Review: Tomodachi Life
It’s a word bandied around with reckless abandon nowadays; your scatty friend’s sense of humour is ‘random’, that man’s ill-advised hat is ‘so random’, and anyone who’s a stranger is increasingly referred to as ‘some randomer’. Yet randomness is increasingly the bedrock of internet and mainstream comedy, and is also an apt descriptor that is consistently applied to Nintendo’s Tomodachi Life. Itself a 3DS game translated from the sequel of an offbeat Japanese Nintendo DS title that gave Miis new personalities, replete with apartments and lifestyle choices, Tomodachi Life is a veritable sitcom in your pocket — and you, alongside everyone you know, are the stars.
Comparisons with this game are inevitably drawn between franchises such as The Sims and Animal Crossing, yet Tomodachi Life plays out as more bitesize than either. Although the island that the Miis call home — which swells with the expansion of shops, ranking boards and event venues as Miis move in to its peculiar little apartment block — is very much the domain of the player, you are not micromanaging these Miis’ lives. There is no direct control, as in The Sims, neither any sordid raccoons demanding your money. Instead, the Miis that populate Tomodachi Life do so with a cheery individuality, forging their own friendships, preferences and lifestyle choices free from player intervention. Tonight, your mum might be reading the news. The next day, your sister could be working in the clothes store. Give the game a few minutes, and it will concoct a rap battle between Winona Ryder and your nan.
It’s gleefully spontaneous, and soon becomes engaging. Your role — upon ascribing your Miis personalities and refining their looks via the integrated Mii Maker software — is to enhance the Happiness of your little computer people, who bumble around like bobble-headed daydreamers searching for something to fumble and quip about in gloriously dry, offbeat one-liners. The synthesised voices of the Miis certainly help, making their transition from fat-headed avatars into rounded, personable little digi-folk both seamless and surprisingly compelling.
In the seclusive Asian nation of Bhutan, there existed until recently a measurement of the country’s Gross National Happiness — and in Tomodachi Life, the sole discernible ‘win condition’, despite the ceaseless nature of the game, is the fulfilment and levelling up of your Miis’ Happiness Meter. As you enter their apartments to discover their worries — usually disturbing them from running around like an aeroplane, reading a book or rolling around on the carpet for no adequeately explained reason — your Miis will vocalise wishes that you, as a player, are to solve. These range from new outfits and room templates to foodstuffs or the intention to befriend a fellow citizen, and your fulfilment of these simplistic yet often humorous asides nets you rewards. These are often items to solve other problems, or random items that elicit chuckles.
As your Miis progress, they’ll discover their favourite foods, their best friends and their potential partners. Each fully appeased Happiness Meter levels up the Mii, unlocking a series of bonuses — such as a catchphrase, a customisable song performance, or an item to add to your Mii’s inventory. They can have up to eight of these, from a prescribed list — and it is up to you if you give them something they would use in real life, or something completely off the wall. Giving Miis these items sees them integrated into their daily routine — check back on Harry later, after you unlocked him some Happiness to the extent that you gave him a mobile phone, and he’ll be wandering his apartment nattering on it in amusing computer-speech.
Quirky music is sprinkled throughout the game, and the visuals are chunky and appealing, mixing cartoony Miis with real-life photography to enhance the game’s surrealism. Miis eating meal will happily devour the plate entirely.
Activating StreetPass and SpotPass net players extras — StreetPassed Miis will visit your island as Explorers, who elicit curiosity from your native Miis. You can interact with these visitors, acquiring unique items from them for doing so, although StreetPass also bags you products that are imported as unique and foreign via your island’s port. Unlocking extras and doodads is swift, and the game’s eagerness to be shared is readily apparent, evidenced in the integrated connectivity with Nintendo’s scantly-publicised Image Share service. This beams your screenshots — grabbed during gameplay with a tap of X or Y, depending on which screen you wish to capture — directly to Tumblr, Facebook or Twitter, lending pleasingly viral results. Because the Miis in the game will often be based on people you know, the connectivity to them is palpable, and the urge to share is readily apparent.
Tomodachi Life stands as refreshingly unique in today’s gaming landscape, although it is not a game in the strictest or more straightforward sense. It’s best outlined as a companion piece to 3DS ownership — a cheeky aside where your Miis can be more than racing drivers, aeroplane pilots or save-game file mascots with your face. Events are a combination of random hijinks and genuine narrative, which emergently evolves as Miis interact with the island and each other. Setpieces will begin to repeat on you, perhaps sooner than you’d like — how many times this week could your girlfriend get a cold?
However, failing to help a Mii has no repercussions. They won’t move out, like in Animal Crossing, nor die in a feckless puddle of their own urine like in The Sims. Instead, they’ll cheerfully babble among themselves and get on with it, and then chortle something about soup and clothespegs when you next ring their apartment doorbell.
Summing up Tomodachi Life is not an easy task. It’s strange, yet readily understandable. Nonsensical, yet curiously poignant. Tweak your Miis just right, and they’ll re-enact the personalities of their real-life counterparts with humbling, charming, hilarious accuracy — and if there’s ever been any better use for your Mii than tickling his nose with a feather to help it sneeze, we’re yet to hear it.