For as much as people claim to love them, Nintendo is just as prone to preemptively disappointing gamers as any company is these days.
Let’s take the announcement of their first-ever phone game/app, Miitomo. Originally announced in October as part of Nintendo’s mobile games initiative, details about Miitomo were provided earlier in the week. Less of a game and more of a social experiment, Miitomo uses the company’s now-ubiqutous Mii characters (connected to your Nintendo Network ID, which can be used to register and download Miitomo to your iOS or Android device) to ask you questions such as “Do you believe in aliens?” and “If you saw a nose hair sticking out of your friend’s nose, what would you do?” and then broadcast your answers across your friend list. Current Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima explained further during a stockholder’s meeting earlier this month, “All of you must have had the enjoyable experience of being prompted by a friend to talk about something that you might not normally bring up in the course of your conversation…Mii characters facilitate this kind of social play structure with Miitomo”, thus reinforcing the game’s standing as less of a ‘game’ and more of a ‘social experience’.
The backlash was, of course, immediate, because when has Nintendo ever announced something that never disappointed anyone ever? (I’d like to remind everyone how upset we all got when Earthbound finally hit the Virtual Console but was priced slightly higher than other SNES games, myself included.) Gamers decried the fact that Miitomo would include in-app purchases by redeeming points from the new My Nintendo service for ‘digital content’, people were depressed that Nintendo’s first mobile app wasn’t Mario- or Zelda-themed, and even back in October when the app was first announced Nintendo’s shares took a huge drop.
So people clearly aren’t too excited to use their Miis to tell friends about what songs have been stuck in their heads lately, and that’s a shame, because in this humble writer’s humble opinion, Nintendo is making the right call by rolling out Miitomo as their first mobile effort.
Historically speaking, Nintendo has always made an effort to put…well, if not their best foot forward, then the most useful foot. Whenever approaching a new platform, Nintendo has traditionally launched with software that helps to best explain the benefits and features of their platform to users and potential developers. The best example of this is probably Wii Sports, of course – in one fell swoop with a free pack-in title, Nintendo showed people how to make a Mii, how the Wii’s then-new motion controller worked, and how much fun you could actually have with pretend tennis. Even before that, however, Nintendo platforms always launched with a game or two that explained how it all worked – Super Mario 64 introduced people to 3D platforming and helped justify the then-reviled N64 controller layout, Pilotwings Resort and Steel Diver introduced, at various points, the 3DS’ new 3D capabilities and gyroscopic motion, and Super Mario 64 DS (and, to a degree, Sega’s Feel the Magic) helped explore the various new control schemes the original DS could offer, such as touch screen input and that goddamned microphone.
To me, Miitomo is Nintendo’s attempt at learning to play within the rules of a format they didn’t have a hand in designing. Particularly as Nintendo’s maiden voyage into mobile apps, Miitomo plays into a lot of the strengths of the mobile format – simple input, ease of sharing across networks, communication potential – without trying to force it to be something it isn’t. Let’s all face facts here people: pure touch screen input is usually a recipe for disaster when it comes to fast action gaming on smaller devices like phones or smaller-sized tablets, and while I have faith in Nintendo to find a way to make a tolerable enough Mario game for cell phones, it’s still going to present challenges even for someone as good at working within such confines as Nintendo is. They’re not going to release something like that until they know it’s worth showing (how long has it been since the last Zelda, again?) and so in the meantime we get Miitomo.
And you know what? I like it as a concept. Starting roughly around the Gamecube generation, Nintendo has really spent the better part of the 2000’s embracing their roots as a toy company, and I don’t just mean Amiibos. Nintendo has specialized in what a lot of people rightly refer to as ‘non-games’ lately along the lines of slow-life village-building staple Animal Crossing and “put all your friends in a neighborhood and watch them have babies” simulator Tomodachi Life. A decent amount of Nintendo’s output lately has been games that eschew the traditional “fight bad guys, save the day” formula that the vast majority of video games follow, and instead focus more on creating an experience, sharing with your friends, or both. Miitomo, to me, is an extension of that kind of thinking; a fun non-game that allows you to interact with your friends in a charming and non-challenging way that could very well provide some laughs. Sure, it isn’t exactly a pocket-sized quest to find the Triforce, but Nintendo didn’t exactly promise us that – and what they are giving us is something that exactly meets the demands of the platform. It’s what they’re good at.
Of course, I really have just used a lot of words to defend something I might never play – I’m an avowed Windows Phone user which means I don’t really have any apps other than Instagram, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever actually get around to playing Miitomo. But you know what? I’d really like to. It’s a cute idea, and frankly I’m willing to show Nintendo my support just for branching out into what is, for them, unexplored waters. They’ve been the last to adopt a lot of things in the game industry (CD media, HD graphics, the very concept of the Internet) but it’s always interesting to see what they come up with when they do get around to it. If I get the chance, I’ll happily download Miitomo just to obnoxiously bombard my friends with information about myself that none of them asked for or wanted.
It’s no dumber than what we already do on Twitter and Facebook, right? And I can say that as a man who has photographed nearly every meal he has ever eaten.