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Hands-on review: Miitomo - Nintendo’s first mobile hit
Wed, 23rd Mar 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Miitomo has only been released in Japan, but it is already a big hit. In fact, it has already surpassed one million downloads. This number continues to increase, and will surge again once it is released in more markets. As a result, Nintendo's stock has spiked. This app - Nintendo's first widely successful attempt at this - is well worth its hype.

Miitomo has got Nintendo hallmarks all over it. The app defies classification. Is it a game? Not really. Is it social media connectivity and chat? Kind of. It's all of those things, and none of them. It's something new entirely. My advice if/when you pick up your free copy, start with an open mind.

Despite Nintendo's shaky history with social connectivity, this app nails it. In the past, even simply connecting with friends can be a chore, particularly on consoles, but also somewhat on the handheld platforms. But in Miitomo, this is second nature, as it should be. Anyone can connect his or her Miitomo to Facebook or Twitter, and find your friends that way.

When you start the app for the first time, you'll begin by either importing your mii from a Nintendo account, or you'll create your own. You can do this manually, or use the camera to automatically generate potential Miis and modify them. As long as you have the camera trained on your face, the app will generate a Mii about every second. These are invariably pretty terrible, just like the same feature on the Wii U. Somehow, I managed to generate Miis with a variety of different ethnicities. Still, seeing how awful you look to a computer can be pretty funny, and at least it gives you somewhere to start.

Then, you get to tweak how the automated voice of your Mii sounds. Again, this is pretty entertaining, but you'll never get anything that truly sounds like you. Now, many people were hoping that this app would be like Nintendo's Tomodachi Life - and this functionality is a definite throwback to that - it may have been pulled straight from it, just with a different interface. The similarities don't stop there either. Anyone who enjoyed (or is currently enjoying) Tomodachi Life for the DS's: you will enjoy this app. You may even prefer it given the successful social network integration.

Next, you'll set your personality traits in a similar manner to tweaking the voice. If you're unsatisfied with your classification, you can always go back to change it up as much as your heart desires. According to Miitomo, my personality settings mean I'm somewhere between an “easygoing dreamer” and an “independent artist”. I'm not sure how accurate that is, but I could be biased.

Checking out all of the options and things to do takes hours - there's really a lot to see here. Granted, I put more play-time into Mii Maker on the wii than I'd like to admit, but there's something fun about messing around with all the options in Miitomo.

The functionality that makes up the majority of Miitomo interaction is answering questions. The game will ask you questions about yourself (like what's your favourite food, or what current event has grabbed your attention), and you can write fairly long replies which the game will read out to you. Then, you can go around and see how your friends answered those questions, and comment on their answers. This (and the photo sharing option) is the extent of interaction on Miitomo - rather limited in my opinion, especially because you can only interact with people you've connected with over Facebook, Twitter, or by this app's version of Spotpass. On the other hand, this is probably a good safety feature.

There are a number of different achievement/currency systems in the app, the most basic of which are: popularity level, style level, and coins. The two “level” systems work to gamify the social interaction. You level your popularity by achieving certain tasks in relation to other people (for example, make ten friends in a day, or something like that). Level your style by buying and changing outfits for your character.

To buy outfits, you use coins: the basic currency system. and you earn them in various different ways, chief among them: answering questions. If you're impatient, you can buy coins - roughly 120 Yen for 1,000 coins. This is the only in-app purchase system. Coins are used to buy clothing customisations for your character, but they are also used to play the one true game in the app: Miitomo drop. This minigame is essentially a plinko or pachinko drop, which you can play to get exclusive clothing items.

Right now, clothing is the only thing you can customise. Unlike Tomodachi Life, you cannot customise your Mii's room at all. But this could be in the works for future updates. Nintendo is going to need to find a way to extend the longevity of this app and consistent content drops (like additional customizsation options and mini-games) is a good way to do this.

What Miitomo means for Nintendo, however, is the most exciting part of the app. It marks the beginning of what promises to be an upsurgence of Nintendo innovations. Nintendo's new president Kimishima has expressed his intentions to explore other ideas and business models such as TV shows, movies, theme parks and smart-device games. Miitomo is the first foray into these ideas. Kimishima has also suggested that we can expect four more mobile games this fiscal year. At least one is expected to feature a ‘familiar character'.

Miitomo has a solid interface, easy social networking and engaging enough content for these first week after its release, but can Nintendo sustain the app? If the hype that the app currently has in Japan infects other markets, and Nintendo continues to add content consistently, it has the potential to be an even bigger hit than Swapnote.

Verdict: 8.7 / 10