|Release: June 6, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Comic Mischief and Mild Fantasy Violence|
by Jenni Lada
I am an observer. Yes, I can interact with the citizens milling below me. I watch their lives pass, as they live their lives. Sometimes, my guidance or assistance is requested. My bounty may rain down upon these people, milling like ants across a hill, dropping food, clothing, and shelter. I can even advise them on the correct course of action in select situations.
Am I some kind of god? No, I'm just a person playing Tomodachi Life, the first installment in Nintendo's Tomodachi Collection series to get released outside of Japan. The citizens are the legion of Miis that have been imported into my game. They know me, even respect me, but I am not one of them.
It's an interesting feeling and approach, and one could consider it a more passive version of EA's Sims series. A Tomodachi Life player is very much involved in their Miis lives, even if they're only importing a character from Mii Maker or scanning a QR code. They pick their synthesized voice and personality, provide food, clothing and room furnishings, and play games with these little characters, to start. That isn't even taking into account incidentals like medicines, hair dyes, bathing supplies, vacation tickets and cameras. Not to mention how indecisive these Miis can be. They often want, nay, demand your opinion on what they do, who they interact with, and even which people they should love. You can even turn the songs that they sing into pro-player propaganda.
But, don't let these illusions of choice fool you. Part of the magic of Tomodachi Life is how unpredictable it can be. From the dreams of Miis circling food or treasures, praising them, to their sudden "cheating" in the dropped item mini-game, to relationships developing without a player's noticing, this game is full of surprises. For example, I often found deep friendships forming between characters without my knowledge. Suddenly, two people would be best friends, even though it didn't seem as though they spent as much time together as other Miis. Miis would happen into unexpected relationships.
I'd almost say it's part simulation, part social experiment. Miis get into fights and live in this virtual world, and players get to shape said world. Suggestions can be offered, as to whether certain relationships would be good ideas, but who knows if they'll take that advice? A Mii may confess feelings to one you think would be a good match, but another suitor could pop up during the confession and cause the process to go awry.
Which also means it's a bit unorthodox when it comes to actual gameplay. Yes, there are some simulation staples. Miis do get hungry and it's best to keep them well fed, but they honestly don't have to have a full stomach. They won't get sick or die if their tummies remain empty for a few hours, or even treat the player any differently. And while there are mini-games, like making a Mii sneeze, answering trivia, guessing at object identities, and even playing a rudimentary Tomodachi Quest every day, much of Tomodachi Life is spent enjoying the show.
The Miis will need assistance and entertainment from time to time, demanding it with icons on their apartments that indicate whether they have a problem, want to play, or need love advice. Yet, they aren't constantly calling for attention. I found I had just as much fun playing as I did observing their interactions with one another in their rooms, in their dreams, or during an "event."
Though, there is another element to Tomodachi Life, and that is the collection aspect. There are hundreds of different food items, outfits, interiors and treasures to collect. Shop selections change daily, and some seasonal items are only available at specific times. Even StreetPass plays a factor in the accumulation of goods, as each person gets one specific outfit to export, and only via StreetPassing can an island's Import Store be stocked with new goods. This may awaken a Pokémon or Animal Crossing kind of mentality, in some, and become a driving force in convincing people to return to the game. It's just a shame the treasures are only a means of acquiring more funds for supplying Miis with necessities, as it would have been lovely to decorate rooms with things like Virtual Consoles and keychain skeletons.
That isn't the only reason I think people will keep coming back to Tomodachi Life, though. As silly as it may sound, I found myself forming connections with these Miis that looked like my family and friends. Even the ones that were celebrities or strangers started to matter. I'd screenshot their entertaining adventures, and it was like they were coming alive in my head. I reached a point where I'd text or tweet at my friends, letting them know what was going on in their Miis lives. I celebrated a birthday with one. I watched others get married. Today, as I write this article, I was able to see the birth of the first, original Mii child in my game.