Many people imagined what Nintendo’s first foray into mobile would be like: a cute social network, akin to Animal Crossing welded to a freemium shop. These people were dead wrong.
On the surface, Miitomo is all smiles and daft animations. A kind of throwback to the early days of social networking, where cartoon avatars doddered about in a virtual world, gesticulating and jabbering away. But here, every avatar — a Nintendo Mii — lives in a barren, tiny room, their sole interactions being occasional visits with other Miis.
Some of them have a tomato for a head. Others are wearing fishnet stockings and hot pants. Yup, the Super Mario maker's debut smartphone app is pretty damn weird.
You talking to Mii?
There’s a detachment to each conversation, making every Mii in this strange, prison-like world appear unhinged. Unlike normal social networks, you don’t chat about just anything. Instead, Miitomo kicks things off by asking for your opinions on such thorny topics as bread and stress relief.
These questions flit between the banal and bonkers almost at random, meaning message threads then take their own course and can rapidly plunge into a sewer — or perhaps that’s just the friends we keep. Either way, a lot of the entertainment we've had from Miitomo couldn't be described as wholesome.
Tools designed for excitable pre-teens are ripe for subversion by the cesspool minds of adults. Miis can be dressed in costumes and posed for ‘Miifotos’, to which you can add text and also custom backgrounds from your smartphone’s photo library, thereby providing plenty of creative scope. Cute Mii leaping into the air, thrilled at a new Mario hat? Check. Drunk Mii face-down in a pool of vomit in inner-city Manchester? Also check.
The dark side of social network
Objectively, the core app is mediocre. It’s stodgy and sluggish, with regular lengthy load times. The minigames are dull, the constant urging you to visit the shop is irksome, and the process of finding friends is borderline broken, lacking manual additions and eschewing real names — a problem when you get requests and have no real idea who they’re from.
Subjectively, though, it's barmy enough to keep dragging you back for more. Hilariously, Miitomo seems blissfully unaware of its own deranged nature. Miis will attempt to respond intelligently to input, but often do so in a manner that’s entirely inappropriate, totally insane, or bafflingly stupid; often, this is very funny.
And then there are the Miifotos. So. Many. Miifotos. You’ll quickly discover which friend is desperate to fly through the air dressed in underpants and leather boots, demanding HUG ME while stars shoot out of their bottom.
If you’re a kid, or have a kid in the house, the experience will likely be very different. Bar some horrible IAP (coins for the store, which can be earned far more slowly by interacting with Miis), Nintendo’s created a seemingly safe and positive social network to have fun with.
For us adults, Miitomo is something else entirely — almost a satire of social networking, awaiting the warped and creative minds of those who dare stare into its maw.