I just dropped a friend of mine into a pachinko machine to help me win a cat outfit. This is Nintendo’s first mobile game, and I don’t think I really need to tell you anything else about it … but I will.
The publisher released Miitomo in Japan yesterday, and it should debut everywhere else in the near future. Nintendo is positioning this as a simple communication and self-expression tool where your Mii avatar goes out and talks with your friends and asks them questions. Gaming on iOS and Android is a $34.8 billion business, and Nintendo needs some of that cash to get back to the profits its shareholders are accustomed to. Miitomo may push the company in that direction with its in-app transactions for clothing and other items.
Nintendo is in the middle of a transition. After shining a light on the untapped potential of the casual-gamer market with the Wii, the company has struggled to re-create that success after mobile gaming has taken most of those consumers. Now, the company’s Wii U is in a distant third in the console race behind Sony’s and Microsoft’s boxes, and the aging 3DS isn’t performing as well as its DS predecessor was at this point in its life. The company is hoping that it can generate serious revenue by appealing to fans on mobile while also keeping its core business around with the new, mysterious dedicated NX gaming hardware.
We’ve put a few hours into this new game, and you can check it out below:
The big thing about Miitomo is that it is essentially Facebook or Twitter by way of Nintendo. If we lived in a universe where the same company that invented Mario also invented social networks, Miitomo is what we’d get.
You start by creating or linking Miitomo to your My Nintendo account, which is the publisher’s new network service that will also appear on its console devices. You can then either make your Mii or import it from your 3DS or Wii U using the QR-code feature. After that, you’ll want to find some friends by linking Twitter or Facebook to the game.
Once you’re all set up, Miitomo is all about interacting with friends — but it does this is a slightly indirect way. You can visit others’ Miis, but they’ll often ask you or tell you about other things that the person already answered in the past. Miitomo gets these answers by prompting you with questions along the lines of “What were you just doing?” (I was working and thinking about cats.) or “What was your most recent purchase?” (fish tacos and an iced tea).
Of course, you can also comment on other people’s answers. This can take the form of text, emojis, or “Miifotos.” That last option enables you to quickly make pictures and scenes using Miis of both you and your friends and a bunch of powerful, easy-to-operate tools. I can see people getting deep into this option to make some impressive Miifotos.
Since your Miis are always interacting with others, Nintendo put a heavy emphasis on your appearance. You can dress up in all kinds of outfits, and this is where the company is generating revenue. Clothes generally cost coins, and you can get those from playing the game and unlocking achievements. But you can also use real currency to buy more. The in-app purchases range from $1 to around $80 in Japanese yen — we expect it to go from around $1 to $100 when that gets transferred into U.S. dollars.
But you don’t have to spend your money on clothes directly — instead, you can try gambling. In the shop section, Nintendo has a Mii Drop game, which is essentially pachinko. In this minigame, you can spend 500 coins (a fraction of what most new items in the store cost) for the chance to win specific parts of entire ensembles. I’m going for a cat outfit myself. Often time, you’ll drop a Mii and miss every piece of clothing along the way, but you’ll still get a secondary currency called candy that enables you to hear more sensitive answers from your friends.
I’m finding myself drawn to Miitomo. Nintendo has something here. It knows how to make engaging experiences. I’ve encountered a few crashes and bugs, but — to be fair — it’s not out in my territory yet. Beyond those very specific problems, however, this is a slick package with a lot of interesting interactions. And at least it doesn’t have any of my old friends from high school cheering on Donald Trump like on Facebook.