The pressure has been on Nintendo for many years from some fans (and not to mention shareholders) to create games and apps for smart devices. It resisted for quite some time but a partnership with DeNA was announced in early 2015; thoughts of a Mario endless runner sprang to mind, but Nintendo's first entry into the crowded mobile market is rather less obvious but typical of the company's nature.
By now you'll likely have heard a bit about Miitomo and possibly be wondering to yourself if it's simply Tomodachi Life plonked on your smartphone screen, or some kind of social network trying to take on the might of Twitter and Facebook. After spending time with the app we've learnt the truth of the matter - it's not really either of those things.
How well do you really know your friends? Miitomo is here to help you find out for better or worse!
Making a Mii
The process of creating a Mii using Miitomo is lightning fast; using your smart device's camera to take a selfie, multiple Miis which may vaguely resemble your lovely mug are churned out for your consideration. Simply pick the one which looks most like you and change facial features, height etc just like you would on the Wii, Wii U or 3DS, and you'll of course have to pick a gender and give your Mii a nickname. If you already have a Mii which you want to carry over from your 3DS, you can simply scan in your QR code to speed up the Mii creation process tenfold.
Much like Tomodachi Life your Mii has attributes beyond physical features. You can tinker with your avatar's voice in many ways affecting their pitch, depth, energy, speed and accent. You can create some hilarious results by moving the sliders to the extreme - who doesn't want a Mii who sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks?
Your Mii's personality can be honed to perfection as well, with sliders to pick the perfect level of movement, individuality, expressiveness, attitude, and speech. If you happen to be quite flamboyant in real life, your Mii can likely match you with little difficulty. If however you've already invested time perfecting your Mii in Tomodachi Life, you can simply scan its QR code to import the Mii along with its voice and personality.
Lastly you can customise your greetings, so if you're that guy who says "WASSUP" to friends or a non-Italian speaker who says "ciao" instead of goodbye, Miitomo has you covered.
Connecting with friends
Miitomo wouldn't be much fun without friends so the next step is to start adding them. You can connect the app to Facebook and Twitter which makes the friend discovery process really simple, but just being a follower of Lady Gaga on Twitter isn't enough. Unless the follow is reciprocated they won't be included.
The other option is "face to face". When you're within a close enough proximity to another Miitomo user it presents you with card suits (heart, spade, diamond, clubs) for you and your pal to tap simultaneously. The app recognises you both tapped the same suit and suggests you make the whole thing official.
You cannot connect with remote people via email or friend codes however, so if your friends who live far away aren't on Facebook or Twitter then you are out of luck unless you meet up in person and use the method stated above.
It's clear that Nintendo only wants Miitomo to be used between people who are actually friends of some description. After all you'll be sharing personal details about yourself, so this seems like a sensible move.
Now the fun begins, when you first start playing Miitomo your Mii appears to be having some kind of existential crisis and is worried that might not quite be the perfect representation of your true self yet. To remedy this your virtual avatar will ask you lots of questions such as what your favourite book is, where the nickname you gave your Mii came from and what your latest obsession is. For each bit of information you volunteer your Mii will act, which gives you empathy with the character.
We're told there are currently around 9000 animation triggers on words and phrases, even as specific as breed of dog which will lead your Mii to act out a related action upon hearing the word. For example if you say the word 'money', your Mii will be temporarily showered with riches to heighten the effect of your words. It's a really nice touch which makes Miitomo feel less two-dimensional than it might have been otherwise.
Your answers will of course be shared with your friends and vice versa. It's really cute watching your Mii relay some new information they've discovered about your friends and acting out the different words.
Now here's where the social aspect of the app kicks in. You can "heart" a friend's answer much like you do on Twitter, or "like" on Facebook. You can also leave a comment or even reply with a Miifoto (which we'll get to below). In spending time with the app, we learned some genuinely surprising factoids about our friends which led to lots of chuckles.
Aside from sharing answers with your whole friends group, you can share answers one-to-one, or "between us" as Miitomo calls it. So if there is anything really personal you want to answer, there is that option, and there's no way that answer can be shared with anyone else within the confines of the app. You can even use the in-game currency of sweets earned in Miitomo Drop (more on this below) to bribe your friends' Miis into dulvinging fun facts about themselves to you, which is a real hoot.
Because it is your Mii who is nudging you into volunteering nuggets of information about yourself to share with friends it never feels like you are being boastful or a self-interested bore, which might be the case on other social networks. It keeps the information sharing process light and fun and is very likely to help shy guys (and gals) share more. Interestingly your profile shows how many questions you have answered, along with how many questions you have skipped, but thankfully your friends cannot see which questions have been skipped!
Much like Splatoon, Style Savvy or Tomodachi Life, you can dress up your character in the latest fashions to suit any occasion or mood. There are some hilarious outfits on offer which will likely give your friends a giggle when they see you sporting them.
