Some video games tell you everything you need to know about them in their clearly concise titles like Duck Hunt or Don’t Starve. Others are more ambivalent, like Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, or just plain weird – I’m looking at you, Um Jammer Lammy! With that in mind, allow me to drop some science re: Nintendo’s recently released Tomodachi Life.
Wait; it’s not “Tamagotchi” Life? Nope. The name of Bandai’s classic virtual pet was a portmanteau that translates roughly to English as something like “egg watch,” whereas tomodachi simply means “friend.” Tomodachi Life is a 3DS life sim that’s actually a sequel to a best-selling Japanese-only DS game.
So it’s another life sim like Animal Crossing? I describe it as Animal Crossing meets The Sims by way of Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python cartoons, but it’s probably a fairer assertion to say that Tomodachi Life is the full realization of the kinds of interactions we liked to pretend were happening in the Wii’s original Mii Channel. Remember how it looked like our Miis were hanging out and interacting with each other? In this title that actually happens.
So it uses the Miis I already have? Yeah, it’s easy to import Miis already on your 3DS (or from your Wii U to your 3DS for inclusion). You can make new Miis from scratch, obviously, and there’s also a handy QR code import feature that Nintendo is using to share official celebrity Miis.
Celebrities? Shaq, Christina Aguilera and more are available via the game’s official site, but you can also scour the web for other suitable QR codes. Because sometimes you want to know what’d happen if Jack Black and Kirk Hammett were neighbors.
Wasn’t there some sort of controversy surrounding this game? There was. The game’s original 2013 Japanese release was plagued by bugs. One caused game-halting save issues, while the other, which may or may not have been directly related, sometimes caused imported Miis to be unceremoniously dropped into an existing characters’ romances regardless of gender – leading to same-sex relationships. Nintendo of Japan patched the title, thereby removing these pairings. In anticipation of an American release, many in the fan community spoke out in a campaign dubbed Miiquality asking specifically for the option of same-sex relationships to be included, so as to more accurately reflect the diversity of the gaming audience. Nintendo of America’s initial statement regarding this outcry came off as rather cold, but they later revised their stance and pledged to “strive to design a gameplay experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players” in future installments.
Marriage?! I wouldn’t say that marriage is a goal in the game, mind you, but as your Miis interact they build bonds—friendships, romantic relationships… they can even have kids.
What exactly do the Miis do in there? Once you’ve created/imported your Miis, you’re asked to give them personalities and synthesized speaking voices. These determine the kinds of problems your Miis will have and the (alternately charming and spooky) voices they’ll use to ask you for help. Sometimes they’ll want to make friends with a new neighbor or they’ll have a disagreement with an existing friend. Other times they’ll be bored or hungry or sick. You, their benevolent creator, can help them by giving conversation prompts or providing food/clothing/medicine/toys from a growing collection of stuff. Additional stuff is received as rewards for your aid, as is money which can be used to – you guessed it – buy even more stuff. Happier, more fulfilled citizens lead to more complex relationships which in turn yield more and newer buildings, activities and attractions on your home island. Since each member of this growing community is unique, you’ll quickly discover that they all have different likes and dislikes, different dreams and motivations, different… lives. It makes for fascinating gameplay without the constant grind of other perpetual worlds like the aforementioned Animal Crossing. If you leave your island alone for a few days you’ll return to find that your Miis managed to get along pretty well even without your divine intervention.
So is this something can we play together as a family? Sadly, there’s only one save slot, and, as you’re asked to move in your own avatar first, the Miis will usually refer to the player as “[you name]‘s look-alike.” Still, my kids just love to watch all the silliness unfold as I monitor the daily goings-on. Will Steve Martin like the bellhop uniform we gave him? Will grandma win this round of the weekly rap battle? Why is Niles jogging in nothing but a bath towel? Is that cousin Cade delivering the afternoon news?
That sounds… weird. It is. It really, really is.
Okay, bottom line it for me. Tomodachi Life is a game unlike any other. It’s open-ended and patently surreal gameplay rewards experimentation and creativity. Miis’ relationships can flourish or flounder with your intervention. Their interests are dependent upon their personalities, but influenced by the tools you provide them. They love to sing and dance and perform, but you can determine the lyrics and tone. It’s like an interactive ant farm full of fascinating digital doppelgangers. It’s also the only chance I’ll ever have to marry Emma Stone.
Review and promotional materials provided by: Nintendo of America