If there’s one 3DS exclusive we didn’t expect to make the leap to the Switch, it’s Miitopia. The oddball RPG starring you and your friends has been given the HD treatment, but does it really have a place on a system so much more powerful than the 3DS?
The story of Miitopia is nothing too extravagant: the appropriately named Dark Lord has been stealing people’s faces in order to power up his army of monsters, and it’s down to… err, well, someone to stop them. It could be you, it could be your grandmother, it could be Doshin the Giant, because it all depends on what you create using the game’s main selling point, its Mii creator.
The original 3DS version of Miitopia had a fairly standard Mii creation system that you’d be instantly familiar with if you’ve used one on any of Nintendo’s systems after the Wii. This time, however, Nintendo has unlocked a proverbial Pandora’s box of potential with the new makeup system. Despite what marketing suggests, you don’t have to settle on just giving your sister blusher or your boyfriend come-to-bed eyelashes; people already have been creating a staggering number of incredible Miis representing just about anyone and anything you can imagine.
This system is powerful, too; we ourselves were able to create a Mii that didn’t look entirely unlike Kazooie from Banjo-Kazooie, as well as many other characters from Nintendo’s repertoire and far, far beyond. You don’t have total freedom, of course; you still can’t erase noses and have to try and hide them somewhere as best you can, but even with that taken into account we’re fairly sure you could recreate any person or character you can imagine, fictitious or real. And if you’re not a creative type or the whole thing smacks of too much effort, you can also download other people’s creations using Nintendo Switch Online, so you too can have CD-i Ganon fawning over his partner Gex.
But a character creation suite to rival Adobe is nothing without something to do with your creations, so how does the game actually play? Well, if you’d been paying attention in the opening paragraph you’d know that this is an RPG – a turn-based one, to be precise. You’ll form a band of various characters (and a horse) with various jobs to explore distant lands and defeat creatures wearing the faces of the local population. The combat system is a little on the basic side; you only control your hero character and the others are controlled for you. The AI does a decent job of doing the right thing at the right time, but it does prevent you from planning anything too interesting; we wouldn’t go so far as to call it boring, but a bit more tactical control would have been nice.
What is nice about Miitopia’s combat, however, is the ‘Safe Spot’ system. This allows you to pull one of your team out of the fight to heal, recover from status effects, or simply to survive. It’s simple on the surface but it’s a notable little wrinkle that allows you to turn the tide of more challenging battles. Each character will also have a personality (chosen by you) that gives them various buffs or additional abilities outside of their job description. A cautious character might wait until everyone else has attacked before they do, granting them a damage bonus, while a kind character might jump in the way of a teammate to take the brunt of a hit. A stubborn character might get frustrated and attack twice in a row to prove their worth.
What’s more, the relationships you form in your team have an enormous impact on how they fight. A friend might warn another of an impending attack, join forces with them to deal additional damage, or even console them when they’ve taken a hit. These form naturally over time but you can help things along by placing them in the same room as one another in one of the seemingly limitless inns you encounter at the end of each stage, or sending them out on a little trip to the seaside, the cinema, or one of the many other wholesome activities.
Much of the game’s events are randomised or at least have an element of random chance in them; Waluigi may find something shiny on the ground, Madeline from Celeste might tell the group a scary story, or Diglett may appropriately fall down a hole in the ground for the third time. These Tomodachi Life-style interactions and the way you choose to populate your party are where the real joy of this game lies. It’s impossible for us to see PS1 Hagrid smash an enemy to death with a frying pan on horseback shouting ‘YER A WIZARD HARRY’ without breaking out into a grin.
Your characters can use money to obtain various items of equipment in order to improve their stats. These are class-specific and rather outlandish, but what’s really nice is that you don’t have to wear or hold the gear in order to receive its benefits, instead just keeping your old gear’s visuals. If you think Peter Serafinowicz’s Brian Butterfield looks like a darling in his current ballgown, you needn’t change his look just to get the better stats.
As we said before, you’re in control of who you interact with, be it Breath of the Wild’s Urbosa as a magical elf, Scott Wozniak as an explorer, or Ziggy Stardust as the Grand Sage, it doesn’t have to make the slightest lick of sense to anyone except yourself. The world is your oyster and it helps turn a fairly basic plot into something genuinely memorable. We found ourselves taking screenshot after screenshot of weird executions the game produced using our creations, not for this review but just because we wanted to make sure we had a record for our own purposes. We don’t care what anyone says, Bart Simpson’s face on a Cobra is an image we can no longer live without. You can also alter or completely replace roles with other characters whenever you like, so if Dark Lord Tingle just isn’t doing it for you anymore, Dark Lord Balan is just a few menu presses away, which is a really excellent boon that keeps things from getting stale.
Having said all that, we’d be lying if we said there weren’t instances of poor pacing. After the first chapter, you temporarily lose your original party save for your hero, and said hero is forced to pick a new job and start out at level one again. It all makes sense in the long run and the latter parts of the game are more likely better for it, but suffice it to say we were mortified to see the Dark Lord steal Mushbert away from us. Things can also get a bit monotonous between the funny moments, and we can’t help but feel a little bit of fat could’ve been trimmed here and there to make certain sections a little less tedious. The devs have kindly gifted us with the ability to double the speed at which the game plays out (in most sections), which is very gratefully received, but does somewhat smack of awareness of potential tedium.
As for presentation, we’re gifted with a weird mix of art styles that absolutely shouldn’t go together. Somehow though – possibly due to the ‘generic’ look of the Miis themselves – it all sort of works, and the end result is a strangely beautiful cacophony of everything. The localisation team for Europe even went the extra mile and filled the game with countless instances of British vernacular, such as ‘loo break’, ‘sarcastic bloke’, and ‘I’m not a happy bunny’. It likely means little to anyone outside of the UK, but cor blimey guvnor did it leave us chuffed to bits. The soundtrack is wonderful, the ability to rewatch old cutscenes is a nice bonus, and 99% of the time, the game runs really well. There are moments when the framerate seems to dip away from its 30fps target for unclear reasons, but it never affects gameplay.
Miitopia is a weird old game, that’s for sure. If from what you’ve read you think you’d enjoy seeing King King Dedede (sic) encouraging our very own Zion Grassl to marry his daughter Kazooie over Jon Cartwright, then you’re bound to have a good time with this. It’s very much the type of game in which you get out as much as you put in; if you’re not into injecting a copy of Chibi-Robo!: Zip Lash into the role of a genie then you might want to think twice, or at least give the free demo a whirl. Whimsy and madcap situations a-plenty, this is a crossover that could rival Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, provided you’re willing to put the effort in.