Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Tomodachi Life (Gaming Grunts Review Repost)

Note: This review was originally published in 2014 for Gaming Grunts, which went under some time ago. Having recently salvaged most of my articles on there, I've decided to give them a new home here for archival purposes. Please bear in mind they differ in structure from this blog's reviews, and be sure to join me at the end for a bonus reflection! 

The lovable Mii avatars have gone from playing sports, throwing parties, karting with Mario and even engaging in a bout of fitness, so surely starring in a life simulator shouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary, right? As expected from a life simulator, Tomodachi Life on the 3DS has everything from bachelor pads to turbulent romances and the heartbreak of having your child leave the nest…but what happens when you throw in the disturbed minds that brought you the original WarioWare? The answers involve bacon, romantic relationships between expressive caricatures of your favorite television stars and video game characters (which Final Fantasy character do YOU want to pair with Oprah Winfrey?!?) , and lots and lots of head scratching…both literally and figuratively.


Welcome to Tomodachi Life, where you take on an omniscient role as your Mii’s “look-alike” to care for an island development. Whoever lives on the island is up to the player: they can either be culled directly from the 3DS Mii Channel or through handy-dandy QR Codes littered across the net. Whether it’s your father, SpongeBob SquarePants or your fourth-grade teacher, anyone can live in your apartment building, dine together in cafés, forge friendships and romaces, get married, shop for eccentric clothing, take photo-ops, and dream of worshipping the 1995 failure Virtual Boy with your friends and family.

Wait, what?


Much like WarioWare before it, Tomodachi Life utilizes the power of absurdist Japanese humor to separate itself from the rest of its ilk (that is, life simulators). Thanks to a fully synthesized speech program and customized animations, observing the Miis’ daily lives is a genuine surprise unto itself. There’s a special joy in the having Mii look-alikes of people/characters you know, but it’s their hysterical animations and hobbies that keep the player hooked. Whether its spotting your Kanye West Mii spying on his friends’ night out at cafés or peeking into their dreams of being sentient seaweeds, Tomodachi Life never lets up with its barrage of random humor.

To quote from personal experience, I’ll never forget the moment when my Peggy Hill Mii received a letter instructing her to meet on top of the apartment that night. As she made her way up, my mind wandered with the possibilities of what was to happen. Was she to receive a love confession, or was Mrs. Hill walking into a deadly conspiracy? My heart pounded as the silhouette on the roof was revealed to be….Kirby/Super Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai, dressed incognito as he handed Peggy a package and left her with one message.

“You have to protect my family’s recipe.


The “gameplay’ of Tomodachi Life revolves around your Miis’ happiness levels. By granting them snacks, gifts (such as clothes, room interiors, and daily headscratches) and having them forge friendships and romances with other Miis, you’ll be able to teach them new tricks and catchphrases. Ready to grant your Epona the Horse Mii the power to perform pop musicals, or have Nintendo president Satoru Iwata angrily exclaim “PLEASE UNDERSTAND!”? You’ll have to be ready to bribe them with hamburgers or jester costumes or the like. Of course, food and clothes cost money, but you’ll earn payment through daily donations and maintaining your Mii’s happiness levels. The more Miis you include, the more cash will flow in.
By the way, I happened to dress Iwata in the aforementioned jester costume. He seems quite satisfied whenever he goes for a jog on his treadmill.

The Miis are also fond of interacting with the player and tend to invite you into playing games. These can range from simple memory games to frustrating games of catch, but I was personally a fan of their take on football, which consists of slamming the bejeesus out of a table with their fists (or in the player’s case, repeatedly the screen with the stylus) waiting for their opponent’s football player figures to tip over.  Expect to be rewarded for winning with gifts such as a hypnotizing pendulum and a AR camera, all of which further contribute to the hilarity.

For those into Mii customization, one of these gifts will be nothing less than a godsend. While the Miis were flexible already in design in the right hands, unique to Tomodachi Life is a hair-color spray that offers a wide variety of colors.  As hair colors were rather limited before, this’ll be quite useful in perfectly replicating, say, your favorite anime character (or, y’know, if you want a blue-haired Alf or something, you’re free to do so).

Island Activities

The island home of Tomodachi Life is full of activities for the Miis to engage in. Anyone who’s browsed Youtube videos of the game is no doubt familiar with the Concert Hall, where the Miis can form bands and perform pop, techno, rap, and even musicals. The lyrics can be adjusted to your liking, so if you want to witness the hilarity of a Nintendo developer boyband singing about love and peace, it’s up to you.

Events are also scheduled in various locations on the island. These can range from barbecue get-togethers at the park to games found at the amusement park. These locales are not only gradually unlocked as more Miis move in but are scheduled in real time, so much like Animal Crossing you’ll have to appropriately schedule your day to participate. Rumor has it there’s even an 8-bit RPG tribute hidden somewhere, so adjust those clocks.


Tomodachi Life comes equipped with its own speech synthesizer program, so the Miis speak in complete English with a sort of robotic inflection. Each Mii can have his or her voice fully customized and adjusted to levels of pitch, rate of speech, and even accent, so the power to create a garbled, raspy abominable caricature of your favorite (least favorite?) politician is yours.

As one would expect, this cranks the silliness up a notch when Miis are proposing to each other or screaming their frustrations all the while flailing about their plastic, Lego-esque arms. Going back to my Peggy Hill Mii as an example, I deliberately made it so she enunciates every word as slowly and deeply as possible within the confines of her high-pitched squeakiness, so I can’t bear to skip any of her long-winded dialogue.


At its core, Tomodachi Life is a game that emphasizes management and laughter. Life simulation is already a difficult genre for many to get into, and Tomodachi Life’s Mii approach might not be enough to change minds. Like Animal Crossing before it, repetition will gradually sink in and no amount of wacky faces from your Conan O’Brien Mii will change that. I’ve personally yet to reach that level of boredom, but I like to think my tolerance in that area is stronger than most.

Those who stick around with Tomodachi Life will be rewarded with new gifts from Nintendo’s SpotPass service throughout the coming months, yet I doubt that’s an enticing reason to stay for many. Much like, again, Animal Crossing, continually engaging with the Miis of Tomodachi Life for months on end is a task only its most dedicated players will undertake.


Tomodachi Life is as weird as they come, and I couldn’t be happier about that. I don’t quite know how long I’ll be entertained by watching my Mr. Saturn and Epona Miis dating each other, but I’m still laughing at them just standing there staring. And watching Iwata scratch his backside in his goofy jester costume. And taking photo ops with the Miis of myself and my brother angrily taking a stroll down the beach. If any of that sounds appealing to you, this life simulator can’t be recommended enough.



  • Off-the-wall Japanese humor is like nothing you’ve ever seen before
  • The novelty of Miis has never been better
  • Interaction with the Miis is hilarious and fun to discover
  • Fun mini-games
  • Voice adjustment potential is limitless
  • Slamming those footballfigurines!


  • Repetition can set in.
  • Time management with your Miis can be time-consuming and humor may wear thin

Bonus Reflection: I actually haven't gone back to this game since Iwata passed away. I'm not sure I have the heart to see him happily jogging on his treadmill, still wearing that jester suit.

On the other hand, Tomodachi Life was a great coping tool in dealing with Michael. I picked it up not too long before the anniversary of his passing, and just before that date I came up with the idea of including him so I could visit him anytime I wanted. Of course, his Interior design couldn't be anything but the Rock Band one.

I suppose if I could deal with that, Iwata deserves it just as much.

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