The latest addition to the impeccable Nintendo 3DS exclusive software library is Tomodachi Life. The game’s tagline is “ Your Friends. Your Drama. Your Life,” but real life could never be as weird as this life simulation title.
You start the game off by naming your island and populating it with some islanders. Many of the game’s features are locked off until either a certain amount of time has gone by or until you’ve made a certain amount of islanders. A considerable amount of customization is allowed in the creation of the islanders.
Although they still end up looking generally similar to each other thanks to the uniform bodies and simplistic visuals, I was surprised by how much you could edit their appearance. I expected customization options about in line with the console’s Mii Maker, but there are more options here.
Choosing the voice of a Mii is a lot of fun as well, since Tomodachi Life is one of the only game’s I’ve ever played where you can choose words for the characters to say –- even swear words –- and it is hilarious to hear the characters carrying on in silly voices. Once you’ve created a handful of islanders your life begins.
The general gameplay is shockingly bare, but a considerable portion of it consists of keeping your islanders happy. From time to time they’ll each have a request of some sort. Perhaps they want a new outfit or to eat a specific food or meet another islander, and by filling these requests you increase the happiness of the Miis. Once you’ve made them happy enough they’ll level up, allowing you to give them a special item. You can also increase their happiness by giving them gifts, and when they use the item you’ll be able to watch.
In fact, many times you’ll be expected to just watch the characters do something, like walk around the park or ride a Ferris wheel. You can also take pictures of them doing things and share these pictures with other players via a variety of networking features. This voyeurism is far from my idea of fun, but maybe the game is making some sort of statement with this feature.
Making the Miis happy is also the main method of earning money, which you can use to further customize and care for the islanders, with an ocean of different items to be purchased from various shops. There is a clothings store, a food store, an interior store and so on for you to spend your funds. Each Mii has different likes and dislikes depending on their personality, which itself is determined by a number of selections you make while creating them. So figuring out what each specific Mii likes and dislikes, among so many different items is definitely a challenge, and is easy to enjoy.
Speaking of the shops, they are stocked with new items every real life day. It’s fun popping open the game and knowing that there’s going to be something new to see on a daily basis. Furthermore, anyone who enjoys collecting things will have a lot to enjoy in this game. There are hundreds of different items and collecting them all seems like an epic undertaking, especially when you consider that you have to come back every day and check for new stuff.
Some of the items, like the treasures the islanders give you, don’t really seem to have any meaningful use or application, so in that regard you are collecting only to collect, and I’ve never found that to be fun.
Speaking of fun, I found there to be a general deficit of it when playing Tomodachi Life. There are at least two major flaws with the game, from where I’m sitting: the gameplay lacks enough interactivity to be considered genuinely enjoyable and there’s little to no indication that you’re really progressing or making any sort of real difference. After you’ve been playing for a while, you turn on the game, fill the islanders’ immediate requests, see what the shops have added and that’s about it. The novelty wears off fast and things get repetitive almost instantly.
Nintendo advertises this game by showing off how you can have your Miis get into relationships and eventually get married and start a family, but after hours of playing I’m still not sure how you initiate any of this. You see you can’t directly control a Mii like you can a Sim in The Sims. I couldn’t force Joe Blow to go up to Jane Doe and ask her out or propose to her or any of that. I could only just watch and hope he eventually did by himself (he didn’t).
Not being able to have the Miis do what I wanted did make the game feel kind of like real life: you can’t control everything and whatever happens just happens. Joe and Jane either just happen to hit it off or they don’t. I appreciate the uniqueness this brings to Tomodachi Life but it just didn’t make the game fun for me. I also can’t handle playing with no objectives whatsoever. Well, there are objectives but I can’t really do anything to make any progress towards them, so they hardly mattered to me.
The game has on overall comical feeling that makes it easy to laugh at and not take too seriously. This is clearest in the numerous events that take place on the island at different times during the day. These include things like news updates, BBQs, special markets and a few more and the variety here does come together to make the game feel somewhat alive and thriving.
The Miis will say random things at different times depending on their personalities. The game lacks a random button for generating a new Mii, forcing you to create or modify each tenant. From time to time a Mii will want to play a mini-game with you and these to are lighthearted and silly.
The idea of an extended play session with this game seems ludicrous. In fact, Tomodachi Life almost seems like it was designed to entertain for at most 15 or 20 minutes at a time, but on a daily basis. Hop on, see what’s new in the shops, collect donations, make sure everyone is fed and that’s that. Maybe change someone’s outfit if they want, play a mini-game to help someone else sneeze and then watch Miis eat BBQ. If any of that sounds like your idea of fun, then you’ll probably like this game more than me.
Tomodachi Life is a decidedly emphatically quirky game. Anyone can see that there’s a huge amount of content here when the different items are concerned and the game succeeds in delivering charm and humor by the boatload. There is depth in the many different Mii personalities, their compatibility with each other, and their likes and dislikes.
Yet the game fails to genuinely engage most of the time, leaving the player to observe when they should be making choices and doing things. It lacks clear objectives and direction, never making you feel like you’ve made any progress or done anything important. It’s just plain boring too much of the time to recommend whole-heartedly.