After seven days with it, I still don’t really know what Miitomo is. Is it a game? A social media network? A social media experiment? Some whole other category of thing Nintendo’s just gone and made up? As the kind of guy who alphabetizes his Blurays and orders his wardrobe by frequency of use, these are big questions. Nintendo is robbing my life of what feels like vital structure, taunting me as I uncomfortably move the Miitomo icon back and forth between the ‘Social Media’ and ‘Games’ folders on my phone.
Even writing this article, I don’t know what to do with it. Games go in italics. Social media apps don’t. Is it Miitomo or Miitomo? Social media or game? Both? Neither? If it’s not a game, should I even be reviewing it? What am I doing here?
You start by creating a Mii. If you’ve owned any Nintendo console since the Wii, you know exactly how this works, and you’ve probably been making various versions of the same fucking thing for years. Miitomo uses your phone’s camera to create a starting point. This is, of course, a humiliating experience, as it produces a succession of hideous monstrosities, crushing your already shriveled self esteem until you give in and make yourself a more flattering one from scratch. Or maybe that’s just me.
If any other company in the world made this, that Mii you be your avatar, an extension of yourself in the game/app/social network/whatever the fuck. Except this is Nintendo, so it’s never that simple. Here, instead of being your representation, the Mii is your representative – separate from you, having conversations with you, about you – and, in a weirdly sinister touch, apparently stuck living inside your ‘device’. It’s both your doppelganger and your alarmingly willing prisoner.
The first thing your Mii wants to do is ask questions about you, to find out what makes you tick. This is ostensibly to share the information with other Miis, and by extension your friends, but I never quite lost the niggling feeling that it was really so that he could later assume my identity through some elaborate plot.
The questions are mostly of the sort you dread receiving from a Tinder match but inevitably seem to end up asking them yourself anyway. What’s your favorite food? What’s a funny thing that happened to you recently? What did you do last weekend?
Sometimes, Miitomo gets a bit weird and grabs my attention. Imagine flowers blooming in your mind’s eye – how many flowers do you see? I don’t fucking know, Nintendo. What the hell? This is the sort of mad shit I want. It’s never long before it gets back to asking what my last purchase was though, and mundanity settles back in.
It was a takeaway coffee, by the way, in case you care. Nintendo apparently does.
This is pretty much all the social the app does. It asks me questions. I answer. My friends read my answers. I read their answers. I can ‘heart’ answers, or comment on them. Sometimes we ask each other direct questions – but we still don’t get to pick what we ask. It’s exactly the sort of controlled, manicured attempt at social networking you’d expect from Nintendo – almost entirely safe, wildly limited, and so fucking odd you can’t imagine anyone else letting the idea get past a hungover brainstorming session.
When people take Miitomo seriously, it’s all a bit dull. Wow, you like sushi? Me too! You watched a movie last night? How wild! It’s a bleak, concentrated take on the imaginary version of Twitter that people who aren’t on Twitter accuse it of being: nothing more than a vacuous echo chamber of people talking about what they ate for lunch today.
Much like actual Twitter, Miitomo works best when people stop taking it seriously (and stop talking about their lunch). It’s the wildly inappropriate outfits, the extended non-sequitur answers to straightforward questions, the attempts to inject an edge of darkness into the shiny, happy, Nintendo-ified world that make the experience memorable. I appreciate that it’s wildly dull to argue that the best bit of a social media thing is the stuff people are saying, but still – it’s almost inspiring to see people struggle to overcome Nintendo’s arcane restrictions in pursuit of some sort of organic, entertaining interaction.
So far, so social. What about the game?
Just about everything you do, from opening the app to hearting a friend’s dumb joke, awards you varying numbers of coins – which you can also top up using cold hard cash. You use the coins to buy new clothes for your Mii, which range from the sort of shirts and shoes you might ordinarily think of as clothes to things like onesies that make you look like a stack of pancakes, or little kittens to sit on your shoulder. You can guess what ends up being the most popular.
You can also win clothes by playing ‘Miitomo Drop’, a really rubbish, luck-based take on pachinko that sees you physically punish your captive Miis by dropping them down a series of bumpers and pins. You can either use coins to play it, or game tickets, one of the game’s other currencies. The consolation prizes are sweets, which are a third currency. Then you can also get Miitomo points for the My Nintendo reward scheme, by which point the word ‘currency’ has lost all meaning and everything just starts to blur at the edges.
Is that enough to call it a game? I don’t know. If so, it’s probably not a very good game. It gets dull after a few minutes at a time, the free-to-play mechanics are limiting, and there just isn’t that much to do.
Is it much better as a social network? Not really. It’s too limited to allow much self-expression, and with all the interaction carried out indirectly through the Miis, there’s not much sense of conversation. It’s a bit of a niche prospect too – if I’ve learnt one thing from playing Miitomo and talking to people about it this week, it’s that I know very, very few people willing to invest time into a Nintendo-themed smartphone social media game thing. I somehow don’t see that changing.
I don’t know what Miitomo is, and so I don’t really know if it’s succeeded at doing whatever it is it’s doing. All I know is that right now it sits in a folder to itself on my phone, separate from both games and social media. And either way, I’m not convinced it’ll be there much longer.