It’s really strange how Nintendo (and equally ourselves) can hype up their products and software so grandiosely and excitedly, only for all of that hype and excitement to die equally as suddenly only days later. Miitomo is no exception.
Leading up to the release of Nintendo’s game-cum-social-media platform and their first foray into the mobile phone space, you, me and your best friend’s grandmother were hotly anticipating Miitomo. Nintendo fans were foaming at the mouth to discovering that the Japanese release of the game could be sideloaded onto devices weeks prior to the western launch. It even supported multiple languages (including English) before reaching Western shores.
Just over a fortnight into Miitomo following its launch in the west, and as a Nintendo fan who didn’t have the means to sideload the Japanese release early, I’ve already hung up the questions and the cute Mii voices. I saw everything of substance that Miitomo had to offer within the first few hours of the initial installation, and the meager selection of outfits and arcade games can’t keep this app afloat for long. What’s the issue here?
When starting Miitomo, you’re given the option to create a brand new Mii, or if you’ve ever made one (and even more conveniently linked a Mii to your Nintendo account,) to simply import your old Mii straight into Miitomo.
When Nintendo first released the idea of a customisable avatar to the masses during the Wii era, Nintendo demonstrated that they were still full of amazing, fun and practical ideas. The creation of the Mii allowed your games to house a very small portion of your childish spirit, and have it manifest within your favourite games as an avatar of yourself. Mii creation was so successful for Nintendo that the Mii creation suite was carried over to the 3DS, Wii U and now Miitomo almost identically to how it first appeared on Wii back in 2006. Not a whole lot has changed in regards to Mii creation because not a whole lot needed changing.
The issue with Mii customisation in Miitomo is that it still does a fantastic job of showing just how well Nintendo can do customisation, and then contrasts horribly with the clothing and other customisation systems within the game. Nintendo got it so right the first time that it makes their subsequent work look sub-par.
The sorest feature missing from Miitomo is the ability to customise your own room. You’re dropped into a bland room in which you’re given no options to revamp it. You can create your own Mii, but you can’t create a personality around them. It’s the most obvious feature that just hasn’t materialised, and shows no signs of arriving ever.
A huge part of Miitomo is the ability to customise your experience. The number one issue that I have with Miitomo is that acquiring new outfits and accessories for your Mii is arduous, busy work. Miitomo works by asking users questions about many aspects of life. Questions such as favourite colours and favourite foods are asked of users, and sent to friends of the user, delivered with adorable little synthesised voices a-la Tomodachi Life. These answers can then be commented on and liked, with branching questions asked of those who respond to these answers to these questions.
Miitomo gives out coins for each of these actions, but the quantities given are abysmal. Coins are earned in batches of up to 15 at a time, a limited number of times a day. Without explicitly counting, I would estimate that coins are earned at a rate of approximately 100 a day at the maximum.
Meanwhile, the average outfit in Miitomo can cost between 3,000 to 6,000+ coins.
Nintendo describes Miitomo as a game that is “Free-to-Start”, a term that they have coined in order to differentiate between Free and Freemium games with as much transparency and honesty as possible, but strangely enough at no point have I ever been prompted to purchase coins using real world funds, or even alerted to the fact that the in-game currency was purchasable at all.
I honestly needed to double-check that fact in the research leading up to the writing of this article (left).
I’m not one to argue that microtransactions are a must-have in all games, but I’ve come to accept their existence. Strangely enough, Miitomo is clearly a game that was built with microtransactions in mind, but for the life of me, it seems almost as if the coins, rewards, in-game store and microtransactions were an afterthought. The proportions are skewed and I’m not getting that cute dress for my male Mii anytime soon. Even winning items is stupidly convoluted and expensive...
Miitomo introduces a small minigame called Miitomo Drop into the equation as an alternative to buying clothing from the store. You can pay 500 coins per play, or alternatively use a free Miitomo Drop ticket that are occasionally given out as daily log-in bonuses or gifts.
Each one of these plays allows you to drop a Mii character into a large pachinko-like machine. If you land on a clothing item, you win the item and get to choose the preferred colour scheme. If you ”fail” a drop, you reach the bottom of the machine and more often than not land on some candy, an alternative ‘currency’ that you can use to hear specific answers to specific questions by specific friends.
