After an hour with Miitomo, I was completely sold on it. As with many others, when Kantan Games CEO Dr. Serkan Toto caught wind of the project and hinted that we should “expect the unexpected,” a free-to-start communication app certainly wasn’t the first thing that came to mind.
Many raised an eyebrow, not least investors, who, after being heartily encouraged by Nintendo’s business and capital alliance with DeNA to the point that their stock price soared by 27 percent, were inexplicably left dumbstruck. Where was Mario or any other of the company’s instantly recognisable characters, and why weren’t they being positioned to lead the charge into an increasingly volatile smart device market?
The answer is simple. While it would be easy to play to expectation, Nintendo has long been true to their mission “to put smiles on people’s faces around the world.” Spend even a short amount of time with Miitomo, and it doesn’t take long for such unfettered ambition to be fulfilled. And, after my hour with it, I left the room beaming.
As a company whose advocacy for blue ocean strategy struck global success with Wii and Nintendo DS, the smart device market has been one watery expanse that they have been hesitant to gracefully swim into. Having long seen strength in developing software for their own dedicated game systems, Nintendo were rightly cautious about placing them on competitor platforms. But now that stance has changed, with the company recognising the importance in reintroducing their brands and characters to a far wider market.
Miitomo will be the first of five games that Nintendo and DeNA are collaborating on, which are to all see release before March 2017. While those that will come in the months that follow Miitomo’s launch will turn to popular characters, what we can soon enjoy is a largely social experience that refines that seen in Tomodachi Life. For, as its name implies, we are given chance to rekindle our love for Mii characters while communicating with friends (“tomo”).
The concept is simple to grasp, users firstly taken through an updated Mii Creator where their virtual counterpart can be carefully tweaked with seemingly endless options. But, for those that want more immediacy with the experience, you can also handily take quick-fire snaps of yourself that the app will magically transform as a starting point, or, if you have a Wii U or Nintendo 3DS, import an existing Mii.
From there you select your Mii’s voice, determined by preset choices before you can play around with speed, pitch, depth, energy, accent and intonation, before moving on to choose their personality. This is something that was similarly seen in Tomodachi Life, parameters such as individuality, expressiveness and attitude seeing Miitomo choose how your newfound companion will behave and interact with you. That’s important given the idea that they will portray you when conversing with other Mii characters, and so, this is a step that most will want to spend time to perfect their creation.
The room that your Mii inhabits will also differ depending on their personality, and, as an easy-going optimist, mine soon wandered into a fairly subdued room with a turquoise carpet and beige walls. Dreamy. It’s ‘Nintendo’ from the get-go, your first chuckle-inducing interaction seeing your Mii say: “I seem to be inside some sort of electronic device? Oh! Hello there! I am… you! At least that’s what I think…”
It’s irrepressibly endearing, and that’s part of Miitomo’s charm. Nintendo want you to become familiar with your Mii, and hope that in doing so will encourage you to use the app on a regular basis. In an effort to be more like you, your Mii will ask you questions. These start out fairly lighthearted, firstly asking what your favourite food is but soon swerving onto those that will glean more meaningful responses, such as whether anything has happened recently that made you really respect someone.
The answers that you provide are read back by your Mii, who acts them out with energetic gusto. Any mention of food sees them stick out their tongue, while other words can see them laugh, clap, point and more. It’s smart, and made me feel far more connected to my Mii character in a way that I had never expected.
As a social experience, it naturally goes beyond your own interactions with your Mii. Answers that you choose to provide, as you can skip any question you don’t wish to answer, will be steadily shared with your friend list over time. You and a friend must mutually add one another, either locally or by letting the app take a look at who you’re connected with on Twitter or Facebook. As always, Nintendo has placed importance on making sure that users aren’t communicating with complete strangers, so parents in particular should find comfort in that fact.
Once connected, Nintendo’s hope is that you can then learn new things about friends and, potentially, in a more personal way than social media channels normally allow. Answers can be hearted or responded to with a comment, and, in that way, can help spark conversation around the chosen topic.
That said, this isn’t meant to replace the social networks that many of you likely already spend hours on daily. It’s more that Miitomo can work in tandem with them, easily letting you share questions on social media with the answers hidden – to see if anyone can guess before you choose to reveal it.
That social connectivity was always clearly key in development, given not only how well integrated it is with the app but also in how keen Nintendo are for you to share to your heart’s content. That’s seen in Miifoto, humorous images with your Mii that can place them in real-world situations. These can edited with speech bubbles, stamps and writing, in an effort to help you produce something that will raise a smile. It all feels like an evolution not only from the ideas seen in Tomodachi Life, but the way that players have been interacting on Miiverse, too.
Every action that you do will earn you Miitomo Coins, an in-game currency that will primarily let you buy clothing items in the Miitomo Shop. In-app purchases will let you spend money to build an increasingly large Miitomo Coin hoard, but Nintendo will shower you with enough that most players will needn’t have to consider paying anything.
The wardrobe is unsurprisingly broad, Nintendo clearly keen to allow users to personalise their Miis in whichever way they wish. That selection ranges from hats, jackets and shoes, to a bear outfit and hot dog costume. Clothing items will rotate on a daily basis and these will be different for each user, but, if there’s something that your friends will like, you can share them on social media so that they can choose to purchase them.
The breadth and implementation continues to impress, and there are other ways that Nintendo will reward you. One way is Miitomo Drop, a minigame that seemingly mixes pachinko and pinball in which the player drops a Mii character which bounces around inside a machine. If it lands on a platform, you can win special clothing items that can only be unlocked this way. You must purchase 1 Play whenever you want to try your luck, either costing 500 Miitomo Coins or 1 Game Ticket which you will earn through spending time in the app.
With My Nintendo arriving at the same time, Miitomo provides the first glimpse at how users will be able to earn rewards. That centres on My Nintendo Missions, which are essentially achievements that, in Miitomo’s case, will encourage you to remain active in the app. Whether that be changing your Mii’s outfit or providing a handful of answers to questions, the user will be showered with My Nintendo Coins that can then be used to unlock rewards – an example given being a Mario outfit for your Mii.
This works in the same way to Microsoft and Sony’s respective Achievement and Trophy systems, but provides more meaningful reward for your efforts. It’ll be interesting to see how this will carry across to Wii U, Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo NX, especially if My Nintendo PiCROSS: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess gives an indication as to what the rewards catalogue will offer.
As for Miitomo, it’s a positive start for Nintendo’s plunge into the smart device market. I had been skeptical when Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima revealed the app at the company’s corporate management briefing last October. But, under intense pressure to get it right straight away, my experience so far has been a particularly encouraging one and I look forward to getting to know my Mii more.