At one point in Tomodachi Life, I got to look inside the mind of Lara Croft while she was asleep. In her dream, her neighbor, Mr. T, appeared to her as a fairy in a tutu and warned her of an impending invasion by evil cucumber stew, prompting her to undergo a Sailor Moon-like transformation sequence into a superheroine outfit. As strange and surreal as that sounds, I’m not sure that it’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen in the game.
One look at the promotional media for Tomodachi Life should make it abundantly clear that this is Nintendo’s most off-the-wall title since WarioWare made its debut a decade ago. Though the actual gameplay is a simplistic mix of Animal Crossing and The Sims, its presentation is its true selling point, both due to its well-managed use of Nintendo’s now-iconic Miis and its brazen zaniness.
There’s no overarching story in the game. Instead, you’re simply tasked with looking after an island community full of Miis, which you can import from the 3DS’ built-in Mii Maker app or create from scratch in-game. The citizen creation process is surprisingly robust, as you can make last-minute edits to the Miis’ looks, adjust various factors of their synthesized voices, and move personality sliders to determine what type of person they’ll be in-game.
The fact that, within a day I had myself, both my siblings, the aforementioned Lara Croft and Mr. T, Professor Layton, and Bane from The Dark Knight Rises all peacefully residing in neighboring apartments, is proof that Tomodachi Life thrives on craziness. It helps that you can further adjust and customize each citizen gradually as you interact with them, allowing for the creation of unique poses and mood-based catchphrases.
One of Tomodachi Life‘s biggest strengths is that it may be the single best use of the Mii system so far. You can finally do things like dye each character’s hair beyond the limited six or so shades that they’ve always had, and in a similar way to Animal Crossing, each new real-life day brings a rotating selection of stock items to in-game clothing and hat stores, allowing you to dress your Miis up in something other than their boring default clothing. The customization element goes beyond the Miis’ individual appearances, too, as you can purchase various apartment themes to best suit each one’s personality.
Gameplay in Tomodachi Life is basically a series of menus, all controlled via the lower touch screen. As such, you’ll spend the majority of your time in the apartment complex, visiting each Mii and leveling up their Happiness meter through random tasks they offer, or by feeding them food purchased from a local shop. In-game currency is obtained by increasing each Mii’s Happiness meter, and it’s thankfully easy to come by.
The island also hosts some side locations with occasional special events, where your Miis have random conversations at a cafe, put on magic shows at an amusement park, or host surveys at an observation tower. While these are pretty entertaining the first few times you play or watch them, you don’t receive anything for doing so, which makes them rather pointless.
You can even get your Mii citizens to sing at the local concert hall if you desire. Song genres range all the way from pop to rap to metal, and interestingly enough, you can completely customize the lyrics via text input. This is also kind of a pointless feature in the long run, but it’s amusing to see your Miis prance around on the stage and belt out your custom songs – even if the synthesized voices tend to sound rather creepy.
As previously mentioned, the game is often completely off-the-wall. Your citizens can have many wildly different and surreal dreams, make outlandish faces, and do all sorts of completely random actions when they’re not talking to you. Several times, when I got a look inside a citizen’s apartment before confirming that I wanted to talk to them, I saw them rolling around on the floor, running around the room with their arms outstretched like an airplane, or being afflicted with the hiccups. If Japanese-styled insanity is not your thing, you probably won’t get a lot of enjoyment out of this game.
My main problem with Tomodachi Life is the gameplay itself. While there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, there’s also not much to it. The fact that the game is entirely menu-driven and offers no free movement makes it feel a little restricted, especially in comparison to the Animal Crossing series.
The most notable problem that exists here, though, is that for a game that you’re encouraged to return to daily, you’re regularly tasked with repeating the same tasks over and over again. Despite this, the game (thankfully) doesn’t dish out every one of its features at once, as even after a week of playing, I still hadn’t gotten to the point where I would be able to make any of my adult citizens fall in love and have children. As a result, while I was initially charmed by what’s on offer here, I eventually found myself wishing that the package offered more substance and variety.
In the end, regardless of its faults, Tomodachi Life is an interesting experience. It may not win any awards for depth, and is certainly limited when it comes to gameplay, but there’s no denying that it’s full of charm. In fact, just being able to see my collection of Miis become fleshed out citizens of an interactive game kept me interested for a good while.
This review is based on the 3DS exclusive, which we were provided with.
Tomodachi Life has plenty of appealing zaniness and utilizes Nintendo's familiar Miis better than ever before, but the actual gameplay could use some more variety.