You can buy outfits from the Costume Shop using the in-game currency of Miitomo Coins, which are earned with basically any form of interaction with the app such as answering questions, hearting or commenting on others' answers and creating Miifotos.
Now of course the game is Free-to-Start, so you might be worried that this is the point where Nintendo will turn the screws to get you to part with your hard earned real-life cash via horrible in-app purchases. While it is possible to buy Miitomo Coins from the App Store or Google Play's payment system for hard cash (prices TBD), it is not really necessary unless you literally want every outfit right away and have an aversion to actually interacting with the app and being awarded the Coins as you go. There are no other methods in which the game tries to make you part with real-life cash, nothing is hidden behind a paywall.
Once you have put on your killer outfit or fancy dress costume you can easily strike a pose and share your creation on Twitter, if you're so inclined. Considering the goal of Miitomo is to emphasize the charm of Mii characters it's unsurprising to see this given such a focus - it has the potential to appeal to any and all users, too. Whether you try to dress your Mii like an '80s rap star or simply to look cute, there's scope to treat this as a charming feature or as an excuse for some daft Mii-style comedy.
Strike a pose with Miifoto
One of the most fun parts of Miitomo is creating Miifotos to share with your friends. It's a piece of cake to create funny pictures or memes using Miifoto. Simply pick one of the background patterns or even use a photo from your camera roll. You can overlay your Mii in an outfit of your choosing in a variety of poses and facial expressions. Then add special effects, stamps, speech bubbles and text. It's really quick and intuitive to create a decent looking Miifoto just by pinching and manipulating on the corners of the layer.
We found Miifotos to be fun to use in comments when replying to friends, but they can also easily be shared on Facebook, Twitter, LINE, Instagram or by email.
One lovely surprise in Miitomo was the existence of Miitomo Drop, a Pachinko style game which is a little bit similar to Nintendo Badge Arcade or - perhaps more so - a certain Nintendo Land minigame; it's a fun way to pass the time for 500 coins per play. You can move your Mii left or right, then drop and it gets bounced all over the shop by the various bumpers, some of which are amusingly styled with your friend's Mii faces. There are lots of different Miitomo Drop boards each with their own unique fun themes.
If you are lucky you can land on a cracking new outfit for your Mii to impress all your friends with, but in true Nintendo fashion no one goes away empty handed. As a consolation if you don't land on an outfit, you will get a handful of sweets which can be used to bribe friends for answers to questions of your choice.
Someone think of the kids!
We were really surprised to find that naughty words are not restricted in any way within Miitomo, after all you can't even say "smeg" on the 3DS. In fact, there's also scope to be mischievous in Miifoto, too. It's important to note that Miitomo is only intended for use with actual friends and not random internet folks, so this shouldn't necessarily be a big deal. There is a minimum age requirement of 13 to download the app, which is consistent with most social networks, but it's nevertheless an eyebrow raiser when mature jokes and phrases start popping up on the screen.
There is no moderation in place like Miiverse, though abusive or inappropriate content can be reported to Nintendo for investigation.
The My Nintendo account Trojan Horse
While you don't need to sign up for a My Nintendo account in order to use Miitomo, it is beneficial to do so. For starters if you were delete the app by accident or lose your smart device your Miitomo data would be lost as it's tied to the device. However when using a My Nintendo account it can be retrieved as all the data is backed up to the cloud.
Other incentives are the preregistration bonus which will net you lovely Platinum Points which can be used for rewards in the future. Within Miitomo you can also do "My Nintendo Missions" too in order to earn more Platinum Points, which can be as simple as giving 5 answers in one day or getting 5 hearts in one day. Basically these are incentives to continue interacting with the app, and as is true in life, you get back what you put in so this is not a bad thing.
Wrapping it up
We had our reservations before walking into our extended hands-on session with Miitomo. This is after all Nintendo's first foray into the crowded smart device arena, but we found it to be an utterly engaging and entertaining app which naturally embodies the values of Nintendo. Once you have a few friends on your list there is a seemingly never ending barrage of amusing factoids to read, comment on and prompts to share more about yourself. The way your Mii reacts to certain phrases is utterly charming and you can have hours of fun dressing your Mii up in the various costumes too. Creating Miifotos is likely to be the source of much viral humour on Twitter and Instagram, and Miitomo Drop is a fun distraction too. Due to the lack of language filtering you can also expect plenty to take the chance to have Mii characters say some rather 'surprising' things, before sharing it for all to see online.
We can happily say that Miitomo is a solid first effort from Nintendo in the smart device app arena and is likely only to improve over time with updates. iPad owners will be pleased to hear the app runs at it's native resolution, no ugly 2x zoom from the iPhone app here. Worries about aggressive monetisation techniques seem unfounded and this appears to be more of an attempt for Nintendo to spread its wacky form of fun with a wider audience, and hopefully at the same time get more My Nintendo account registrations.
Miitomo is out 17th March in Japan and by the end of March in Europe and North America