Walter White, Shaquille O'Neal and myself are living in the same apartment complex. What's not to love?
Tomodachi Life immediately calls to mind Bandai’s Tamagotchi toys that were so popular in the late 1990s. Those little Tamagotchi eggs harbored digital pets which had to be fed, walked and played with in order to sustain their being. The game enabled those who maybe couldn’t keep a real pet to experience some sort of bond between an owner and “animal.” Tomodachi Life takes that idea and increases it 10-fold – instead of playing pet-owner, you play God.
If we’re being more succinct, you play as an island owner. Different Miis – starting with the digital representation of yourself – move onto the island and it becomes your duty to make sure their basic needs and desires are taken care of. A pre-built apartment complex houses up to 24 Miis, and there’s no Tom Nook to pester its residents about paying off debts as in Animal Crossing. Miis move in at your discretion – you can import them from the 3DS Mii Maker software, create them in-game or scan pre-made QR codes – meaning your island can be as lonely or social as you’d like.
Though I’m sure some will be tempted to seclude their initial Mii and see what becomes of him or her, the game cannot be properly explored unless other Mii neighbors move into the residence. Various venues on a map shown on the touch screen – a music theater, beach and watchtower, just to name a few – are accessible only after a certain number of residents move in and/or certain in-game tasks are completed. You’re encouraged to import more characters and positively affect their lives.
Wit enjoys walks on the beach.
What happens if you, say, buy a Mii a new dress when she says she’d like some new clothes? If she enjoys how she looks in the clothes, her happiness meter will rise and you’ll earn a little bit of extra money. Sometimes the Mii will even give you a special gift (encompassing just about everything ranging from bath soap to a Wii U) if they’re especially pleased with what they’ve been given. Once the happiness meter hits its max point, the Mii will “level up”, much like in an RPG. The tangible gain in leveling up your Mii is that it allows you to give them new items or pocket money that they can go freely use on their own, further allowing them to develop relationships and go out into the island and have meaningful lives.
In addition to the above ways you can interact with your resident they might ask you to: introduce them to other Miis living in the complex with whom they’re afraid to have a cold meeting; play a short game with them; teach them a song; tickle their nose so they can sneeze; or assist them with putting a hit out on a fellow resident. Okay, so I made the last one up, but that’s the thing: in my short time with Tomodachi Life I’ve been surprised at the sheer number of things asked of me by the resident, and expect to continue to be surprised for quite some time. I imagine that list bit isn’t actually in the game due to its “E” rating, but maybe one of them will ask me to “trip” another one down the line?
JAM, my personal avatar, gets his workout on.
The game doesn’t skimp graphically, but it doesn’t really aim to wow the player. The Miis physically don’t look any different from how Nintendo fans have become accustomed to seeing them. Their apartment environments are simple, with any objects being used or represented existing in as about a simple form as possible. Simplicity is in full force in Tomodachi Life, giving the player just enough real-life duplication to put them in the right mindset without trying to force any particular reality on them. For example, two of my Miis were engaged in a Wii U playing experience. What were they playing? That’s left for me to imagine. A pan of the TV screen shows nothing but white light. They were having a ball, but it’s up to me to decide what it was with which they were engaging.
Overall in terms of gameplay, Tomodachi Life is more The Sims than Animal Crossing. You don’t ever control any particular character. As mentioned above, your direct interactions are limited to the likes of playing games with them, changing their clothes or teaching them new techniques. You never get to physically walk the Mii from point A to point B. The game, in the simplest and least endearing terms, is a point-and-click observation deck. You’ll spend a good portion of time simply watching your Miis in their apartment alone or interacting with one another, and as unusual as that sounds, it’s actually quite entertaining, if only for the fact that I can now utter the following sentence:
“I watched a female Mii named Jazz fart alone in her apartment and continue going about her life as if nothing weird just happened.”
When she's not farting alone in her home, Jazz enjoys playing Wii U with JAM.
There’s nothing weird about farting, especially in the privacy of your own home. But being able to look into a person’s personal world AS they’re freely farting without a care? THAT’S an experience I’ve never been able to take part in, and now with Tomodachi Life I can. At its core, the game invites players to partake in moments they might otherwise avoid or may never have a chance to be involved in. And while your in-game moments of interactivity are admittedly limited, what you do gains some extension of life in that nearly every moment can be photographed by simply pressing the X or Y buttons. The title makes all of these moments easy to share via social media, as well. As alluded to earlier, you can also create and share QR codes for your Miis so they can be imported to other people’s islands as well (the Shaq QR code mentioned at the open is actually available on the game’s official website here).
While life simulators in general give players the opportunity to create a persona and live out that avatar’s life in ways they might not to live their own, this game gives the player the ability to affect dozens of lives without dictating every single moment of any given individual Mii’s existence. If nothing else, Tomodachi Life presents a fascinating digital social realm that may, in time, shed some light on real-life interactions and allow us as a species to reflect upon our own selves. It may not be the prettiest game out there and it may not offer the most varied gameplay experience, but I’d be surprised if at the end of the year we in the gaming world don’t fondly look back on Tomodachi Life as the most unique title offered in 2014.