Nintendo’s happy-go-lucky make-’em-yourself Mii characters are back for a “Lord of the Rings”-lite adventure in “Miitopia,” now available for Nintendo 3DS. Whether your Mii collection is friends and family, or a random assortment of celebrities and Picasso-style abstractions, your squad will be drafted to stand against the Dark Lord and save the kingdom. “Miitopia” is a delightfully weird and surprisingly large game, but the weirdest bit is how little you do in it.
You see, “Miitopia” has streamlined the Epic Video Game Adventure – a torch long carried by Role-Playing Games like “Final Fantasy,” “Dragon Quest” and “Pokémon” – down to the simplest possible structure. If you’re expecting a deep explore-and-battle game on the level of any of those, you’re not going to get it. Instead, you get a cute little romp where the main appeal is turning your Miis into video game stars.
Every character in “Miitopia” is a role to be filled by a Mii, from the biggest bad guy to the smallest town shopkeeper. These roles can be changed at any time, instantly replacing one Mii for another. You could start the game with your kid sister as the Dark Lord, but later change the villain into wrestling giant The Undertaker, and the game will ripple out the swap. Miis can be sourced from your 3DS (including from the save file for 2014’s similarly Mii-focused game, “Tomodachi Life”), Nintendo’s phone app “Miitomo,” or made fresh in the game itself.
The gimmick that drives “Miitopia” is that the Miis’ faces have been hijacked by the Dark Lord. So your grandmother’s cute face will be on a rock beast, or three friends from school are now the heads of a three-headed enemy monster. You, through your own Mii, have to form a group of adventurers and put an end to this face-stealing menace.
Your party has plenty of jobs to choose from (from typical fantasy roles like warrior and mage to unexpected classes like chef, cat or pop star) and each has a full succession of armor, weaponry and special abilities. What’s odd about “Miitopia” is that, during a battle, your partner characters all act by themselves. You only select the attack for your one main character… so with a party of four, that’s you just watching the game play itself 75% of the time. “Miitopia” acknowledges this is sort of silly, therefore it provides an auto-battle button so your own Mii can be put on automatic pilot as well. Why not watch for 100% of the time.
All you do during a battle is manage the “safe spot” (where you can hide a Mii to let them heal during a fight) and distribute temporary buffs to keep the party in tip-top shape. Often, particularly if your team is fairly strong, you do not have to pay attention to the battle at all. It’s strange that the game would have you spend so much time inside a mode where you’re literally a spectator. Luckily there’s a fast-forward button.
Between battles, your Miis gather at an inn to rest. You can buy them new gear and feed them different types of food to improve their stats. They also forge relationships with other, which leads to pairs of Miis learning new team-up attacks. Again, you do not get to choose when these attacks happen, but at least they add variety to the battle scenes you’re watching.
This is, largely, the chief draw for “Miitopia”: watching. Can you get into seeing your wizard daughter form a close bond with an off-model Mario scientist in order to fight against a googly-eyed goblin during a quest given by town mayor Michael Jackson? That’s “Miitopia.”
It can be a hoot to dress up your pals in funky outfits and weird weapons and send them into battle. “Miitopia” even has a screenshot function, so you can capture the funniest/most embarrassing moments and post them online. You can play it for hours (no joke: I played for 35 hours before credits rolled, and even then it just opened up a ton more quests and locations), and it’s a great low-impact adventure game for young kids with starter reading skills. You just have to really like Miis, because this game is not going to provide big drama or intricate strategy.
“Miitopia” is available for Nintendo 3DS. A downloadable demo is available on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. This review is based on product supplied by the publisher. Images courtesy Nintendo of America.