After all the hype and anticipation surrounding Nintendo's move into mobile, it's perhaps a little surprising that the game which kicks off this new era for the Japanese veteran isn't really a game at all; Miitomo has more in common with the likes of Twitter and Facebook than it does Super Mario and Zelda. Despite expectations being slightly confounded, it's actually a very interesting venture for Nintendo and development partner DeNA, and one which manages to build on the explorative work seen in the Tomodachi series on DS and 3DS.
In fact, it wouldn't be disingenuous to call Miitomo a mobile edition of Tomodachi Life. The connection is obviously the Mii characters which form the focal point of both titles, but a lot of clothing seen in the 3DS game has also been carried across to this offering. Just like Tomodachi Life, you don't have direct control over your Mii; they simply walk around their room occasionally chatting with other Miis you've befriended. You can dress them up to give them some individual style and customise their personality, appearance and voice - just like Tomodachi Life. It's possible to create a Mii entirely from scratch or import an existing Mii using a QR code, and your Mii's progress can be retained by linking your Nintendo Account to the app itself.
At its core however, Miitomo is a social networking tool which offers the chance to get to know your friends a little better. The app poses questions to you, the answers to which are relayed to people you're friends with. This system allows them to get to learn more about you without the awkwardness of having to ask such probing questions personally - and this plays into Nintendo's aim of getting shy or retiring individuals to divulge a little more of their everyday lives with people they might only interact with online. Whereas Twitter and Facebook rely on a very direct form of communication, in Miitomo such information is selectively funnelled through the app itself, which not only encourages people to share details on topics such as their favourite food, band or movie star, but also creates a game-like atmosphere - with rewards such as in-game currency - for answering questions and dutifully listening to the replies of your friends.
Some exchanges are only seen by you and the person asking, but the vast majority can be viewed by multiple people. Commenting on another person's reply allows you to see any subsequent replies they get from their other friends, and this opens up another fascinating level of interaction as other people - some of which might not be on your friends list - become involved in the dialogue. You can even upload photos and images as replies, and some of the more complex questions can generate many, many responses, creating a conversation which is charmingly relayed in each Mii's voice as you scroll down the list. Miitomo also looks for certain words in replies and makes your character perform little animations - for example, including "nervous" in your message will cause your Mii to pull an upset face, while "Nintendo" will result in the iconic Super Mario coin collection sound.
Interestingly, Miitomo doesn't allow you to view every single reply submitted by people in your friends list. It's here that the game makes use of another in-game currency to unlock replies; Sweets are dished out for taking part in the Miitomo Drop mini-game (which we'll get onto in a bit), and gifting a couple of these to your contacts will convince them to share their answer. These are replies which you might ordinarily receive in the fullness of time anyway, but it's an interesting way of using in-app items and hints at other uses in the future as Miitomo's scope expands.
Miitomo currently doesn't allow you to approach people randomly and befriend them via the app itself, and instead relies on a two-stage identification process. By linking your Twitter or Facebook account you can see which of your current friends has Miitomo installed and send them a request. Likewise, should one of your Twitter or Facebook pals send you a friend request you can immediately verify their identity via their social networking profile. This neatly sidesteps the issue of complete strangers approaching you - the only other method to add friends is to do it face-to-face, which is a situation where you will presumably know the other person anyway. Nintendo has confirmed that it's enabling the ability to add friends of friends in the next big update to the app, which will make it easier to expand your contact list and - assuming you and your friend's buddies are into the same kind of thing - should ensure you still connect with like-minded people.
Surprisingly for a Nintendo game there's no censorship in Miitomo - you can type whatever you like and it will be relayed to your friends without any words omitted. The fact that you're only interacting with close chums means that the potential for offense is arguably lessened, but we've still had a few questionable replies sent our way - and, we regret to add, we've posted a few naughty words of our own (merely to test the limits of the app, you understand). It's also possible to submit Miifotos to your friends - images which feature your Mii against a background image that can be embellished with text - and the ability to add an image from your phone's photo gallery once again opens the door to abuse. Thankfully it's easy to block users and report posts, so Nintendo has at least included a mechanic for dealing with problem posters. While we're still on the topic of Miifotos, Miitomo actively encourages you to share your images outside of the app - for example, posting to Twitter automatically adds the appropriate hashtags so you can easily find Miifotos from other users. It's clear that Nintendo has realised that its app has to work in tandem with existing social networks, rather than totally replace them.
