I'd like to start this review by saying that whether this is a "game" or not doesn't diminish the value or the fun this new app provides. This is far from a traditional video game experience and it will subvert your expectations, but that is not always a bad thing. After all, many experienced and talented game developers have failed on the mobile front by trying to shoehorn a traditional video game experience onto a smartphone.
Nintendo has taken a long time to release a game for the mobile platform and due to this they have relinquished many opportunities to be first to feature flash-in-the-pan gimmicks that have springboarded other companies and developers into the limelight. Some stuck, some quickly fizzled out. Nintendo could have easily made a safe and predictable move. They could have done a clone of an existing franchise like Temple Run or Angry Birds with Nintendo icons pasted on top. Although something like that may have worked, early on it would have robbed Nintendo of their image of originality and creativity. Nintendo would be painfully short selling themselves. Their first entry had to have pizazz, appeal, but it also had to be a very calculated long term strategy while being true to who they are as a company.
Best graphics? Most addictive gameplay? To be successful, outside of fun, what does a game need on the mobile platform? There are a lot of games on Google Play and the App Store that excel in one place but fall short in another. A game may have great graphics but is crippled by an oppressive monetization strategy. A game could be extremely addicting but also quickly get boring. Some games may be very well made and extremely enjoyable but simply don't have the shelf life and money-making clout to survive in the long haul. I believe that Miitomo has these important things to appease players, be fair monetarily and potentially lucrative for Nintendo now and for a long time to come. I will explain this later.
[Customizing your Mii]
[Setting a nickname]
[Giving your Mii a voice]
[Giving your Mii a personality]
Enough talking about the state of mobile gaming. Let's get into exactly what Nintendo has done to change it. Miitomo is a social economy game. The premise is simple. Make a Mii, a personal avatar that takes to your likeness or import an existing one from your Nintendo account. You will then customize it's personality which will give your Mii a literal voice by fine tuning a graph that corresponds to a synthesized voice.
[Your Mii thinks about people who have recently answered questions]
[Questions vary drastically]
[Answering questions and commenting on answers gives you coins]
[There are plenty of ways to dress your Mii]
["Miitomo Drop" allows you to spend your coins and game tickets]
As far as gameplay goes, it is very basic, but it is this complex social aspect to it that gives ever experience playing it a new twists. It never gets old. I already have a few of my friends and my whole family on it and they have sunk hours into this game as have I.
Getting back to why I think this game changes the mobile gaming industry, there are three reasons.
The first is that this game is very much a connected experience.
What makes smartphones fundamentally more important to us than any other computer in our lives is how connected they are to information and people. Nintendo has always been bold in it's statement that it's games were about bringing people together. That is exactly what Miitomo does. It facilitates conversation and then rewards the player for their input by giving them the means for more personal expression through clothing. It does this while putting enough cognitive dissonance between you and the other people/persons that you don't feel pressured to conform to mundane superficialities. It guides your conversations in a meaningful and enjoyable way. It bridges the gap between age and teaches friends, family and accquantances of all walks of life to find what they have in common.
I know I am throwing around some pretty grand ideas here, but I really do feel this game has an important impact on how people game and socialize. Even in a greater way than a PC or console game can, simply due to it's reach of players and accessibility. It's a game that makes being social and truly learning about the people in our lives… fun, but in a very hollistic way. Especially in this world where young people seem to be more closed off, shy, unable to express their feelings in meaningful ways, to speak to people outside their age group, even their parents.
Secondly, I believe Miitomo works well because it is potentially the start of an ecosystem.
Nintendo, last year revealed plans for a service along with their new console to be announced this year, code named NX. The accompanying service is suppose to connect PCs, Nintendo Consoles, Nintendo Handhelds and Smartphones together. Miitomo, could very well be that service in it's infancy (the name we have yet to learn) or at least a part of that service. Miitomo is a great argument for a social gaming platform that is fun to interact with all the time, as oppose to a service that you merely use to request game sessions with friends or to communicate with them while playing the game with you. Miitomo could be the start of a virtual world that connects all of Nintendo's games and services together. A world that even navigating through is a game in itself, one where you feel constantly connected to and included in. It brings the person behind the avatar a little closer to the surface and it encourages you to engage and play with people instead of players. This is another place where console games and some mobile games fail when it comes to playing socially. Often times people hide behind gamer tags and stock profile pictures with no personality.
We have already seen social companies like Google, Apple and Facebook link people together in meaningful ways in the mobile gaming world. As much as we love to rib Facebook for the incessant game notifications we get clogging our news feeds, arguably one of the most fun things about Facebook games is that we know or we feel like we know who we are playing with. This is an opportunity for Nintendo to step in and pair that rich social aspect with the compelling gameplay we have always dreamed of for mobile.
Finally, the aforementioned ecosystem may make the player's dollar go further.
When it comes to the devs of our games, Finances is often not something we want to talk about but it is important that the game is making a healthy income or it simply cannot survive. Miitomo monetization works because it is not pay to win. It is pay to express. All items can be bought using in-game currency, but as new items are added and more in-game money is spent, the in-game economy will prompt people to spend real money on items as if they were in an actual store. The player feels a level of agency as the clothing is simply to express themselves and gives them no unfair advantage in the game. One accessory may appeal to one person more or less than it does to someone else. It is up to Nintendo to uphold this monetization method to a high standard but they are doing well with it out the gate and they are not known for gouging players on their other platforms so that gives me a level of confidence.
Hopefully people will assign some value to the Nintendo brand regardless of the fact that these experiences take place on a device you happen to also make phone calls on. If Nintendo sells their upcoming ecosystem well, it may encourage people to spend a premium on the mobile end. Better yet, if Nintendo does a good enough job with their ecosystem it will bring more people into the PC, Console and Handheld side of things and make Nintendo more money across the board. A unified Nintendo account will remove the need gouge people in mobile specifically or at least make them not feel as if they are being gouged. When someone makes a purchase on one device they won't feel that it is isolated to that one lone app and therefore their dollar is going further. It's genius really.
Admittedly there is still a long way to go. Nintendo has been adding new questions and items to Miitomo every day and they will need to keep that up. They have been fair with monetization and the gameplay still holds up. They have plenty of room to muck this up or even abandon it, letting the fruit of their labor rot on the vine. It will sure be exciting to see where they go from here. Until then I'll be sinking hours into Miitomo Drop.