To me, the allure of Tomodachi Life had always been somewhat mysterious. After the bizarre promo reel shown on Nintendo Direct the title had piqued my interest, but I was hesitant to get on board due to how downright unique the game appeared to be. How could I be sure I’d enjoy a game that is beyond genre classification? What if the entire game was just a series of weird skits with no underlying premise? It was these thoughts that left me pondering the purchase for a number of weeks.
I now know that I was wrong to hesitate. Tomodachi Life is many things; confusing, hilarious, charming and unique – but it’s never boring.
Tomodachi Life starts simply enough, with the player either constructing or importing a Mii of themselves into the game to inhabit an island (with a name of their choice – I opted for Kuribo). The customisation options here are impressive – whilst the Miis are regrettably limited to the palette of features found in the standard Mii maker, options such as the Mii’s tone and pitch of voice, accent, and even pronunciation of their names can all be modified for a closer likeness. The undisputed highlight of the customisation process, though, is the personality calculator; using sliders to adjust a Mii’s demeanor and mannerisms, Tomodachi Life spits out a brief synopsis of your clone's personality. Provided you are honest when positioning your sliders these are surprisingly close, and my Mii was assigned an accurate (if not slightly unflattering) personality. These personalities are more than just window-dressing, though, and my Mii would constantly spout pessimistic and chillingly familiar statements whenever I paid them a visit.
After moving into his sparsely decorated apartment, my diminutive doppelganger commented that I looked like him (which was rather the point) and insisted on referring to me as his ‘lookalike’. Each Mii has problems to be addressed by the player, such as hunger or wishing to visit a specific neighbour, and assisting in these dilemmas net both ‘experience’ for the Mii and currency for the player. Finding out the Mii’s likes and dislikes are key to advancing in the game and is an oddly charming process – discovering that Hulk Hogan is a huge tea drinker, for instance – whilst the currency can be spent on further increasing your occupants’ happiness with further gifts and food. Each Mii has their own likes and dislikes, and discerning whether Jack Nicholson will enjoy the panda suit you have for him or whether it’s best saved for Iwata is the type of odd choice I found myself frequently presented with, and playing to each character’s established personality to maximise experience is entertaining and engaging.
Speaking of experience, Miis each have levels of happiness that can be reached by solving their problems, and upon levelling up Miis can receive a number of gifts. Items such as guitars and laptop can be bestowed on the characters, as can replacement room motifs, but the most entertaining gift is teaching a Mii a song. Songs can be performed at the town stage (complete with backing dancers) and are completely editable. Less than an hour into the game I had seen my Mii sing a rock ‘n’ roll jam entitled ‘That Smell’, wailing a swinging ballad about flatulence accompanied by Solid Snake and other associates in classic 50’s greaser garb. It’s surreal, but feels oddly natural – rather than being a series of random events, Tomodachi Life is more like a world where the extraordinary becomes commonplace, and whilst there’s a tongue-in-cheek theme that the player is the only sane person on this wild ride, it’s a cohesive world that Nintendo has built. My fears of Tomodachi Life being a string of non-sequiturs were quickly assuaged, and I find myself becoming strangely accustomed to the unique lifestyle of Kuribo Island.
Beyond the apartment building and the aforementioned musical stage there’s a wealth of landmarks to visit, each unlocked by fulfilling specified criteria. Upon moving in a certain number of Miis and solving a small number of their problems I unlocked the beach – Solid Snake was quick to visit the area with the metal detector I had presented him with upon levelling up, whilst Breaking Bad star Jesse Pinkman spent his spare time working in the local food shop. There’s never a shortage of odd exchanges and amusing events to witness, particularly as more residents are moved in, and their varying schedules ensure there’s always something for the player to engage in. Even sleeping Miis hold an entertainment value, as the player is able to enter their dreams and witness their bizarre hallucinations or, more maliciously, draw on their faces as they sleep.
In a nutshell, Tomodachi Life is a game about experiences. It’s about filling an enclosed space with an eclectic cast of residents and watching the insanity unfold. Tomodachi Life makes the extraordinary seem mundane in the best possible way, crafting a world where anything can (and often does) happen, but it happens for a reason based on situations and character personalities. It’s not about random humour that has no context, and it’s not about cheap laughs. It’s a genuinely entertaining, surprising experience that is constantly engaging and delightful.
For those on the fence, I wholeheartedly recommend taking the plunge and picking up Tomodachi Life. The admittedly brief Welcome Version can give the curious player a taste of the experience, but it’s only in the full product that the scope of the game becomes apparent. My short time on Kuribo Island has left me hungry for more; I want to see if Hulk Hogan and Solid Snake can settle their differences and become friends, I want to see if my digital counterpart can find love whilst dressed as a cheap cardboard robot, and I want to see how far the rabbit hole that is Tomodachi Life really goes.
Are you on the fence about Tomodachi Life? Has Rob's tale convinced you to take the plunge? Have you previously tried the game but came away unimpressed? Give us your feedback by posting something below.