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Miitomo (iOS) artwork

Miitomo (iOS) review

"A pleasant way to discover your friends' deepest, darkest secrets, now with micro-transactions!"

If I had never downloaded Miitomo, there's a very good chance I wouldn't ever have learned that some of my friends are heretics.

Miitomo, the first mobile title to come from Nintendo itself (I don't count the stuff that The Pokemon Company released), is not actually a game. It is being called an "experiment," and I think that's a fair label. You don't hop along platforms and try to save a princess, or a mystical land. You don't race karts or shoot down ships. You answer questions, and then you comment on answers that your friends have provided.

One of the questions I see my friends answer a lot, and one that I have answered myself, is "What is your favorite type of bread?" There is really only one reasonable answer to this very important question. Say it with me: "Sourdough!" Some of my friends provided that correct response, and I will continue to trust and admire them. Some misguided souls, however, answered "potato bread." Please pray for them.

How important is a given answer, within the context of Miitomo itself? Not very. When you answer a query, it feels like you're spitting your ideas into a void. But there are other folks occupying that void, people much like you, and they're watching what you have to say and maybe even silently judging you. They can interact if they so choose, either by commenting on what you've said or by tapping the little heart symbol to indicate that they approve.

It all sounds a bit like Facebook, doesn't it? And honestly, that's kind of how the experience feels, except you're not seeing a lot of memes warning that one of the current presidential candidates is out to destroy the world, and you're not being asked to share a post everywhere if you're proud to be a mother or a brother or whatever else. In Miitomo, I haven't been asked even once if I would like to play Candy Crush Saga. Within the app, you're only hearing from people you (probably) like, and you're all talking about safe topics.

Here's where I was surprised, though: I expected that Nintendo would be heavy-handed when it came to censorship. I thought profanity would be blocked. You know, for the sake of the children. Imagine my surprise, then, when some of my friends swore.

Profanity in Miitomo is pretty funny, at least to me, because you hear it coming from the lips of those family-friendly Mii characters. The first thing you do when you begin "playing" is set up a Mii persona of your own. You can choose all of the usual things, such as hair style and skin color and eye shape and such, just like you might have done for Wii or Wii U games. However, you also get to select a voice and then tweak its tone and the rate at which the Mii talks. There's room for a lot of variety.

When you interact with your friends, then, you'll see their very unique Mii avatars, and you'll get to hear them saying things that your friends have written. The text-to-voice program works pretty well, too. It has trouble with acronyms and weird proper nouns, but there are a lot of surprisingly complex words that are read beautifully. And sometimes, the camera will zoom in close if you mention Nintendo hardware, or particular emotions, or comment on popular themes. It's all very cute and does a good job of communicating personality in a way that traditional social media can't.

Another thing I like is the option to set up custom phrases for your character. This is important because while you are away from Miitomo, your character might be visiting your friends. He or she will come walking in and say something awesome like "Here I come to save the day!" (if you're awesome like me), or something similar. This is your best chance to show some real creativity, though you do have to keep it short. I wish there were more of that sort of thing. Maybe it'll be added in a later update.

Of course, none of what I talked about would make Nintendo the sort of money that its shareholders surely had in mind when word came that Nintendo would finally be exploring mobile devices. For that potential source of revenue, you have to look to the clothing customization options, which are quite numerous.

Your Mii character can wear all sorts of outfits, but first you must purchase the clothing with virtual currency. Answering questions will earn you a few coins. Often, so will checking in with the app each day to see what's new. At first, it's easy to build up a pile of money, and the best thing to spend it on is the assortment of hats, shoes, pants, dresses, and accessories that are available each day in the in-game shop. Some of them are really cute. I would never wear a slab of butter on my head in real life (no, really), but it works fine as a hat in Miitomo.

Quickly, though, earning enough additional coins to purchase more stuff becomes difficult. Maybe you'd love to snag those pink devil wings. I know I would! Well, you'd better have 3,200 coins available. And what if you buy them today, but tomorrow the shop offers something you want even more? You'll be just plain out of luck. Unless you spend real money, of course, which I assume some people are doing. And although I realize that Nintendo has to generate revenue with a game like this that it paid to develop and must pay to support, I wish coins weren't quite so scarce.

That particular flaw is at least partially offset by the Peggle-like bonus game, which you can play by spending tickets that you sometimes receive by changing your outfit enough, interacting with your friends, or as a bonus for logging in on some days. A ticket lets you drop a character, who will bounce through a vertical obstacle course and potentially come to rest on a ledge that awards a prize, such as a portion of a themed outfit. That's cool, and is the closest the experience ever feels to an actual game, but there's a lot of luck involved. Too often, you'll reach the bottom of the course and get stuck with some "candy," which has no apparent purpose other than allowing you to hear a few extra-special answers from your friends. But since you're already hearing a bunch of answers from them, so that you can earn special coins that can then be applied toward super-rare costumes you won't find in the traditional shop, I'm not sure candy is worth my time. I wish Miitomo would let me exchange it for more coins.

In spite of the things I wish the app did better, I actually do like Miitomo a fair bit. A number of my friends joined in near launch, and for several days I had fun answering questions and seeing how ridiculous I could be within the friendly virtual world (you should see the sexy snapshots of my character in a dress, with a flower growing out of his scalp). Gradually, though, I lost interest. Signing in each day started to feel like a chore, especially since my friends also seemed to be growing bored and the answers they provided became less inventive or otherwise noteworthy. Well, except for the "potato bread" folks. What is up with them?!

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Staff review by Jason Venter (May 05, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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