Following on from our reader-voted Top 50 Games of the Decade, Nintendo Life staff members will be picking their personal favourite Nintendo games between the years 2010-2019. Today, Alan sums up what made Nintendo's short-lived mobile experience so gripping...
Miitomo is not just my Nintendo Game of the Decade, it’s Nintendo’s Game of the Decade. Whether or not you choose to acknowledge that is not my problem.
On the long, winding road towards my favourite Nintendo experience over the last ten years, I found out the hard way that no number of awarded degrees from multiple academic institutions could 'mature' me out from my seemingly carnal desires for fully-voiced Miis that can say “butts”. Why would Nintendo make this game? I don’t know. But I have proof that they did.
Miitomo was Nintendo's highly-anticipated mobile game debut, released on Android and iPhone back in 2016. It was, at the end of the day, the product of dozens of engineers, designers and artists all collaborating with Nintendo so we could say “butts” to our friends. Again, that’s what I used it for. That was the best way to play it.
I sense your scepticism that anyone would hold this game in such high regard. Admittedly, while the game hit 3 million downloads in 24 hours and 10 million within two months, it was largely abandoned by most people shortly thereafter, then discontinued only two years later.
But tell me, Nintendo fan, what do you most wish you could do on your Nintendo Switch system today (I mean, besides play Metroid)? Here in the year 2020, is it not true that you still cannot talk with your friends while playing rounds of Smash and Mario Kart end to end? Well, in Miitomo, here was a game only about talking to your friends. I mean, that’s literally the only thing you could really do with it.
If you think about it, Miitomo was the pure inverse of Nintendo game philosophy. You didn’t struggle to communicate here, you were rewarded for it.
As a concept, Miitomo is like if someone took psychologist Arthor Aron’s 36 Questions to Fall In Love survey – a popular questionnaire circulating in the middle of the last decade which promised participants a newfound profundity with whomever they took it with – and bolted push notifications to it. Except with Miitomo, its ambitions were lower than love; Nintendo had its sights on making you feel strange ways towards your friends: confusion, intrigue, anger... maybe even shock.
To be a part of this social experiment, all one needed to do was download the free app and design an avatar of themselves using a more robust version of Nintendo’s ubiquitous Mii creator. This was easy enough, given this was a task literally 100 million people were already familiar with thanks to the Nintendo Wii. After you were done, your little 'you' would simply stand there, staring up at you from your phone screen like a modern-day lady in the radiator. It would ask you weird crap about yourself. It would ask you weird crap about your friends. It was bizarre.
Whether or not players found this boring or exciting probably depended on how many of their friends were on it. It also hinged on what kind of friends you had.
What do I mean by that? Well, take for instance this question/answer sequence I once had with Nintendo Life’s very own Alex Olney:
He probably didn’t think this was very funny. He (literally) did not like this answer. If I had to bet, Alex must have uninstalled Miitomo rather quickly after this. (Or maybe he blocked me.)
The “real” way to play Miitomo, so said Nintendo ahead of its release, was to harness the platform of cell phones to cleverly learn intimacies about your friends. What sort of foods do they like? What do they do for fun? What are their earliest memories?
Here is a relevant anecdote about Miitomo being played as intended: a Miitomo-playing friend of mine once actually invited myself and some friends over, secretly using all of our answers regarding what our favourite foods were to cook us personalized meals. This was an incredibly thoughtful gesture Nintendo themselves would likely be delighted to know they helped incite.
But like most people, my friend soon stopped played the game. If I had to guess, the people who used Miitomo in earnest were the ones who most quickly got bored with it.
But as you know by now, I did not use Miitomo in earnest. For me, the game was an exercise in bone-soaked cynicism. It was a platform to one-up my friends with as much silliness as I could possibly crank out. It was a chance to turn the tables on squeaky-clean Nintendo and make my Mii say stupid stuff while wearing stupid things. It was glorious. And because I played it this way, this was probably the reason my kind-hearted friend handed me a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos at that same dinner... he thought that was seriously my favourite food.
What’s your favourite season? Mine is arugula. What’s your favourite TV show? I told people on the app, “The scratchy static of my untuned television set, which recently began projecting a malefic accident scene only I can see. It’s on the CW.”
I used all of you. The short-lived audience from the hype of this being Nintendo’s first mobile game gave me power. I had more fun with Miitomo than with Nintendo’s future mobile titles like Super Mario Run, Dr. Mario World, and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp combined.
I don’t blame myself for using Miitomo to troll. No, this was largely Nintendo’s fault, given that the game was directed by Yoshio Sakamoto, known by most people as the director of Super Metroid, but known by cool people as the producer of the 3DS title Tomodachi Life. In Tomodachi Life, the “goal” of the game – and I would use multiple quotation marks if that were grammatically appropriate – was to live among your friends. How did you do that? Well, yet again, you created them through a Mii maker, you stuck them in rooms, then you did stuff like give them weird-as-hell, two-dimensional gifts, appear on quiz shows together, have love quarrels, and go row boating. Sometimes your Miis would have fights, then dress up as astronauts, then explore dreams. Nothing in Tomodachi Life made any sense. It was, in itself, a trolling of the entire life simulator genre.
Miitomo, then, using the identical engine and development team and graphical style of Tomodachi Life, finally brought us the singular aspect sorely missing from its predecessor: online functionality. You didn’t have to make-believe with Miitomo, you actually were talking to your friends that on the 3DS were simply stand-ins. The one major problem with Miitomo was that literally every single other gameplay element, minus a game of Plinko, was stripped out so that it could be a quick mobile experience.
So is it really my fault that I infused the spirit of Tomodachi Life back where it belonged? Of course it isn’t. I’d like to think that when I paid real life money so I could upload pictures of male strippers into my Miitomo house that Yoshio Sakamoto would have been proud of me.
Miitomo was not just Nintendo being unintentionally weird on a massive, global level, it was Nintendo accidentally leaving the front door unlocked. It was Super Mario Maker without filters or restrictions. (And okay, sure, without the gameplay either, whatever.)
After witnessing a blockbuster run of unforgettable gems like Splatoon, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and Super Mario Odyssey this last decade, I know Nintendo. I know how they think, I know what they set out to do, and I know when they’ve succeeded. And I know chance-taking nonsense from eminent creators when I see it.
Can Link say “butts” in Breath of the Wild? No. Link can’t say anything.
Miitomo is the best.
Miitomo is dead.
Long live Miitomo.