It’s the mid-2000s, and you’ve just unpacked your shiny new Wii system. You set it up and power it on, and immediately you’re greeted to that iconic white system menu. There are only a handful of “channels” to select, but one stands out: the Mii Channel. You hover your Wii Remote cursor over the channel, launch it, and then boom — you begin your journey down the rabbit hole of minimalistic character creation that will likely sap hours away from your life as you meticulously construct virtual caricatures of yourself, family, friends, and maybe even your dog Buddy. This is the legacy of the Mii characters.
Miis were a massive part of the Wii ecosystem. Even the background music for the Mii Channel is so well-known that it’s spawned a massive amount of (really impressive) remixes across YouTube. But — why were they so popular?
Making Miiself and Mii-loved ones
Truth be told, avatar creation was nothing new by the time Miis came around. Many games at that point had “create a character” features, namely super-popular titles like The Sims. By comparison, the creation toolset for Miis was really basic. Yet, it was effective.
Despite their simplistic bodies and bobble-head figurine proportions, these little virtual girls and guys could be tweaked just well enough to resemble the real-world folks they were based on. It even became a thing to create Miis based on celebrities and cartoon characters. But what made Miis special on a personal level was that they were tied to the entire Wii experience.
The Wii was designed to bring family and friends together in a way that no home console had done before. And it most certainly knocked that goal straight out of the park. People both young and old gravitated towards the Wii due to its approachable nature. So, for a system where literally anyone could play it (just about everybody was), sitting down to construct virtual renditions of each player became a part of the entire experience.
Play with Mii
Miis represented brothers, sisters, cousins, spouses, and friends. And it wasn’t just a one-off thing. These little characters went hand in hand with many of the Wii’s most popular games, particularly the first-party casual Wii-branded collection by Nintendo. Games like Wii Sports/Resort, Wii Fit, and Wii Play sold millions of copies, and all of the characters in those games were Miis.
While there were default Miis included in each game, custom Miis you had on your system would replace the defaults. Now, even if you happened to be playing by yourself or just one other player, the games would still feature familiar faces. Again, all of that ties right into the unifying design of the Wii itself. It gave people a new sense of connection, and Miis were an extension of that. Nintendo even outfitted every Wii Remote with the smallest internal storage units so you could carry a selection of Mii characters inside the remote when you took it to someone else’s house.
On a darker note, however, have you ever had the experience of seeing the Mii of someone that’s no longer in your life? Perhaps they moved away, or you’re not as close. Yet, their Mii is still bopping along in the Mii Channel without a care in the world. A reflection of simpler, happier times. As trivial as it seems, there always were emotions attached. That Mii wouldn’t have been made unless that person either did it themselves or someone made it in their honor because they wanted them there.
Going down Miimory lane
So, clearly Miis played a major role throughout the life of Wii owners. And considering there are over 100 million Wii consoles out there in the wild, that means there are at least over 100 million custom Miis that were made on them, though that number is likely far greater. Despite their insane popularity and novelty, however, Miis are nowhere near as prevalent today as they were during the golden age of the Wii. Now, they’re mostly regulated to just being the face of every Switch owner’s Nintendo Account. So, they’re still fulfilling their role of representation, but it’s not nearly as grand of a task as it was then. Let’s see if we can trace this very gradual fall from grace.
Miis were somewhat featured on the original Nintendo DS, but it was really the 3DS that brought them fully into the portable realm. A new Mii Maker was included on the handheld, and it even made use of its camera to scan a person’s face in order to try and create the “perfect” virtual rendition. (But let’s be real — making one from scratch was always the best way.)
The 3DS Miis would be seen by more public eyes as they were integrated into the system’s StreetPass functionality. Anytime a 3DS owner would pass someone else in a public place, their Miis would wirelessly beam from one handheld to another. The end result would be that Mii appearing in the receiving 3DS’s StreetPass Mii Plaza, where they would show where their real creator was from and what their interests were. So, even the typical 3DS owner’s Mii Plaza comprised of mostly strangers, these Miis still had a lot of cute novelty to them because they gave you just a peek at what a fellow 3DS owner was like. Again, the Miis were fulfilling their role of representation in a very creative way. These Miis could then be seen in little mini-games that were a part of the StreetPass Mii Plaza, tying right back to the Wii days of having Miis be the stars of games.
