Mii friends, ready to report back whenever you return.
Should You Get It?
Do you want a cute-but-clunky interface for chatting with friends and dressing up virtual dolls? Then go for it. But even if you don’t, there may be good reason to download this app.
Miitomo is a sign of change at Nintendo, a small window into future business plans that we’re only just beginning to glimpse. Nintendo is finally finding a way to make social gaming work for them, and I’m pretty excited at the opportunities this will afford for future console experiences. There’s no question in my mind that the best way to build your personal Nintendo network right now is by downloading Miitomo. Down the road, you’ll find that you already have all the connections you need for an awesome game of Splatoon 2, or whatever Nintendo announces for their next console.
Plus, you can wear a dress made out of pancakes. That’s enough for me.