Tomodachi Life Review
Genre: Life Simulation
Release Date: 06/06/2014
Developer: Nintendo SPD
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Tomodachi Life is a unique new game for the Nintendo 3DS. The game is centered around a population of Miis, cartoony caricatures of anyone you choose to recreate, living on an island together and interacting in various silly ways. Before the game was released, it was difficult to piece together what the point of the game was. A Nintendo Direct which discussed the game showcased more of the game’s visual style and humor than anything else, and discussion about one specific game mechanic (or lack of) overshadowed all other news about how the game actually played. The most fitting guesses and descriptions described the game as The Sims meets Animal Crossing, however after having time to play the game I would say that a better description is The Sims meets a 90’s sitcom. Additionally, this review is a bit later than what it normally would be, but this extra time spent with the game has significantly changed my opinion on the game as a whole and needed to be reflected in the review.
Tomodachi Life is a pretty simple game that plays primarily through the 3DS touch screen. You start out by creating a ‘Look-Alike’ Mii of yourself (if you want to) and taking care of their basic needs (mostly food and whatever silly requests they want to make of you). After getting your look-alike into the game, you can import more Miis onto your island. Miis can be made from scratch, or they can be made from a picture of someone present with you in the real world (which is never really effective, but sometimes funny), or Miis can be imported through the Mii Creator feature already on the 3DS. Some Miis can be assigned relationships at the start of their creation, but these relationships are all centered around the player. Miis can be labeled as your brother or mother or other relatives, but you can’t assign any relationships to other Miis (so two Miis can’t be brother and sister unless they’re related to you). The Mii creator is the same used for the 3DS Mii creation, so there are no additional customization options for making Miis. This is kind of a shame, because it would be really nice to see a larger variety of options for creating your Mii.
After creating a Mii, you assign information like their name, birthday, favorite color, assign them a voice, and give them personality traits. Because all Miis speak through a vocalizer in-game, you can run into some issues with how they pronounce some words. Thankfully there is an option to spell out exactly how to pronounce names phonetically, which is a great feature to include for anyone with less common or hard to pronounce names (such as myself). The vocalizer feature is surprisingly adept, and can be fun to play around with for silly Miis.
Mii personalities are pretty basic, but they still work well enough to cover a lot of personality types. Picking the speed, speech patterns, expressiveness, attitude, and overall normality of your Mii will assign it to one of 16 personality groups. These personality groups influence how likely a Mii is to seek out the contact of others, get into fights, fall in love, etc. Overall the options for making Miis, while a little limited work together pretty well. Thankfully this part works well because this game is a lot better with a ton of Miis.
Once you have a population of Miis created they begin to interact with you, and with each other. Mii interaction makes up the meat of the game, and this may be a problem for some people. Player interaction with Miis is pretty varied, but for the most part Miis have a lot of control over their own actions. The player’s job is to see to the needs of the island’s Miis, varying from hunger and boredom to requesting new clothing/furnishings or needing help getting a sneeze out. Mii problems are pretty varied and solving these problems will reward you with small sums of money, but most of the time you’ll see the same problems.
However, once you spend enough time with a specific Mii or solve enough problems, they’ll gain experience points and level up. Leveling up allows you to reward a Mii with a gift ranging from a song, catchphrase, new home interior or an ‘activity’ gift. Your Miis need songs to be able to sing them in the concert hall, which ends up being surprisingly fun. Home interiors can be purchased in a store as well, but the gift interiors are unique and can’t be purchased (though you can still buy better interiors). Catchphrases will be used by Miis every now and then (usually when they’re greeting the player). Gift items include objects like a Wii U, a mirror, rent-a-cat/dog coupons, sporting equipment, and other items. Miis will play with these items alone or with other Miis who own the same things. The more Miis you have in Tomodachi Life, the more often they will interact with each other as well.
When Miis are fed and satisfied, they’ll decide to pursue friendships or relationships with other Miis. They’ll usually ask about the player’s thoughts on a friendship or dating before making any moves, and if the player agrees with their decisions they will ask for help with the planning of what to say or where to say it. Watching the interactions between Miis can actually be pretty funny depending on how each player populates their island. Some Miis will deny the feelings of another (causing the rejectee to become depressed for a while), and occasionally a third Mii will come out of nowhere to confess their feelings as well and add to the drama. Occasionally Miis get into disagreements and stop talking to each other, or they’ll get into full-blown fights and end up needing intervention from the player. If the player doesn’t agree to the Mii’s suggestions, the Miis will (much like a teenager “in love,”) drop the issue for a little while before bringing it up again later. This leads to a problem that feels strange to describe as such, but is still an issue: unlike The Sims, in Tomodachi Life you have very little direct control over what your Miis do or who they do it with.
