Nintendo’s grand avatar experiment comes to a head this week with Miitopia, a role-playing game for the Nintendo 3DS starring you and your friends (and the occasional celebrity). But we’ve been starring in Nintendo games for over a decade now. And with the Switch console dropping any and all reminders of the Wii era, while pushing new characters like the Inklings from Splatoon 2 along with Twintelle and the rest of her Arms cohorts, we soon might be waving goodbye to the little scamps. Here are the ten best titles featuring Miis, those adorable, armless, cartoon doppelgangers.
Say what you will about Nintendo’s debut phone app, but clothing your cartoon self in a Hot Dog suit and hearing him read aloud your friend’s most privately-held feelings about fruit is more compelling than 99% of the free-to-play dreck out there.
Nintendo 3DS, 2011
This 3DS launch title has been mostly forgotten, but at the time it was a revelation. The sense of height and depth while soaring over Wuhu Island would be impossible without the hardware’s eponymous feature. And with your Mii strapped in, you feel even closer to the clouds.
Nintendo Switch, 2017
Sure, you can race as Iggy from Super Mario Bros. 3 or a Shy Guy or Waluigi. But nothing beats taking the race online while showing your true face. In triumph or defeat, at least you haven’t hidden behind some anthropomorphic mascot. And zap in one of a dozen amiibo to unlock themed racing suits that are stunning in detail, from Pac-Man’s moving chompers to Fox McCloud’s flight helmet complete with extendable mic.
Nintendo 3DS, 2013
You can wear a mask that looks like your Mii. In the already-cartoon world of Animal Crossing, where your villager lives amongst animals, the act feels appropriate but profane, like a lion draping an elephant hide over his body while lying in wait during a hunt. Probably the closest approximation to wearing a mask of human skin that you’ll ever see in a Nintendo game.
This and the original Wii Sports feel like the games Miis were created for. Because they were. The fact that they’ve prospered beyond their opening athletic salvo is a testament to their simple brilliance and enduring appeal. In Resort, the lizard-brain pleasures of Tennis and Baseball have been refined and replaced with a more exotic variety of duels. Who hasn’t wanted to stand atop a platform and smack your grandmother with a giant foam sword down into the water below? These are no mere “tech demos” — all have hidden depth and nuanced control. Archery and Table Tennis are surprising highlights; 3-Point Contest is a personal, unpopular favorite.
Many forget that this unfairly maligned title was the very first game in which we saw a Mii. The year was 2006. Shigeru Miyamoto stroad upon the E3 press conference stage, brandishing this white rectangular… is that a remote? He started waving it like a conductor’s wand. An orchestra of cartoon avatars played the theme to The Legend of Zelda. It would be another two years before this prototype took the form of Wii Music and confused game critics and disappointed players expecting Nintendo’s Guitar Hero. Instead, it was your own personal garage band, 8-track, and CD Album editor all in one. I dare you to watch Bob Ross play “Ode to Joy” on his Toy Piano and not be smitten.
Nintendo 3DS, 2011
Though the 3DS came out five years after Miis stormed the public’s consciousness, the handheld and its passive communication feature “StreetPass” is the ideal form for these cartoon us’s to escape the confines of our electronics and cavort with strangers. Walk by another holding a 3DS and your Miis would pop up in each other’s system. Even better, they offered you a gift. The simple collect-a-thon of building 3D puzzles one piece at a time through these happy accidents of propinquity was a addictive and novel new kind of “co-op” play. Other games would have you planting flowers, striking down monsters, and giving stock tips. Even today, I get a tiny thrill when my system’s green light blinks anew.
It’s easy to forget how gigantic this title was. Nintendo sold over twenty million bathroom scales at $100 each. And what better way to motivate you into good health than by seeing your own bulging body on-screen? The fact that it’s a cartoon helps soften the blow of self-loathing; the software labeling your Mii “obese” after weighing in on the Wii Balance Board cuts deep regardless.
Nintendo 3DS, 2014
This bizarre game barely made it to North America. The first game, Tomodachi Collection, came out on Nintendo DS and never made it out of Japan. Luckily, the 3DS sequel came westward, and we all could experience the euphoric madness of watching you and your friends live out their strange little days in an apartment building that was really more of an aquarium.
Wii U, 2012
What should have been a victory lap by Nintendo was instead a sad sign of things to come. Though this Wii U launch title never caught fire like its predecessor’s sporty pack-in, in some ways it’s the ultimate Nintendo crossover. You, as a Mii, throw on costumes based on Nintendo’s revered franchises and engage in amusement park-style versions of the real deal. As a demonstration of the Wii U’s unique GamePad and asymmetric multiplayer, the message was muddled and the quality of games was mixed. But if you grew up alongside Mario and Samus and Link, Nintendo Land is like some alternate reality dream scenario. And this collection ain’t just empty fan service. Each mini-game does something interesting, and seeing these classic characters reimagined as mechanical facsimiles is perhaps a glimpse into the future of Universal Studio’s impending Super Nintendo World. People that played it know the multiplayer stuff is top-notch; the solo games (especially “Captain Falcon’s Twister Face”) are vastly underrated.
Since 2003, Jon Irwin has been paid to write about film, techno, ice cream, wine, golf, drag-racing, French children and videogames. His first book, Super Mario Bros. 2, was published last year by Boss Fight Books. Follow along: @WinWinIrwin.