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[Game Review] Tomodachi Life

I’m not entirely sure that putting ‘game review’ in the title of this post is even worth it, because the first thing I can say about Tomodachi Life is that it is not a game. You see, Tomodachi Life is a simulator that you can stick your random Miis into to watch them live a weird kind of existence, where you act as benevolent overlord to feed, clothe and entertain your little minions. However, I’d also quail at calling it a simulator, since a simulator typically implies accurate representation: if any of your real life friends acted like the Miis in this game do, I’d advise you to kill them, because they are clearly soulless robots who don’t really understand this human concept we call emotion.

Tomodachi Life has you play as the owner of an island where little Mii characters can come to live. They get their own apartment, have jobs, go to work, give you money every day for no reason and say utterly banal things to literally everyone else they know in order to make friends. They even talk in text-to-speech, which doesn’t really characterise them much, but instead makes them sound like a bunch of Siris got together with a bunch of Cortanas and created a bunch of robotic androids that are incredibly bad at pretending to be human. You see, the Miis just aren’t fun. They sit around in their apartments doing nothing most of the time, and every so often they’ll do one of three things: complain that they need something new like a daddy’s girl asking for a new Porsche because her old one got a small scuff on it, ask to be introduced to someone else in the building under the misguided pretension that it will their unfulfilling lives a semblance of purpose, or give you a stupid minigame to play because they hit their head quite hard and under the effect of concussion, believe they are the lead designers of the next Mario Party game.

The game was advertised as a fun life simulator, but I just can’t give that argument any credence. What happens on the island isn’t ‘life’. It’s a series of random events designed to feature aspects of life, but nothing ever changes, and so it cannot be called life. Tomodachi Life would’ve been far more interesting if there was a heavier focus on relationships between characters – the closest there is to that would be the ‘love triangle’ scene, which isn’t massively entertaining and once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it all, pretty much.

You’re given a lot of control, but barely any agency, if that makes sense. You can control pretty much everything unimportant about your Mii characters, but anything important like their personality, characteristics, friends and relationships? That’s far too complex for your little mind to handle, so Tomodachi Life looks after all of that for you. It creates a game where you can do nothing and still succeed, because there’s no stakes to anything that you’re doing. A Mii would like a new hat? Fuckin’ fine, whatever, hand it over. But if you don’t, does anything happen? Nope. The islanders still hold you as their most revered overlord. You won’t have a revolution on your hands even if you starve them until they’re targeting the fattest members of the island to consume.

There’s little reason to not buy them stuff, though, since it’s one of the only outlets for money. You earn money by completing minigames, doing tasks for your islanders and getting free money once a day, but there’s little you can do with it other than make cosmetic changes to a Mii’s apartment or get them food and clothes, and you never have so little that you have to make any kind of budgeting decisions.

Tomodachi Life is built up from random events that occur throughout your time playing it – characters meeting up, hanging out, playing games, lying on the floor doing nothing or participating in a satanic ritual. Despite the game being advertised as a game where “anything can happen”, it doesn’t take long at all to have seen pretty much every random event. They’re not particularly unique and few are engaging, so when they crop up every so often it just comes with a sense of boredom, like needing to go into work on a Saturday.

More egregiously, though, is the fact that there are very few parts where multiple characters are having a conversation. When characters meet up or become friends, the conversations are represented by pointless jabbering noises without actual dialogue, and this irks me. Why would Tomodachi Life skip over something so integral to it’s function like it’s a stain on the floor that it’s hoping to cover up? It would’ve been nice to have multiple conversation trees, and based on the two interlocutors’ personalities, different routes through the conversation are taken. That way, romance can build up naturally between two characters based on their personalities, rather than a random occurrence.

Conversations never happen elsewhere, either. When you visit the various places on the island, you can often spot characters hanging out, walking around or something, but they’ll rarely converse with one another, and it makes each character feel lifeless. All the Miis in the world couldn’t stop Tomodachi Life from being lifeless, to be brutally honest. It’s not a game you sit and play; it’s an experiment that you leave on the side whilst you play something else or watch videos, and only occasionally glance at just to make sure your islanders haven’t sacrificed their firstborns or anything stupid.

The news inserts are quite amusing – I’ll give Tomodachi Life that. From time to time, when there’s a new item in a shop, or a sale on, or anything new happening on the island, there’ll be a newsflash and a quick news report from a random character. It’s quite amusing, especially when it then cuts to other characters to get the public opinion. As an aside, it’s certainly something that alleviates the boredom of watching a game where nothing happens, but it’s not enough to save Tomodachi Life.

What limits Tomodachi Life is something that cannot be fixed by updates or redesigns. It’s inherent weakness is what it wanted to be: a life simulator. Life isn’t something that can be easily simulated, and even the Sims, arguably the best life simulator, is far from realistic. It was a cute idea to make Miis live on an island together, and I’ll admit I found something entertaining in populating my apartment building with characters from Cause, all 1 of my friends, and a few family members, and watching them have rap battles or perform songs together is pretty funny. But there’s no story and no drama – you’ll never see characters have a fierce argument, or move in together, or get split up by a third party, or anything as intriguing as that.

Hell, it would’ve been fantastic if a Mii got murdered and some of the other Miis do some amateur sleuthing to root out the perpetrator – if they want to keep the PG rating, perhaps it’s just a theft that they’re investigating. What about rival hat stores being set up, with the managers of both stores butting heads about their companies, and the other Miis divided on where they should purchase their millinery from? Perhaps a Mii invents a time machine and brings their childhood self to the present with them. In defiance of you not getting them food, maybe some of the Miis settle on a different, rival island and try to begin a revolution? There’s endless possibilities, and there was no reason to stick with bland, lifeless, robotic conversations when there’s the entirety of life to pick and choose from.

So for god’s sake, Tomodachi Life, you need to figure out what it is that you want to be doing with yourself. And no, you can’t do it with yourself in public, we’ve been over this!

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