The issue with this model is that plays are incredibly expensive with relatively no payout. I realise that Nintendo is a Japanese company, and that Miitomo drop is merely an emulation of a much simpler type of pachinko machine, but Miitomo being a game that is accessible to anyone regardless of whether or not they own a Nintendo device is something that seems to need a bit more consideration. At 500 coins a play, the cost to play definitely straddles the line between the cheapest and most expensive shoes in the store, but then you need to factor in the chance of actually getting the items that you want. The latest sets introduced to Miitomo are Ninja outfits, and I completed the set, but not before I spent approx. 10,000 coins worth of Miitomo Drop tickets on the lot.
None of this might matter so much if the games themselves weren’t so BORING. Miitomo drop is about as shallow as a minigame can get. This is like a pinball machine with no paddles, flashing lights, laser noises or spirit. You tap a button and wait for an outcome. We’re essentially B. F. Skinner’s rats waiting for a pellet at a very high cost. There is no skill or actual fun involved here, which lately seems to be both very ‘anti-Nintendo’ and ‘typical-Nintendo’.
The meat of Miitomo is that you respond to and enjoy the responses of questions. Miitomo asks predefined questions, so you won’t be receiving any highly personal questions from your friends about ‘what-you-did-where’ and ‘what-you-put-in-who’. The problem here is that everyone is answering the same questions with largely the same answers. I don’t care what Leslie’s favourite bread is. I don’t give a damn about the fact that LEE-MACK sat playing Fifa 16 all weekend.
However, these shallow and pointless questions are almost entirely what Miitomo is. Every now and then you might get an interesting question asking about a very vague interest someone has, and these questions are where the real fun can be had with Miitomo, but these answers are sparse, hard to find even with candy, and ultimately not worth the time it takes to reach them.
This is only compounded by the fact that most of your real friends aren’t playing Miitomo, leaving you to fill your Miitomo friend list with mutuals on Twitter, most of whom you’ve only probably spoken to twice.
To deny the greatness of Miifotos is to deny the spirit of fun itself. Being able to snap a pic on your phone and inject your Mii into it in pretty much any way you can think of is not only one of the best things you can do in Miitomo, it very quickly becomes one of the only things you can do in Miitomo.
For a game that’s almost entirely about asking friends questions, it’s pretty funny how it becomes a small platform solely for creating and sharing daft Miifotos. If Nintendo broke Miifotos away from Miitomo and made it an app all its own, you can bet your stars that it would get a glowing review from me.
Sadly being a part of Miitomo, I don’t open up to the creative heaven of Miifotos all that often because I have to load in the entire game first. This is a process that only takes seconds, but I think we’ve now covered how Miitomo makes me personally feel. This is one of the major Miitomo shames.
And this is where my opinion comes in, and it’s where I’m expecting the greatest deal of discord to rear its horrible, ugly head.
When Mario Kart 8 was released, it only took hours before I’d seen all I had to see. I had seen all of the cups and courses, even less time had passed before I’d become familiar with all of the racers. Looking back on Mario Kart Double Dash, often touted to be the height of the Mario Kart series, it’s not hard to see that they took a bold step towards adding more to their game. The character roster alone was incredible.
I’d felt this way with Mario Kart 7 for 3DS as well, but waved that off as being a handheld gaming quirk. Now, it feels to me almost as if Nintendo are paring back on content. The quality of their games is always astounding, but I more-often-than-not seem to see all their games have to offer extremely quickly.
Super Smash Bros also felt this way for me. Huge rosters and a decent selection of stages... But it all felt over so quickly. I enjoyed - even loved - what I played, but quickly stopped playing, or finding reasons to play. Animal Crossing, a game that locks a lot of itself away until you’ve bought so much stuff or done this-much gardening too felt as if it was a shallow game posing as a much deeper experience.
Of course there are some IPs that don’t fit this bill. The Legend of Zelda has always been indisputably content rich. The Pokémon games just don’t ever stop. Splatoon started off slow, but is now drowning in post-release content.
Miitomo however seems more like the shallower Nintendo games, and feels like a museum of all of these small, niggling feelings that other Nintendo games seem to give me. Miitomo is sparse in content, yet somehow littered with excellent ideas that don’t quite fit the bill. In the past week and a half, I’ve checked into the app to get my free rewards, thought about maybe answering a question or two... But ultimately closed it again and moved on to something else.
And for some reason that I can’t entirely put my finger on, I just don’t seem to be very surprised by that, no matter how much I continue to love Nintendo.