Miitomo iOS Review: That Tiny Tomodachi Life

Miitomo iOS Review: That Tiny Tomodachi Life

Nintendo's debut mobile app is a compelling distraction that sets out to carve its own niche in the crowded market.

Nintendo swore this day would never come, but in our heart of hearts, we knew it was inevitable. Now, the prophesized event has occurred: Nintendo has published an app on the App Store and Google Play.

Granted, Nintendo's entry into the burgeoning market is still a compromise. The company's breakout offering, Miitomo, isn't a Super Mario game or a Zelda game like the company's investors hoped (and its fans dreaded). Rather, Miitomo is a social app that mashes up Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, then folds the mix into a Tomodachi Life base.

Is Miitomo worth getting into? The answer partially depends on your viewpoint. If you hate the very idea of Nintendo taking a highly unique game like Tomodachi Life, stripping it down for the mobile market, and erecting paywalls, Miitomo will leave a sour aftertaste in your mouth.

However, if you evaluate the app against the thousands upon thousands of free-to-play offerings already out there, you'll find Nintendo put together a solid social experience that contains its all-important creative spark.

Miitomo's charm hasn't gone unnoticed, either. Since the game launched worldwide on March 31, I've barely been able to keep up with my friend requests and the deluge of funny messages and pictures that followed. But we all knew Nintendo's first app would generate a lot of discussion out of the gate. The real question is, what's Miitomo's staying power? Will even half the people on my friends list still be answering quirky personal questions and editing "Miifotos" a month from now.

See, Miitomo works differently from Facebook and Twitter. You can't just hop onto it and complain about your boss. Instead, the app prompts you with questions you're supposed to answer, some of which are mundane ("What's an interesting fact about yourself?") and some of which are just bizarre (there's a question about counting flowers in a field that I'm still trying to suss out).

Your friends then read your answers and offer up their own responses, including photos. Said photos can be vanilla off-the-roll camera snaps, or they can be gussied up with the Miifoto editor, which lets you insert your Mii into a picture, pose it, and add goofy effects. Miitomo provides you with plenty of opportunities to laugh out loud, provided your friends go along with its premise and let themselves have a good time.

But Miitomo's originality is also part of its potential failing: It's not the kind of app that does you any good if you want to engage in some straight-faced venting, or if you just want to relay a message. Even telling a joke or spewing a dumb thought isn't possible unless it's within one of the app's prompts.

We all need a space to rant, which is why Twitter and Facebook have remained popular for so long. Miitomo needs to prove that there's a long-term need for a space where we can tuck up, smile, and count on a laugh.

Who knows, though: Miitomo may just be able to fill that role for years to come (and given the rampant negativity on social media and on planet Earth in general, I sincerely hope it does).

Facebook and Twitter are titans, and when Nintendo engineered Miitomo, it obviously knew better than to challenge the kings of social media head-on by simply copying their ideas wholesale. Instead, Miitomo is a sly shuffle around occupied territory. It's the cute little cat that shoves its face in between people's feet in a crowd, and you're so charmed by its boldness that you can't help but point at it and say, "Look at that kitty!"

That's probably why Miitomo offers myriad customization options for your Mii, too. Twitter offers you a 100 x 100 icon, and Facebook lets you write down your work history, your education, and a handful of favorite quotes. Miitomo isn't interested in any of that. It wants to know your quirks, the pitch of your voice, how much you love cats (lots and lots, right?), and how politely you carry yourself.

When that's all done, you can outfit yourself through the in-game shop and its array of animal suits, loud shirts, and fancy pants. If you're feeling ambitious, you can play a Pachinko-style game called Miitomo Drop to win clothing and accessories that are available for a limited time.

Miitomo Drop can't be played without a tender exchange, which means it's time to discuss the buzzterm that people have been dreading to see paired up with Nintendo's name: "In-app purchases" (IAP).

I've reviewed free-to-play games for years, and I've become pretty keen at detecting rip-offs as a result. I believe in-app purchases are fine as a concept. What's not fine, in my opinion, are games that panhandle relentlessly for your nickels and dimes, as well as games that only allow you to perform a certain number of activities before you're forced into paying to "refill your stamina" if you don't want to wait hours for it to top off.

There are exceptions to these rules, but my demands are generally simple when it comes to IAP: Don't make me feel like I'm being jerked around.

Thankfully, Miitomo plays fair. First, there are no ads, and boy it's refreshing to play a free mobile game that doesn't stop to remind you about Game of War every five minutes.

Second, there's one in-game currency, Coins, which you earn by sharing answers, Miifotos, and otherwise interacting with the app. Coins let you play the aforementioned Miitomo Drop, as well as buy accessories and clothing from Miitomo's store. There are tons of clothing options, which means you can build up quite a unique look for your Mii.

Currently, I have tons of Coins, and I've not yet felt the need to buy more with real-world cash. Nintendo has also rewarded me with loads of free game tickets for being popular (what can I say), so even playing Miitomo Drop hasn't cost me a lot of Coins.

Miitomo is tightly-woven, easy to use, and is generally fun. It still suffers from some technical issues, however. The current method of recruiting friends -- suggesting pals who are also using the app on Twitter and Facebook -- is convenient, but when multiple users ask for your friendship at once, approving each person one at a time takes ages.

Worse, my app seemingly suffers from a glitch that sometimes forces Twitter to open and ask for access approval before I make friends with someone. This slows down the already-tedious process substantially.

There are currently a lot of unhappy Android users who discovered the hard way that Miitomo doesn't work on rooted devices. Hopefully Nintendo's at work on a fix.

Finally, Miitomo sucks down your battery power like a thirsty kid demolishing a Big Gulp. The app does offer a power saving option, so don't be shy about using it.

Miitomo's future is foggy at this point. Being at the mercy of the App Store and Google Play, it'll only count as a success if Nintendo makes a profit on the game's in-app purchases (especially since there's seemingly no ad revenue coming in).

We'll revisit the app in a month or so to study how it's getting along, and to see if its userbase is still as active. In the meantime, Nintendo has certainly constructed a solid and fun social experience with Miitomo, and that's an impressive feat for a company that's dropping itself into the market feet-first.

Interface
Miitomo is easy to get the hang of, though it'd be great if there was a way to approve multiple friend requests at once.

Lasting appeal
If you're the kind of person who derives huge satisfaction from editing and sharing photos, Miitomo will keep you occupied for a long time. The question is whether or not your friends will stick around that long, too.

Sound
Cheery Nintendo music abounds! Nothing memorable, but nothing offensive.

Visuals
Miitomo's visuals are simple but distinct. You can't decorate your Mii's apartment (yet), which is disappointing because you occupy a nondescript room. Your Mii (and your friends' Miis) are highly expressive, however, and can be outfitted in tons of neat accessories and outfits.

Miitomo is an impressive start for Nintendo's mobile projects. It's an easy-to-use social network that's highly unique and delivers big laughs and lots of fun. It's also fair about in-app purchases, and contains no advertising. That said, we'll have to wait and see whether or not the world has long-term use for a highly structured, perpetually cheerful social network.

4/5

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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