Release Date: June 6, 2014
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Nintendo SPD Group 1
Genre: Life simulation
For the past few weeks, whenever I told someone that I would be reviewing Tomodachi Life, the overwhelming response I got was: “What the hell is Tomodachi Life?” And even after playing Tomodachi Life obsessively for days and days on end now, I’m still not entirely sure what it is exactly. A direct sequel to the 2009 Japan-exclusive Tomodachi Collection, the game can loosely be described as The Sims with Mii characters. Of course, that comparison should be taken with a big grain of salt, because Tomodachi Life sets itself far apart from any other life simulation games currently on the market, thanks to a downright ridiculous and weird sense of humor that’s instilled throughout.
The main gameplay path in Tomodachi Life involves populating your island with a couple dozen Mii characters, and then periodically checking on them in their personal apartment rooms. Your islanders will regularly have “problems” that you’ll need to help solve, which range from wanting to eat a specific kind of food, to wanting a new hat, to wanting to be friends with the Mii down the hall. Each time you solve a problem for one of your islanders, that islander will gradually level up, which expands their personality traits by opening up new options and letting you give them a gift.
Tomodachi Life is somewhat restricted in certain ways, but extremely open in others. While the game follows a very close and tightly knit structure, the astounding number of in-game items like food, clothes, and treasures really open up your customization options, and players who want to complete each respective collection will be managing their island for quite some time to come. Similar to Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the game also unlocks new item specials each day you log on, giving a nice incentive for quick bursts of daily management gameplay whenever you find yourself with a few minutes of downtime.
When two of your islanders grow close enough in friendship, a dating period can then begin, followed by your very own island wedding. Play the game for long enough and your islanders can even make a baby, starting the whole cycle all over again (still no same-sex relationships though, as Nintendo controversially amended that “glitch” before the game’s release). It certainly helps that your islanders will develop unique personalities depending on the parameters you set when creating them. But even if you don’t know who else you want to live on your island, Tomodachi Life makes it really easy to add celebrities by using QR codes, or interact with other islands through use of the online Hotspot system.
There’s no getting around the fact that Tomodachi Life is a weird game – a VERY weird game. Whether it’s in the random statements your islanders will make (“The other day Meg gave me a mango”), the bizarre selection of apartment furnishings (one early design will redecorate the entire room so that it looks like your Mii is living in a giant hamster cage), or the downright creepy dreams you can watch while your islanders sleep, Nintendo’s latest sim game is quirky like no other. Oh yeah, and I almost forgot about the concerts you can have which put your islanders on stage and have them sing a country or heavy metal song with the most outrageous lyrics and animations.
Adding to this ridiculousness is the absurdist mini-games that can pop up periodically and without warning. For instance, at one point I dropped in on my own Mii late at night to find that he needed my help “getting out a sneeze.” I was then launched into a mini-game where I had to tickle my Mii’s nose with a feather to try and coax out the stubborn sneeze. Sadly it just wasn’t working, and after the whole ordeal was over, my Mii then commented “Well, that was weird.” Yup, you said it!
But weird is certainly a good thing here in Tomodachi Life and it gives way to a zany brand of humor that makes the game hard to put down. My favorite thing about the game is that it voices absolutely everything your islanders say, even full names. Mind you, the different customizable voice selections are all very robotic and not exactly well done, but it still put a big ol’ smile on my face every time one of my islanders popped up as a newsroom anchor and told me all about the latest developments in town.
Better yet, you’ll even unlock the ability the give your islanders unique catch phrases, along with expressive gestures. Combine this with an island full of family members, celebrities, and old college buddies, and you get a strange and voyeuristic sense of enjoyment in managing their lives.
Even so, the game can still start to feel a little repetitive after a while, because despite the large multitude of items, islander problems, and potential relationships, there just aren’t that many core things that you can do as Mii lord, as evidenced by the rather small map of your island. But if you really invest the time in populating your island with inhabitants that you can genuinely grow to care about, then you’ll really start to feel like you’re living in this quirky paradise right along with them.
So even though Tomodachi Life has tons of depth in certain areas but lacks a bigger oomph in others, I’d still be shocked if this game failed to delight you in some way with its simple charm and unabashed weirdness. An addictive life sim with absurdist humor and perhaps the best use of Mii characters since the original Wii Sports, Tomodachi Life absolutely warrants a visit to its idle island life: even if you don’t plan on staying a long while.