Tomodachi Life is centered more around how Miis interact with each other, as opposed to how the player wants them to interact. For example; I had the problem where two Miis wanted to date, but I didn’t like the pairing. I told each of them to drop the subject, but they would just wait a while and bring it back up. It’s possible over time that they would have built attraction to different Miis, but I didn’t want to wait that long and chose to give in and let them date. Now that they want to get married, there is no option to tell them not to. I can only delay their decision or sabotage it through a minigame were you help one Mii with their proposal. In addition, the player can recreate their own family members but can’t assign other Miis to have pre-set relationships. Two Miis can’t be siblings unless they’re both related to the player’s Mii, and it’s very difficult to recreate real life relationships between Miis. This lack of total control can get frustrating (especially when two Miis who should be siblings are trying to get married and have kids), but at the same time a lot of the game’s charm stems from the fact that Miis do what they want.
While much of Tomodachi Life’s draw comes from watching Miis get into silly situations, there are still plenty of ways to get involved with them directly. When Mii needs are satisfied, they’ll usually reward you with one of many treasures. These treasures can be used on other Miis to play brief minigames or alter a Mii’s appearance. Miis can use disposable cameras to take 3D pictures of artsy things (like the beach or a forest) or of other Miis doing funny things. Frying pans allow Miis to cook single food items and sewing machines let them create random clothing. Miis can even ask for travel tickets to go on a quick trip and show you their photo album with comical pictures from their vacation. Other items like the kid/adult-o-matics let Miis be turned into kids or adults for a short while, and hair color sprays allow for a wider range of hair colors than the Mii Maker can offer (though be warned, eyebrows and facial hair get dyed too).
Miis can be given clothing and hats to customize their appearance whenever you want (and they’ll request new outfits from time to time too). When Miis fall asleep, it’s even possible to enter their dreams if they’re having one. These dreams will manifest as a quick minigame or a short animation, and will always produce an item of some sort next to the Mii’s bed. The game occasionally makes clever use of the 3DS’s less used features like the cameras, microphone and gyroscope. While some features are used better than others, they’re definitely used creatively. There is also a miniature RPG named “Tomodachi Quest,” which involves four random Miis entering a cave to fight a boss and other random encounters, leading to a reward if you win. It’s not very complicated, but it has its charm.
The only other major issue worth noting with Tomodachi Life is that the game moves at its own pace. In games like Animal Crossing you can always find something to do during slow hours. In Tomodachi Life, I’ve found that I enjoy the game most by playing short bursts a few times a day. There are timed events that only occur at certain hours of the day (rap battles, daily markets, photo shoots, etc.) and various events that can occur randomly (Miis visiting island attractions or meeting up at the café). The concert hall can be used at any time to put on musical shows using pre-written lyrics or lyrics written by the player. Writing out silly songs has some serious potential for humor, and the game makes it very easy to do.
However, at certain times of day the game is almost not worth playing. At night-time a few Miis will stay awake for your amusement and the shops and concert hall are still open, but most Miis will be asleep. Watching their dreams can be entertaining or worth it for the free items but I quickly run out of things to do at night (unless I want to put in some time writing silly songs). And for a personal issue, the game does a lot with the bottom screen that could easily have been put on the top screen to make more frequent use of the 3D function, leading me to frequently turn the 3D off.
Despite all the areas that could be improved in Tomodachi Life, it does have points where it really shines. Playing the game with other people has turned out to be a really great aspect of Tomodachi Life. After playing the game with friends I ended up discovering a lot of new content that I wouldn’t have found on my own for a while (such as the fact that the island can support up to 100 Miis). The Streetpass function allows players to collect items that aren’t normally sold in stores and potentially trade world-traveling characters (when they become accessible). Tomodachi Life has quick tools for trading Miis or goods from stores, which is great to help out players who really need specific items or to trade Miis you never thought of making.
While the multiplayer is limited to trading, the social aspects of Tomodachi Life really work well. Pressing the X or Y button allow for screenshots to be taken (of the top and bottom screen respectively) in order to capture choice moments and show them to friends later. The game also has a built-in feature to share pictures on social media sites like Facebook or Tumblr, however these don’t work as well for uploading photos in bulk (and the game will auto-tag pictures on Facebook). I’ve had a lot more fun than I had expected in showing the game off to other people, and seeing how their Miis compare to mine.
Tomodachi Life definitely has some features that could have been improved, but still manages to be a fun experience overall. The game will definitely have an appeal to fans of the life simulation genre (or anyone who thinks the previews and trailers are funny), but might not have as much staying power for other types of gamers. Likewise the game will probably be more fun for people who have friends playing it too, though the game is still entertaining for solo players. It is also important to note that there are a number of features I have not been able to access yet, namely involving getting Miis to have a baby, so I can’t say how those features impact the gameplay. For the time I’ve been playing, Tomodachi Life has managed to keep me coming back every day to see what else it has to offer and who else I can create.