Outside of the whole "question and answer" system and the ability to dress up your Mii, the other largest element of the app is the Miitomo Drop mini-game. Taking inspiration from Pachinko, the objective here is to drop a Mii from the top of the screen and hope they land on a reward - these range from items of clothing to the aforementioned sweets, which are used to coax answers out of your friends. Miitomo Drop isn't the deepest of experiences and requires you to spend in-game currency or game tickets, both of which are periodically handed out as rewards. The in-game cash is also used to purchase clothing and can be obtained using real-world money via Miitomo's in-app purchasing system. 1000 coins will cost you 79p, while 105,000 coins comes in at a whopping £54.99 (those are UK prices - depending on your region, they will obviously be different). While we resisted the temptation to make a purchase, the slow rate at which coins are dealt out means that the more desirable clothing always seems tantalisingly out of reach, and this alone may be enough to convince many players to part with their real world coinage.
There are also My Nintendo Missions to undertake, which reward you with Platinum points which can be used to purchase special items. At the time of writing these are limited to a rather fetching Super Mario costume and Miitomo Drop game tickets, but this section is likely to expand over time to feature more goodies. Platinum points are handed out for performing activities like linking your Nintendo, Twitter or Facebook account, changing your Mii's outfit once in a day or adding a friend using the face-to-face method, and can also be used to purchase special rewards via the My Nintendo program, which launches alongside Miitomo.
Like any app, Miitomo will be subject to regular updates which improve stability and add more features. We tested the first version on both iOS and Android and found that, on certain phones, connecting to Twitter was impossible. This was rectified with version 1.0.2, but another problem impacts Android users - text input defaults to upper case every time you try to write something. This will presumably be fixed in a future update, as will issues on iOS with certain error messages popping up. Even the best apps in the world suffer from niggling problems - hardly surprising when you consider that across Apple and Google's mobile operating systems there are a dizzying number of possible hardware configurations - but Miitomo has surprised us with how stable and polished it all is, even at this early stage in its lifespan.
You might be wondering why we haven't scored Miitomo. The fact of the matter is that this simply isn't a game in the strictest sense of the word - giving it a score would be like reviewing Twitter or Facebook. Miitomo is a social networking platform first and foremost, and despite the numerous layers of gamification involved, the core of the app is simply responding to and answering questions in order to get to know your friends a little better. Being able to purchase clothing and dress up your character - as well as take part in missions for rewards - certainly gives Miitomo the edge over the likes of Twitter and Facebook, but it's unlikely to totally supplant those two giants of social networking, and instead will be seen as a companion app for many users. Therein lies a bit of a problem, as once the novelty wears off it's likely that many people will stop using Miitomo, as it requires more effort to use than its more traditional and established social networking rivals.
Over time it's likely that Nintendo will expand the app with more features and content to combat this problem, and we fully expect Miitomo to be used as an effective tool for selling Nintendo's products via topical content and the like, but it could well face the same issue that plagues Miiverse - it's a great tool for staying in touch with your gaming friends, but less effective when it comes to making connections with anyone who doesn't own a Wii U, 3DS or (in the fullness of time) an NX. This might not be an issue for many users - in fact, having a fun and snappy social network where it's possible to discuss gaming first and foremost may well be the dream ticket for many Nintendo fans - but Miitomo's long-term success depends on how Nintendo maintains the user's interest over time, and how well it is integrated into the company's mobile strategy moving forward. For the time being, it's a fun diversion which is arguably more personable than traditional social networks, and the fact that it's free means there really is no reason not to give it a try. Whether or not it's worth an additional investment of your valuable time - already spread thin over other social apps, if you're anything like us - is largely down to personal taste and how many friends you're likely to have who also use it.