A late-period 3DS role-playing game is updated for the Nintendo Switch, but is Miitopia an adventure worth embarking on?
When Miitopia debuted on the Nintendo 3DS in 2017, it already seemed like an out-of-date product. The Nintendo Switch was off to a strong start, and the prospect of a game based on Mii characters was positively archaic.
Miitopia was reasonably well-received by those who played it, but there’s no escaping the fact it would be more fondly remembered if it had arrived during the Mii heyday of the Nintendo Wii era or, at least, three years earlier when the similarly Mii-centric Tomodachi Life made a small splash on the 3DS.
The game now makes the journey to Nintendo Switch – courtesy of Grezzo – in a slightly refreshed form with high-definition visuals and a smattering of new gameplay features, none of which fundamentally change the experience.
Bringing a game designed specifically for a handheld console to the Nintendo Switch can be fraught with challenges, and Miitopia is a textbook example. In handheld mode – or on the Switch Lite – the game feels quite at home, a cosy adventure to enjoy in the palm of your hands. When viewed through the harsh light of a 40-inch TV screen, the game’s shortcomings and small scale are exposed.
Miitopia is a decidedly slender experience, particularly for an RPG. Progression is mostly linear, combat is mostly simple, and the gameplay loop is mostly repetitive. If you are looking for an experience to stand toe-to-toe with Pokemon Sword & Shield, Dragon Quest XI, or Bravely Default 2, you are likely to be disappointed.
Miitopia does have a secret weapon, however, and it’s that anachronistic focus on Mii characters. Despite their relative lack of social currency in 2021, Nintendo’s little avatars elevate the game into something worth playing. Miitopia is an RPG that gives back what you put in, and if you’re prepared to engage in some creative effort, you’ll discover a consistently charming, low-stakes adventure.
Before playing, I recommend taking the time to create as many Miis as possible using the Switch’s native Mii creator. If you don’t, Miitopia’s opening stretch is a real slog that requires the creation of multiple characters. Taking time out from the opening act to design the perfect Mii grinds the story to a halt and is best avoided.
The game’s Mii toolkit is complemented by new hair and makeup options, making it easier than ever to design a cast of wild and wacky creations. Although it’s tempting to base your Miis on celebrities and famous fictional characters, the game is at its best when it stars people closer to home: your gran, your sister, your friends and neighbours, or your co-workers. And that’s because Miitopia is not just a role-playing game, it’s also a soap opera, and its character interactions have much more resonance when they feature familiar faces.
Miitopia is a tapestry of petty squabbles and romantic interludes that play out on the road, during combat, and in moments of rest. As is typical from Nintendo, these scenes are sharply written and frequently hilarious. Seeing Thumbsticks editor Tom Baines fall out with former contributor Josh Wise was heartbreaking. Equally, their tender reconciliation was beautifully heartwarming. If the moment had starred two random celebrities, this quietly magical interaction wouldn’t have been as enchanting.
Lodging at an inn gives you the chance to feed your team and equip them with new costumes and weapons. Relationships can be forged or broken, and the outcome has tangible ramifications on combat. Team members with a strong connection will assist each other in battle, but those without will sulk and refuse to engage. These short episodes of love, affection, envy, and anger give life to the rote structure and compensate for the increasing tedium of combat.
Aside from a late-game deviation, the game adheres rigidly to a strict formula of relationship-building, travelling, and combat. There’s no overworld to explore, just a Super Mario World-like map of branching paths that become increasingly peppered with quests.
Complexity is gradually introduced to the game’s combat system, but the Auto-Battle option is all too tempting to use, and evidence that the game’s primary focus is elsewhere. It’s the combination of first-class writing and recognisable faces that just about keeps the game interesting across its 25-hour runtime. The addition of a horse is also pretty cool, I’ll admit.
Despite the HD upgrade, Miitopia loses some of its visual splendour on Switch. The vintage illustration graphical approach of the original version was one of the last triumphs for the stereoscopic screen of the Nintendo 3DS. The characters and environments are now sharper, but their basic construction is all the more evident. However, it’s still a colourful and appealing adventure that blends 1950s-style minimalism with 1960s psychedelia.
There’s a lot of game here – too much, perhaps – so I’d recommend starting with the free demo available from the Nintendo eShop. It’s generous in length and features just enough content to provide a feel for the complete experience.
Although Miitopia‘s handheld roots are all-too clear, this is a welcome re-release for an overlooked game. Miitopia is an enjoyable, if under-developed, RPG. If it’s a success, I hope it opens the door for Nintendo to revisit the much more anarchic and compelling Tomodachi Life.
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Out Now