Once the Wii U came around, Miis finally made their HD debut. Previously made characters from the Wii and 3DS could be transferred to the system. The Wii U featured a different take on the Mii Plaza, which was planted right on its main menu. Every time the Wii U would boot up, a selection of the most popular games would spawn as tiles, and dozens of Mii characters from Wii U owners all over the world would congregate underneath them. They’d shout out text bubbles that contained the words of actual people that wrote them on Miiverse.
For the Wii U (and then later the 3DS), Nintendo constructed its own original social media platform, using Miis as the foundation. With each Mii representing a real Wii U/3DS user, they could post in communities that were dedicated to each Wii U/3DS game and app. Some games would integrate the posts, so even if Miis weren’t playable, they were still very visible. Once again, the Mii representation movement was being accomplished. But this is really where the shift began to take place.
Nintendo made only a few more new Wii-branded titles on Wii U, like Wii Sports Club and Wii Fit U. On top of that, the number of general games that had Mii support dropped substantially. Still, since Miiverse was around, this reduction was less obvious. That was, until, Miiverse was woefully shut down in 2017 after being active for only five years. This came just a few months after the launch of Nintendo Switch, and that’s rather notable. Why?
The Switch made the grandest entrance of a Nintendo console since the original Wii. It, like the Wii, was designed to bring people together and has an approachable nature to it. Yet, Miis were no longer a heavy part of that aforementioned unifying experience. While the Switch does sport its own Mii Maker, it lacks that iconic custom background music. It feels… soulless. And really, that’s the perfect representation for how Miis are supported on this system. They no longer have the zest that they used to. They still act as representatives, albeit in the smallest way — as profile icons. And even then, their portraits can be swapped out for that of “famous” Nintendo characters.
Very few games on Switch actually support Miis in-game. The one game that I have that features them extensively is Go Vacation, and that’s a port from the Wii. Even Nintendo’s super casual—what-shoulda-been-a-pack-in-launch-game—1-2 Switch! didn’t feature them at all. Instead, it used… real people!
It’s clear that as Nintendo has moved on with growing the Switch and establishing its theme, Miis have just fallen to the wayside. But, again—why? They had spent about a decade being synonymous with Nintendo’s ecosystem. So, why just miinimize them to almost nothingness?
Mii, Miiself and… Mii
When Miis came onto the scene in 2006, they were a part of a new era for Nintendo. That entire new age, the Wii and DS era, was a major shift for the company. It became the console company known for being the haven for families, kids, and casual gamers. Miis and their innocent, cartoony design were the epitomai of that entire aesthetic.
But a lot of things changed with Switch. While Nintendo is still known for being the most “clean” of the three console makers, its modern brand image is less focused on being simplistic and casual and just more… unique. Nintendo’s game creation isn’t even the same anymore. Those heavily casual titles that extensively featured Miis are long gone. But even more so, the crowd that fell in love with Miis has mostly fallen away, too.
The non-gamers that were attracted primarily to the Wii, DS, and 3DS have moved on to other platforms, and they’ve taken their sentimentality for the Miis with them. A good chunk of the kids from that era, even if they’re still Nintendo fans, have grown up now and their tastes are different. So, both Nintendo and their consumers have basically outgrown the little characters.
Their magic was tied to the Nintendo of that era. They were tied to the simplicity of the gaming world at that time. Things are different now, and so Miis have sort of naturally fallen into a diminished role similar to how the Wii era that gave them birth has faded from the mainstream.
Is it a massively terrible loss? Well, no. But the simplistic novelty of those little bobbleheads is something that will remain in the Nintendo zeitgeist basically forever. Nostalgia seems to be in high demand these days, so it wouldn’t surprise me if, around 2026, there’ll be some Mii Resurrection Movement where people spontaneously remember how much memories they made with the Miis two decades before. But until then, it was fun to remiinisce about those simpler times.