Miitomo is a Strong Start for Nintendo's Mobile Strategy [Update: Coming to the US on March 31]

Miitomo is a Strong Start for Nintendo's Mobile Strategy [Update: Coming to the US on March 31]

Nintendo's social app is fun, funny, and easy to use, even if you're not in Japan.

Update: Miitomo is coming to the US and several other countries on Thursday, March 31. You can sign up for a Nintendo account at the official Miitomo page, which will earn you in-game bonuses once you download Miitomo off your native country's App Store or Google Play storefront.

If you sign up now, you'll also receive Platnium Points for the My Nintendo awards program, which is launching alongside Miitomo. According to a Nintendo press release, My Nintendo's Platinum Points are earned when you interact with Nintendo apps and services, including Miitomo. Gold Points are earned by buying digital versions of Nintendo's titles from the Wii U or Nintendo 3DS eShop, or from Nintendo.com. Both types of Points can be redeemed for for games, eShop discount coupons, DLC, and more.

Nintendo's first foray into the mobile market, Miitomo, is now available on the Japanese App Store and Japan's Google Play marketplace. The app is free to download and in English (by default, anyway), so if you want to give it a try, you'll have no issues.

That is, no issues after you go through the song and dance of getting an app from a Japanese market onto your mobile device. Fortunately, Nintendolife has an easy-to-follow guide for the process. I was signed up and on my way in no time. Make sure you pay attention to the disclaimer on Nintendolife's guide, though: Your Nintendo account won't work if you're outside of Japan. Once Miitomo launches in English-speaking territories, you'll lose your progress when / if you link your Nintendo account to the game.

The question is, do you want to be bothered at all? Is Miitomo the social networking breakthrough Nintendo has promised, or is it just another free-to-play cash-grab clogging the veins of the App Store and Google Play?

Well, Miitomo won't replace your Facebook app anytime soon, but Nintendo isn't trying to usurp any of social networking's giants. As a supplementary mobile social experience, Miitomo is quite a lot of fun, especially if you're already fond of Nintendo's Tomodachi Life.

Unlike Tomodachi Life, however, Miitomo doesn't deliver in-depth soap-opera moments between groups of friends. Its strength is in one-on-one interactions, particularly personal questions that range from mundane ("What's your favorite food?") to topical ("What's your favorite TV show right now?") to some real toughies that make you think hard ("What do you like most about cats?").

You can recruit your friends individually, and / or let Miitomo search for mutual app users via Facebook and Twitter. It's a simple and convenient process.

Cat skirts and sailor shirts: Together at last

You can look at your friends' answers to questions, and you can even see reactions to said answers from friends of your friend. It's a bit like being a bird and chattering away on a telephone wire with your fellows. It's easy to see why Miitomo may wind up a big hit in Japan, where it's not so common for people to ask "personal" questions directly.

Questions about food and cats aren't all Miitomo has to offer socially, though. A good deal of the app revolves around taking, editing, and sharing pictures called "Miifotos" -- and thankfully, the editing options are far more appealing than anything off a web-based digital glitter factory like Blingee.

You can super-impose your Mii onto pictures, and position them as you see fit. You can also add word balloons, text, effects, and other bells and whistles. Then you can share your masterpiece with your other Miitomo friends, or just post it to an outside social network.

One of Tomodachi Life's most appealing features made it into Miitomo, too: Outfit collection. Like its inspiration, Miitomo has tons of outfits and accessories for sale, and stock changes daily. You can also play a Pachinko-style game to win super-exclusive outfits. Which, by the way, is how I wound up blowing all my coins. I was trying to score a black cat ensemble. If Nintendo ever does get around to releasing Nintendo-themed costumes for the app's Miis, I'm definitely going to live my life in perpetual Miitomo poverty.

Traditional facial expressions are not your only option in Miifoto

Speaking of coins, there's understandably been a lot of worry about how Nintendo will monetize Miitomo. From my angle, Miitomo is fair about in-app purchases. I was happy to see there's no secondary "hard currency," a staple of free-to-play games. Hard currency usually needs to be bought with real-world cash (though some games occasionally throw you a bone -- or a diamond or gem, as the case may be), and often needs to be on-hand in order to acquire the game's coolest accessories.

There's no monetary gatekeeping in Miitomo. Coins are the only currency, and you earn small amounts for answering questions and otherwise interacting with the game. The small but steady trickle ensures you won't have a problem purchasing outfits you like, though you may inevitably wind up disappointed at least once when stock rotates before you can nab that sweater you had your eye on.

Needless to say, you can buy phat stacks of coins with real-world money. Going by Miitomo's history of in-app purchases, many people already have. Amounts range from 1,000 coins for ¥120 (about $0.99 USD) to 67500 coins for ¥6,000 (about $55.00 USD).

Like Animal Crossing, Nintendogs, and Tomodachi Life, Miitomo is a game you're meant to keep on top of from day to day. Does that mean you'll fall hard for Miitomo, only to leave your Mii to the same fate as poor Isabelle and your crumbling town?

Maybe -- but whereas Nintendo's previous social games expect you to adhere to a routine, Miitomo is very much engineered to be picked at for a few minutes at a time. Push notifications are a powerful motivator, too.

Special thanks to Toothless and Tango for being such good sports through my trial

And, honestly, I had a lot of fun with the hour or so I spent on Miitomo. In fact, I'm worried about becoming too invested in the Japanese version of the game, since I fully intend to download the English version, link it to my Nintendo account, and thereby lose whatever progress I make on the Japanese app.

I suppose I'll worry about that tomorrow, or next week, or whenever we get an announcement about Miitomo's North American release (nothing yet). For now, I have a lot of dumb cat Miifotos to edit.

Miitomo is a great start for Nintendo's mobile strategy. Now Nintendo needs to show us its next great idea for mobile, and keep those ideas coming.

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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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