What is a Miitomo and what does it do?
In true Nintendo fashion, even Miitomo's Android version is currently exclusive to Japan. But through the magic of switching iTunes account regions, I was able to test drive the Japanese iOS version to see what the app is all about. Amazingly, the game is already fully playable in a number of languages, including English, French, Italian, and Spanish, so anyone reading this with an App Store-accessible iDevice can repeat my steps and try it out for themselves.
At first glance, Miitomo looks and sounds very similar to the Nintendo 3DS game Tomodachi Life, where Miis representing you and your friends engage in little comedy skits and pair off with each other (but only if they’re straight). In Miitomo, the comedy skits and relationships have been replaced by a core social function in which you answer on questions and comment on each other's answers. After creating a Mii (or importing one from Miiverse), users are asked to set their Mii’s personality traits and voice, which is more important than it sounds: the app is 100% voiced, so be prepared to hear your Mii’s squeaky voice every time you open the app. Luckily, all these settings can all be changed at any time, so you can always bring down the speed or pitch a notch if a hyperactive chipmunk voice is too grating on your ears.
After your Mii has been plopped into their non-customizable home, you will then need to add some friends. Users who you mutually follow on Twitter or are friends with on Facebook will come up as friend suggestions for you to send invites to. In a move that is undoubtedly meant to keep your Miitomo community as closed and safe as possible, the only other way to add users is by meeting them in person. As a result, you can be sure that no random strangers will be reading your responses to the app’s many questions. (But that won’t stop your friends from taking screenshots of your embarrassing personal reveals!)
The first question Miitomo asked me was “What is your favorite food?” to which I honestly replied, “mochi” (glutinous rice). After reading my response out loud, my Mii drew her lips into a smile and stuck her tongue out. At first, I thought this was due to the question’s context, but I quickly learned that there are a number of expressions that can be triggered based on what you write, customizing the Miitomo experience for each individual user. Typing out “haha” or “lol” will cause your Mii to clutch their hands to their sides in laughter, while “omg” or “wow” might elicit a look of shock. The number of reactions and words that trigger them is surprisingly varied. I soon found myself getting more creative with my responses, just to see how my Mii would react. And believe it or not, Miitomo does not censor curse words, though it does have a report button to allow users to flag offensive content.
Much like ask.fm, questions and answers are the main social aspect of Miitomo. Unlike ask.fm, however, users are encouraged to like and comment on these tidbits to receive in-game coins, which can then be spent on everything from a full body hot dog suit (left, modeled by yours truly) to a traditional Japanese yukata in the in-app shop. Miifoto, the app’s equivalent of a photo booth, can then be used to show off choice ensembles, set up a group photo with your Mii friends, or even place a Mii in a real-world location using the option to import an image from your phone’s camera roll. With the variety of customization options from your Mii’s clothing, pose, and facial expression, this photo option has the largest potential to go viral. In fact, I have already seen quite a few Miifoto tweets pop up in my Twitter feed, despite the game only currently being out in Japan.
Miitomo also features a minigame to trade tickets for exclusive items, and connecting your Nintendo ID to the app allows for even more ways to earn cute in-game goodies, as well as discount coupons for Nintendo games. But despite the overwhelming cuteness of my hotdog suit-wearing Mii and my initial amusement with answering questions in the funniest ways possible, after just two days I found myself hardly checking the app at all. Perhaps the ability to come up with your own questions for your friends would add more variety, but currently there are only a set number of (admittedly bland) questions Nintendo has made available for users to answer.
While Miitomo might have enough social functionality to satisfy Nintendo fans looking to earn My Nintendo rewards, it is hard to imagine a world where people flock to Miitomo over alternative social media options such as Facebook and Twitter. Instead of being a stand-alone product, Miitomo acts more as an add-on to existing social media that only reaches its full potential if you also link your Nintendo ID. So even though Miitomo is an admirable first effort for Nintendo’s foray into social apps, it unfortunately feels slightly lacking. With more content and an official release, Miitomo may successfully catch on in the West, but only time will tell.
Those interested in waiting patiently for an official release can preregister on Miitomo's official website!
Anne Lee is a freelance translator and professional fanmadam. You can follow her on Twitter @apricotsushi.