Reviews
Tomodachi Life
Community Service

By Seán O'Sullivan - June 30th, 2014

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My 3DS currently enjoys an unusual place in my daily routine, in that I will turn it on regardless of whether I intend on playing games or not. StreetPassing is the silver lining to my two hours of commuting each day, so even when I’m not in the mood to game, the 3DS functions as a sort-of toy, which guarantees that I’ll keep it charged up and on my person as often as possible. Tomodachi Life is the perfect complement to this kind of use-case, as it’s not a game in the conventional sense, but rather a kind of ant-farm for Miis.

Players fill up a tropical island setting with Miis that are imported or created within the game, who then engage with one another and take advantage of the island’s ever-increasing amount of amenities that unlock with play. Islanders will solicit you for assistance with various quandaries, or demand that you play silly mini-games with them. Indulging them will result in their happiness meter increasing until they level-up, at which point they reward you with gifts that you can use to increase the happiness of other Miis, feeding into an addictive happiness-spreading feedback loop.

If you’re getting an Animal Crossing or The Sims vibe from the sound of this, you wouldn’t be far off from the kind of itch that this game scratches, but Tomodachi Life doesn’t map evenly to any other experience. Players have no direct control over the Mii characters, nor do they share the world with them; instead, everything is menu-driven, which really facilitates the pick-up-and-play nature of the play sessions.

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Don’t quit your day job, buddy!

Each Mii has one of 16 personalities assigned to them, determined by the results of five attributes set by the user on an 8 point scale – and this governs how they interact with you and their neighbours. When playing with Miis based on real-life friends, it becomes hilarious to see these characters acting in ways eerily familiar or diametrically opposed to their real-life counterparts. My wife’s Mii character had the same affinity for tempura, soaking in the bathtub, and ornate headgear as the real-life lady I married. This just made it all the more troubling when her Mii showed no interest whatsoever in my virtual avatar, instead courting the next-door neighbour.

The game is chock full of bizarre, hilarious touches. A text-to-speech engine means that the characters actually speak their lines, with the player able to modulate their robotic voice-boxes into mellifluousness or droning monotone. The Miis put on concerts, with multiple genres represented, from techno to ballads, and the player can edit the lyrics (and modify the stage direction) with endlessly amusing results. Each hour, the “Mii News” brings a different dispatch about island life, generally revolving around a throwaway gag (such as Miis chasing after a runaway bus stop).

With all of these loving touches, it’s highly disappointing that the relationship aspects are restricted to heterosexual couples – in a game full of surprises and possibility, knowing that the real-world husbands represented on my island would never become any more than good friends was distressing.

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For some reason, I feel like saying that everything is awesome in this pic.

The variety of settings and options expands rapidly in the first few hours, but even when it’s clear that there are no more rabbits to pull out of the hat, the sheer whimsy continues to delight. At all times, there are two buttons dedicated to taking screengrabs, which I found myself using constantly to regale my real-life friends with tales of what their avatars were up to (such as when a fat-fingered mistake meant that I threw a pair of daisy-dukes at a male friend – his Mii responded by putting them on and raving about how much he loved them). This social meta-layer is a well of joy that I don’t see running dry any time soon, especially now that the game’s popularity is increasing and I’m starting to encounter more travelers in my town through StreetPass.

Just don’t go into Tomodachi Life expecting white-knuckle thrills; this is more of a toy than a conventional game. If your 3DS is already part of your daily routine, Tomodachi Life will slot in seamlessly, enhancing your enjoyment of the Miis that Nintendo introduced us to back in 2006. If the 3DS isn’t something that you pick up every day – Tomodachi Life may very well change that if you approach it with the right mindset.

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