Like Nintendogs. But with Miis and disappointment.
Double CrossingWith Animal Crossing Nintendo found great success in sucking players into the niceties of village life. Its quaint life-sim has consumed me for hundreds of hours as I’ve pottered about the shops, gone fishing down on the beach, and caught up with gossip from my neighbours. To some its allure is a mystery but to me it’s a delightful second home.
It was then with no small amount of excitement I welcomed Tomodachi Life, painted as a Mii-focused world where both the bizarre and the romantic could happen. This was another life-sim that, rather than centring on paying off mortgages to a morally bankrupt racoon, granted an opportunity to sing show tunes with your brother or perform magic shows with celebrities. Animal Crossing offered the relaxed pace of country living but Tomodachi Life promised you stardom.
Or at least that was the concept. The Nintendo Direct that launched it can only be described as a Hollywood blockbuster whose best bits have all been used in the trailer. They gathered all the explosions, laughs, and eye-melting special effects and jammed them into two-minutes of pure hype. Convinced of its genius you’ve handed over your hard earned cash but come the end credits you leave feeling somewhat cheated and find yourself leafing through the Trade Descriptions Act.
Resident 101Its main problem is pacing. For every fun moment that you’ll want to share with your friends, telling them of how young Zelda and clever Layton (I filled my island with gaming lookalikes) almost got engaged or how Duke Nukem had a blazing row with Cooking Mama, there are also a host of mundane and repetitive chores to endure. Not least the daily tending to your residents.
Every Mii that comes to your island is handed an apartment to call their own and every time you visit you’ll first peak through their window catching a glimpse of them at ease. Somewhat voyeuristically you may see them simply pacing the room or chatting to a friend, unaware of your presence. Those that you’ve sent gifts may even be found petting a dog or running on a treadmill. They’re lovely little snapshots of a Mii at play and worth savouring but they affect them little because as soon as you enter the room they’ll forget anything they were doing and stand staring at you expectantly.
There are very few ways you can directly interact with them. On a basic level you can feed them whatever delicacies were on sale in the island’s shops, or dress them in the latest fashions, both of which may top up their happiness meter should they like what they’ve been given. If they become so happy they level up then you get to give them another gift in the hope that one day you may randomly see them use it through their ill-drawn curtains. Alternatively you could try talking to them but quality conversation with a Mii is in short supply as they insist only on uttering strange references to food or resorting to complete banality. Often it has no relation to anything else on the island and the sensation is always one that you’ve pressed a button and the code’s retrieved a random line from a banter.txt.
As the core of the game it’s hardly riveting. For long periods I found myself simply moving from one apartment to the next tending to the need of my tenants almost mindlessly. Though supposedly you can set the personality of the Miis it’s hard to tell the difference between even the extreme characteristics and the lack of any unique personalities made it feels immensely hollow and hard to form bonds between you and those you’re looking after.
F.R.I.E.N.D.SThe lack of charisma doesn’t seem to affect those avatars you live to serve, however; occasionally they’ll dispense with the wants for food and suggest making friends with a neighbour. Off they go triggering a poorly structured cutscene that appears more ominous than friendly. Faith’s door will swing open and in steps Lego Harry, standing stock still in the doorway for a few seconds more than is comfortable before walking towards her unblinking. Another awkward pause before the camera readjusts and the two jabber in Simlish until we cut away back to Harry’s room where he declares it all a great success. In a world where these folk are supposed to be making friends they couldn’t look more uncomfortable. It’s a consistent problem throughout too as unnatural pauses in many situations only serve to alienate you from the unnecessarily artificial interactions.
As friendships form the Miis grow bolder and venture beyond their apartment and into the great outdoors. Visit the beach and you’ll see me building a sandcastle with Rosalina as Chun-Li runs through the surf with a kite, whilst over at the park you’ll catch Luigi and Latkitu relaxing in the shade of a tree. They create cute dioramas and inject much needed character into the island’s inhabitants.
This rather normal activity may sound a long way from the trailers of Reggie enjoying a steam bath and Iwata reading the news but persistence will allow you to see at least some of the more bizarre sights in Tomodachi Life. Earning gifts for your Miis can take them out of the island setting. Hand them a travel ticket and you’ll be treated to a series of photos as they tour Peru, or gift them an AR camera and you can finally use those AR cards that came packed with the 3DS and let them wander around your dining table. Bath sets, frying pans, and sewing machines all produce little asides where you can watch your little chums try new and relaxing hobbies. At night too this wild imagination continues as you get inside the heads of the residents and see them in almost Monty Python-esque situations, their subconscious placing them as a bobble-head on a car’s dashboard, turning into a racing snail, or even seeing themselves 50-years on the future.
The kicker in all these situations however is that, just as with staring through their apartment’s windows as they play with their toys, you can do nothing more than watch. All are about appreciating what you’ve set in motion but never taking part, an incredibly frustrating notion given the lack of meaningful interaction anywhere else. To exacerbate matter there is no way of influencing your residents to go out, to socialise, to make friends, and so ultimately even this is beyond your control and all you can do is sit there waiting for one of them to show the slightest inkling of doing something interesting. Gifts are at least more under your control but earning them from playing tedious Guess the Pixelated Food games for the umpteenth time is not always worth your time.
Finding a NookWhat is possibly most disappointing about this disjointed collection of cutscenes and weak mini-games is that it is a game from Nintendo. Not only do I expect more from them I am surprised that given they already have such a hit with Animal Crossing that they learned little from it. Tomodachi Life may never have be intended to fulfil a similar role but it could have at least built upon the foundations of how to create the sensation of living and playing in a community.
In there your animal neighbours at least try and engage with you and have semi-relational conversations rather than relying on bizarre one-liners. You get to participate with them and their world in more ways than just buying clothes and shoving food down their throats. You feel you are playing in a connected world where everything fits together snugly rather than a mishmash of concepts thrown together for no other reason than because they are zany.
- Chance to play with your Miis
- Bizarre dream sequences
- Miis rapping
- Tedious mini-games
- Little interaction
- Fractured experience
Tomodachi Life 3DS Review
Tomodachi Life’s singular premise is that it would be cool to see your Miis live together on a Big Brother style island. To some end that is definitely true as news channels report events featuring 4x4 racing, stadiums are packed to see live rap concerts, and you gaze on stunned as your own Mii is split in half in a magic trick. It’s all great fun.
Except that you played no part in it. All the cool stuff in Tomodachi Life is a cutscene that you sit and take in and have no effect over. Your role on the island is to make sure that the residents are fed, watered, and clothed, acts that are no more complex than clicking options on a menu screen. What games Miis do wish to play with you are tedious and almost embarrassing given this is the company that brought us Wario Ware, a master class in how good mini-games could be.
As an excuse to pack a house full of your friends and family then Tomodachi Life does itself proud but the rest of the experience is a fractured mess. Don’t expect to learn and appreciate your Mii’s unique personality, you’ll probably just find him prattling on about how he dreamt that he’d danced with some fish and chips.
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