Miitomo: Nintendo's Awkward Mobile Debut

Nintendo's mobile debut is a quirky social experiment, but probably not the best initial step into the mobile platform.

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As a social experiment, Miitomo is fascinating. It's a mix of the customization and text to speech functions of the Miiverse, combined with the basic elements of social media networks like Instagram and Facebook. You can can create your own character, customize their voice and personality, answer questions, share photos, and "like" or "comment" on the responses of your friends. As engrossing as it can be, though, it's a strange choice for Nintendo's mobile debut.

For one, it uncomfortably exposes the inherent obsession and narcissism found in social media. When people visit, you’re hit with a barrage of disconnected facts and thoughts about themselves, then incentivized to “like” or “comment” on each individual thought in order to collect more of its in-game currency. Occasionally, you’ll be asked questions you can answer in a limited number of characters, which other can then approve of through heart and word bubble buttons. You can send photos. You can read other people’s comments. Best of all, you’re constantly rewarded with validation and a handful of virtual coins.

Miitomo is an inadvertent exploration of social media networks in its best moments and an aimless experiment at its worst. There’s little room for unique interactions, since all answers shared by other Miis are in response to a predetermined list of questions. “Likes” and comments are even less meaningful, considering anyone can earn a quick handful of coins simply by reacting to answers regardless of their quality.

It doesn’t do anything particularly interesting with the social media formula, either. Instead, everything Miitomo has lifted from social media is used to feed its aggressive microtransaction structure.

I hesistate to call Miitomo an outright game. Most of it is what one would find at the very start of an RPG, specifically in Tomodachi Life; character appearance customization, personality selection, and an assigned nickname. After your Mii has been created, it spends the rest of its virtual life trapped in one small room while pacing and occasionally cycling through random expressions.

Aside from Miitomo’s social aspects, players can spend a great deal of their time in the shop, where they dress themselves in new clothes ranging from casual graphic tees to wacky bread costumes. It’s in the store that we see Miitomo’s strange economy really come into focus. Upon starting, you’re granted a generous number of gold coins, the currency used most commonly in Miitomo. But outfits and individual items of clothing for anything less than several hundred gold coins, and your Mii’s bank account can be quickly depleted.

Worse, social interactions only yield a handful of coins at a time, meaning you’ll have to resort to completing challenges and missions (usually taking you with more shopping or conversations) in order to pay for that oh-so-cute blazer/tee combo you’ve had your eye on.

It’s a microtransaction factory wrapped up in innocent Nintendo charm. It means well and occasionally has some interesting ideas, but there’s a very gross, sticky feeling to it leaving a negative impression lingering with me long after I hit the lock screen on my iPhone.

And I get it. Miitomo is very cute, and I was cracking up and tapping hearts left and right when hearing some of the responses offered by my friends. Heck, I even fell prey on more than one occasion to Nintendo’s expertly-crafted clothing customization options. I took photos, visited friends, and even dabbled in its Pachinko-like minigame.

But when my smile faded and that fresh new blazer became familiar and worn, I felt disappointment. Miitomo has a definite charm, but is this really the best mobile debut Nintendo could offer?

Nintendo has made itself known for innovation. It regularly merges game genres and ideas to create masterful video games anyone can enjoy. And it has managed to stay in the game-making business longer than virtually anyone else by marching to its own wonderfully bizarre little drum.

So when rumors of Nintendo games making their way onto mobile devices began to circulate, people were rightfully excited. Imagine the weird, amazing ideas they’d dream up for a phone! Think of the massive audience they’d now be able to reach!

But instead of a refreshing new experience, Miitomo is a hollow microtransaction generator I’d sooner expect from other publishers than the creators of Mario. Finding sure footing in a new market is often a challenge, and I’m more than ready to believe Miitomo is a mere toe in the water than a definite foreshadowing of what is to come. Until that day arrives, however, I’m not sure it’s totally justified to stamp it with the venerable Official Seal of Quality. 

Contributing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 7, 2016 11:30 AM

    Cassidee Moser posted a new article, Miitomo: Nintendo's Awkward Mobile Debut

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      April 7, 2016 11:53 AM

      Miitomo is definitely an odd thing, but I find myself checking it at the same frequency sometimes that I check say my Twitter feed, or hell, even refreshing threads here. I've started updating my answers to fit with what I am currently doing, like Facebook posts haha. I hesitate to call it a game as well, but there is something about it that keeps me loading it back up on and off through the day.

      I feel like this was Nintendo's way of at least getting their foot in the door in building a social network for themselves that eventually they can tie into other, real games down the line. They get you to create a profile and whatnot with Miitomo, and then it will link up to other games and share info, back and forth between the two. No clue if this was their full intention, or just something silly they wanted to try but either way, its quite the interesting debut.

      Plus man... They ask some odd ass questions haha. Like "What type of person was your first crush?" What type of person? I mean, probably a human person?

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      April 7, 2016 1:30 PM

      Tomo Arigato, Miister Roboto...

      I'll see myself out...

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        April 7, 2016 1:51 PM

        Secret secret. I've got a secret

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        April 7, 2016 7:56 PM

        Sorry to go all editor on you, but you have a typo in this. It's spelled "Mister."

        Oh.

        Oh wait I get it.

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      April 7, 2016 2:37 PM

      I had a lot of fun with it for a couple hours and then I realized it was just a cute version of Facebook with text to speech, but without the ability to ignore boring people, or do any sort of filtering at all

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        April 7, 2016 2:42 PM

        So what you are saying is that switching the chatty over to Miitomo would not be a good April Fool's joke?

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          April 7, 2016 3:40 PM

          If you actually had every poster represented by a unique Mii and doing TTS?? That would be fucking amazing

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      April 7, 2016 4:57 PM

      I don't get it. All it has me do is answer dumb questions and read dumb answers. The whole one is just odd. I have like 4 friends on it.