If You’re Bored in the Game, You’re Bored in Real Life!
Sometimes, weirdness for weirdness’ sake is a good thing. It can add a dimension of mystery to something, because nothing is more alluring than what we can’t understand. It can be a dark sort of weirdness, or a silly kind. Tomodachi Life is most certainly the latter, but it seems that the game relies too heavily on this goofiness. Weirdness is a good thing sometimes, but not always. Tomodachi Life relies on its own strangeness as its sole pull, and while this does a lot for it in the charm department, what lies beyond ends up feeling a bit disappointing and shallow.
In Tomodachi Life, you find yourself with an island. What do you do when you have an island? Why, you fill it with people and businesses! The first step is choosing a Mii on your 3DS to represent you, and placing that Mii into the town as its first citizen. You can add more Miis from your system, or from scanning QR codes given to you by your friends. It’s a great and easy way to import other people’s creations into the game, and it works like a charm. Importing your friends or fictional characters recreated in Mii form is a really cool and unique feature.
You can set a variety of characteristics for each Mii you bring in, giving them all distinct personalities and preferences. The problem with this is that if you want to give certain Miis a certain personality, it can be very hard to judge what settings will yield what characteristics. Does “moves somewhat slowly” dictate creativity? It’s awesome that I can give my Mii citizens their own personalities at all, but when a character I tried to make quiet and introverted, as is his real-life counter part, becomes the social butterfly of the island, one has to wonder if a better system could have been made.
So once your town has its share of citizens, what you do with them? When you visit a Mii in their apartment, you can help them with whatever problem they may present you with. This includes buying them food, new clothes, and sometimes items. Sometimes a Mii will ask you to play with them, leading to one of several WarioWare-like minigames. They’re fun the first time or two, but after the third time I had to rub a Miis nose with a feather to get her to sneeze, I could feel the life slipping away from my withered husk of a body and knew that my feeble frame could take no more.
Sometimes a Mii will start getting the ol’ feely-feels for someone else on the island. You can advise them on whether you think they would be a good match or not, and see what happens. Miis that stay together for a long time can eventually get married, and even have a baby. You can put your Miis through a comparability test to see how they would do as friends or couples, although the logic behind the results can be kind of hard to track. Sadly, same-sex couples aren’t allowed in Tomodachi Life, which is a pretty lame oversight in this day and age. Good to note, though, is that Nintendo is fully aware of the dissatisfaction with this, and plans to rectify it should a future Tomodachi title come to light.
Okay, so what is like life in Tomodachi Life? Sometimes you’ll go to a shop and find one of your citizens working there, and you can always look around town to see someone hanging out at the fountain or beach. I have one friend, for example, who keeps showing up on top of the radio tower to blow bubbles. Good wind current up there, I suppose. If you want to get the little island community more active, you can have a Mii perform a musical performance with customizable lyrics, or invite the community to come voice their answer to questions you can tweak and choose as you please. These are entertaining enough, but after a not-very-long period, you start to realize “oh…this is kind of it. Hmm.” This is the sad truth of Tomodachi Life. At first it’s charming and exciting, when you see two Miis get in a series of epic rap battles or buy someone a really cute mermaid outfit that they claim to hate but continue to wear anyway. But past that initial flair is a game so lean that it almost demands to not be played. Most of your time will be spent idly buying your Miis food and playing asinine games with them.
To articulate the other major flaws in what Tomodachi Life brings to the table, I’m going to do something I usually don’t like to do in reviews: I’m going to directly compare it to another game. That’s right, I hear your gasps of shock and disbelief. How could I, a self-respecting critic of all things game and the video, do such a thing? Surely this must be the end of Jay Petrequin’s writing career, and perhaps the end of us all as well, you must be thinking. But shut the heck up for a second. You’re being silly.
Tomodachi Life is being commonly called the Animal Crossing: New Leaf of 2014. The two share some similarities, both in the type of game they are, the platform, and the release timing. But while playing Tomodachi Life, I frequently felt myself yearning for a return to my village, to Isabelle and Reese and all my other animal friends. Why, I asked myself? Why can I not find just as much joy in decking out Jack Black with a hair flower and pretty dress as in anything from last year’s big summer 3DS game? In asking myself this, I realized that the most significant issue with Tomodachi Life is how the game treats the player.
Animal Crossing games are as great as they are because you can pop in, do something, get rewarded for doing said thing, and hop back out. This accomplishes two things. First, You are placed directly into the game’s community. In New Leaf, you’re even the mayor, but in a lot of ways you’re still treated like any other citizen. In Tomodachi Life, however, you’re kind of a strange outsider looking in. A lot of the time it feels like you’re just watching characters do things instead of actually being a genuine part of what’s going on around you. You don’t control your own Mii, and even your Mii refers to you as their “look-a-like.” You organize shows and events, but you’re never part of them. There’s absolutely none of the immersion found in the game it’s being compared to.
The second thing Animal Crossing does is give a well-paced effort/reward system. You can make money pretty easily, but you always have to work for it in some way. Picking fruit and catching bugs or fish can take some time, but it always feels worth it once you sell it all and have those cold, delicious bells in the palm of your sweaty hand. You earned that stuff, and now it’s yours. On the other hand, Tomodachi Life throws cash at you left and right. Play a minigame? Money. Give some quick advice? Holla holla get dolla. The funniest thing is that even buying someone food will give you money, usually more than you spent on the food in the first place. What this all boils down to is Tomodachi Life being an instant gratification machine. I keep getting more to spend without doing anything to earn it, which kind of eliminates any and all value. If you get an award for every button you press, you’re not really being awarded for anything.
Tomodachi Life ends up as a really solid, charming framework with very little substance. And that’s just it. Technically speaking, the game is perfectly solid, and it deserves credit for that to be sure. You can even take screenshots of anything with ease, as demonstrated throughout this review. However, it’s clearly intended as a game that you will hop back into over and over for months, but its tedium takes away most reason to do that. It can be entertaining to watch unlikely couples form between your friends and create your own musical performances, but even these things feel more like they are being watched from the outside. You’re monitoring and influencing this little island community, but are in no way a real part of it, and that becomes it’s massive, throbbing Achilles heel. What the game does do well, though, is create a place for you to bring your Miis to give them life. There’s something a tiny bit magical about bringing Ganondorf onto my island, only to find out that he’s classified as an outgoing, artistic type. There are ways to have fun in the game, but its a shame that they don’t have the strength to last all that long. It’s not a bad life, just not an exciting or interesting one. Tomodachi Life gets three silly Miis running around their apartments in circles out of five.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Nintendo 3DS; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Nintendo; Players: 1; Released: June 6th, 2014; ESRB: E; MSRP: $39.99