Even if you’ve never touched a Wii, you’ve probably seen Miis before. These avatars were all the rage in the 2000s – and contrary to what Nintendo seemingly believes, they still are.
When “Nintendo Switch Sports” was revealed during a Nintendo Direct on Feb. 9, Nintendo fans lost their minds. They immediately recomposed themselves, however, when they saw generic, sleek avatars called Sportsmates as the game’s mascot instead of Miis. Go watch any Nintendo Direct reaction video on YouTube to see what I mean; to paraphrase Bart Simpson, you can actually pinpoint the second where their hearts rip in half.
An extended gameplay demonstration revealed that Miis would still be playable, but they were barely acknowledged. Some fans completely missed that Miis appeared at all – and who could blame them when all the personality and fine details from “Wii Sports” were absent from the trailer? Gone are the days where you could accidentally throw a bowling ball backwards and make a crowd of Miis jump in unison.
“Nintendo Switch Sports” has faced multiple minor controversies since its reveal. Its closed beta test was confusingly marketed, making fans assume that it was a free trial weekend for Switch Online owners, and potential earned marketing was hindered when the beta test banned sharing footage. The high price and limited selection of sports also compares poorly to “Wii Sports Resort.” Despite all this, the uproar against Sportsmates is the loudest.
This isn’t an article about “Nintendo Switch Sports,” because regardless of its quality, its cultural legacy will be a footnote compared to “Wii Sports.” You’ll probably forget it exists by June. What I’m more interested in discussing is how the game represents a wider trend during the Switch era: Nintendo’s baffling avoidance of the Miis’ broad appeal.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t know the Switch still has Miis. The Mii Maker is obscured in the system settings instead of the home screen, and like the eShop, its catchy music has been silenced. Miis are mostly relegated to the Switch’s numerous Wii U ports like “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” but two major exceptions prove there’s still demand for Miis.
“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” brought back all fighters from previous entries for the ultimate crossover celebrating gaming history, including Mii Fighters. The Miis’ customizable nature allowed director Masahiro Sakurai to expand the game’s roster by representing additional characters with Mii costumes. While it was often disappointing to see highly requested picks only appear as Miis (my condolences, Geno fans), seeing them represented at all was notable.
Some of the Mii costume reveals were even more exciting than the fighter reveals. One of my favorite moments in Smash history will always be when Sans from “Undertale” was revealed as a Mii Gunner costume, complete with a new remix of “MEGALOVANIA.” Naturally, the internet went wild with excitement and memes. You get an indescribable, magic feeling when you wear the Sans outfit. Maybe it’s the way you’re dressed.
More relevant to the Miis’ history outside of other franchises, however, is the success of “Miitopia.” Near the end of the 3DS’s life cycle, Nintendo released this cult classic RPG with life simulator elements from “Tomodachi Life,” a surprisingly emotional story and a soundtrack that goes way harder than it has any right to. “Miitopia” received a Switch port with additional content and features, including more detailed facial customization.
In what may have been the most galaxy-brained way to generate marketing buzz around “Miitopia,” Nintendo released a free demo; although most of the story and costumes were saved for the full game, the demo granted full access to Mii customization, basically acting as the greatest Mii Maker iteration. Players flooded social media with ridiculously creative Mii designs, ranging from art style recreations to perfect replicas of abstract paintings.
Between Sans joining Smash and the incredible community surrounding “Miitopia,” Miis give Nintendo a huge boost in online marketing and discussions, provided the company actually uses them. Nintendo tops Twitter trending whenever new games feature Miis, but by the same token, ignoring or downplaying Miis causes outrage. This shows that the Miis have incredible staying power due to their iconic, charming designs that can represent virtually any character.
Downplaying Miis represents a massive misstep in the Switch era: Nintendo taking a safer, sleek approach to its identity. That doesn’t mean the Switch has no charm compared to previous consoles; in fact, many of Nintendo’s franchises have reinvented themselves with creative and groundbreaking Switch entries. However, like with “Nintendo Switch Sports” itself, the console lacks features and traits that set its predecessors apart from competitors.
Do you dislike the Switch’s monochromatic menus? You’re out of luck, because there are no custom themes like the 3DS or Wii U. The My Nintendo rewards program doesn’t live up to Club Nintendo, and there’s no menu or eShop music, a tentpole of Nintendo’s beloved console aesthetics. It’s no surprise that fans are celebrating rudimentary features like folders being added five years after the Switch launched.
This reduction of personality also extends to some of Nintendo’s biggest franchises. After being allowed to get experimental in the 2000s, Mario spin-offs – especially the sports games – have rigid brand guidelines and a homogenous aesthetic from the New Super Mario Bros. games. Fans have complained that Switch sequels like “Mario Golf: Super Rush,” while polished, are nowhere near as memorable as something like “Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour.”
It feels like Nintendo wants to distance its brand from the Wii U, an underrated console with some of the company’s worst marketing ever. Perhaps the higher-ups associate Miis with a time when they failed to capitalize on the Wii’s success with sequels like “Wii Sports Club” or “Wii Fit U.” However, I can confidently say that is not how the general public remembers Miis.
Gen Z players, who grew up on 2000s and 2010s Nintendo consoles, have immortalized their nostalgia through memes. “Wii Sports” and “Wii Sports Resort” are the source of memes like Matt, a godlike Mii who became the final boss of sports. Nintendo clearly knows about Wii memes, considering we just got Coconut Mall-ed by the “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” Booster Course Pass trailer minutes after “Nintendo Switch Sports” was revealed.
However, even that fan-favorite “Mario Kart Wii” track was missing something when it was released as DLC. Coconut Mall’s final stretch, a parking lot that had Miis driving back and forth, is now occupied by stationary Shy Guys. As much as Mario enemies fit here, I can’t think of anything more painfully poetic about Nintendo’s personality downgrade than the Miis literally being replaced by Mario’s strict brand guidelines.
As tech companies like Meta horrendously fail at making likable avatars and Gen Z spreads free marketing buzz from absurdist Wii memes, now is the time for Nintendo to wake up and capitalize on the Miis’ legacy. Miis are both nostalgic and ahead of their time; they were around long before Sportsmates and they’ll be around long after them.
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Sean Mullins (she/they) is the managing editor and webmaster for the Journal, formerly the opinions editor during the 2021/2022 school year. She is a media studies major and professional writing minor at Webster University, but she's participated in student journalism since high school, having previously been a games columnist, blogger and cartoonist for the Webster Groves Echo at Webster Groves High School. Her passion is writing and editing stories about video games and other entertainment mediums. Outside of writing, Sean is also the treasurer for Webster Literature Club. She enjoys playing games, spending time with friends, LGBTQ+ and disability advocacy, streaming, making terrible puns and listening to music.