Tomodachi Life is beautiful, if a little bonkers.
Apologies for the lack of updates this week, but it’s been all go round here. I’ve just returned from a short holiday to Hawaii with Morrissey. When I got back I was straight onto the stage at the local concert hall to entertain the neighbours with my own opera. This was all rather exhausting so I took a short power-nap and had a very disturbing dream in which I turned into a piece of seaweed.
On top of that, my sister has moved in next door and has struck up a loving relationship with former Doctor Who, Sylvester McCoy. It really has been one of those weeks. And Tomodachi Life really is one of those games.
Nintendo’s latest 3DS release has been an interesting title to play against the backdrop of E3. Nintendo has received praise far and wide for an expo display full of cheer and effervescent optimism. It was pleasant contrast to the apocalyptic excursions found elsewhere and a reminder that Nintendo, for its flaws, offers a distinct alternative. Tomodachi Life is the perfect example of that, a flawed game, but one impossible to imagine appearing on an Xbox.
It’s a game that certainly represents the tone of Nintendo right now. It exists for no reason other than to be fun, funny and on occasion, rather affecting. If you laughed at the sight of Reggie and Iwata knocking seven shades out of each other, or shed a tear as Fils-Aime emphasised how much Nintendo loves creating games, Tomodachi Life could be for you.
Loosely described as a life-sim, Tomodachi Life is a mix of elements pilfered from the games such Animal Crossing, Nintendogs and, yes, The Sims. The result is more akin to an interactive soap opera than a traditional game with gameplay limited to attending to the basic needs of your citizens. Aside from a few slender mini-games, most of your time is spent keeping your inhabitants well fed, well dressed and happy in all aspects of life and love.
On paper it doesn’t sound much fun, but the magical hook of Tomodachi Life is that the player has full control over its cast of characters, by virtue using Miis. It’s hard to believe that it has taken eight years for a game to use the Mii concept in this way, but it’s a choice that elevates the enjoyment of the game ten-fold. The game works best when using a combination of friends, family and whatever niche of celebrities you desire. (A friend has populated her game with the leads from Game of Thrones, with amusing consequences.) The player’s authorship extends beyond simple appearances however, with tone of voice, catchphrases and a range of personality traits at your disposal.
As you spend time nurturing the inhabitants of your island, a multitude of quirky scenarios open up – such as my holiday with Morrissey – that produce genuine belly laughs. As with many of Nintendo’s best games it’s the tiny moments that stay with you, be it the look on a citizen’s face as they realise that Risotto is the food of the devil, or the all too real moments of self-doubt and despondency expressed when unrequited love is in the air. Even when characters are sleeping you can venture into their dreams. The results are often darkly humorous snapshots of modern-day anxieties.
Tomodachi Life, as with many Nintendo titles, straddles the generations with ease, creating touchpoints for the young and old. The localisation team deserves much credit for ensuring that the surreal, off-the-wall humour has made the journey west intact. Each time you play (like a soap, the game is best consumed in small, daily doses), there is another moment to savour. The game is so confident in its ability to amuse that it dedicates two face buttons to screen capture. It’s a useful feature that soon results in an SD card full to bursting.
Over time your townsfolk will forge friendships, begin relationships, and eventually venture down the aisle. As romantic as this sounds, it can also be an extremely disturbing experience. My mind will never un-see the moment my bestfriend married my grandmother. (Shiver!)
Nintendo has been quite rightly castigated for the monumental lack of judgement regarding same-sex relationships in the game. Let’s hope their apology and commitment to fix this in future instalments is kept. It is regrettable that a title so fundamentally rooted in self-expression, is also so restrictive. Despite this misstep, it’s hard to deny that Tomodachi Life is an enchanting experience. Unlike Animal Crossing, it’s not going to keep you enthralled for months. Repetition does eventually set in, although adding new Miis helps, putting the onus on the player to keep things fresh.