After I played a quick game of cards with Emma Stone, I fed Shigeru Miyamoto some spaghetti--his absolute favorite food. I then attended Samus and Link’s wedding, and had just enough time left to visit the beach and buy a rare lollipop. Afterwards, I headed to the mall to pick-up a bumblebee costume. This was merely one of my many random afternoons in Tomodachi Life, an oddly charming lifestyle game that pulls players in with its addictive gameplay and odd sense of humor. As you find purpose in the randomness of virtual life, Tomodachi Life becomes a great casual acquaintance: It's fun to hang out with in short bursts, even if its promise of a deeper experience ultimately goes unfulfilled.
Tomodachi Life could be called a simulation, but it’s closer to a digital dollhouse. You fill a small island metropolis with dozens of personally designed Miis, each residing in their own apartment. They go about their days independent of your input; really, you're just there to watch over them like a god. You hand out food and gifts as you see fit, and dish out guidance when they ask for it. Early on, these interactions make for a mildly alluring power trip. The thrill of discovering which Miis prefer lobster to grits will keep you coming back at first, if only because of its quirky nature.
As fun as it is checking in on your Miis in their apartments each day, the real thrill comes from watching them interact with one another, and witnessing relationships naturally develop between them. While you play, more areas open up on the island, giving your Miis new places to lounge around. Coffee shops and amusement parks provide new hang out spots for your Miis, acting as ideal locations for dates or even marriage proposals. Witnessing the simple arc of Mii relationships unfolding is the game's true narrative.
The core gameplay is the addictive cycle of buying a new item, giving it to a Mii, earning money based on how much they like the gift, then using that money to buy a new item and start the circle of Tomodachi Life all over again. Continually giving your Miis new items plays into a collector mentality that stokes your devotion to the game. You quickly become obsessed with daily check-ins to see what new food or clothes went on sale that morning. You fall into this habit not only to slowly inch your catalogue of items toward completion, but to also dole out those gifts to different Miis so you can gauge their reactions. How will I know if Bayonetta likes this skirt and suspenders combo if I don’t buy it for her?
Seeing your Miis react to some new event slowly builds their personality, gradually deepening your investment in the island’s population. For example, when I build Miis of Mario and Luigi for my island, it's cute to see them walking around. But as I give them items, their reactions slowly develop into personalities. My Mario loves cheeseburgers and salads, while my Luigi has strange dreams about paint and getting lost on dark roads. These brief moments appear with little explanation--the Miis have no visible stats that explain why they like one food or activity more than another; but the lack of context makes your virtual friends feel nearly as unpredictable as real people.
Despite your investment in your population, it can occasionally feel shallow. There are no major goals to complete beyond buying every type of item imaginable and handing it to your Mii. After a couple dozen hours with Tomodachi Life you’ll have seen the silly little game run its course, and you might feel a little dissatisfied with the result. You spent all this time grooming the many Miis of your town, and for what? To buy every gift possible and then watch all your Miis get married and have children? But that pointlessness is the point.
With no real story to speak of, Tomodachi’s randomness is its own reward. As you explore the island, you’re bombarded with humorously eccentric scenes, like a friendly rap contest in the park, a couple of Miis freestyle skateboarding, or an elaborate karaoke performance that you can set to your own lyrics. These tableaux are well-written enough to be endearingly oddball, and the moments are even more delightful thanks to the deadpan delivery of the Miis' automated, computerized voices. Scene after scene unpredictably pops up as you play, earning at the very least a few chuckles from the weirdness of it all. If you like Nintendo’s comedy in WarioWare or Rhythm Heaven, you’ll enjoy it in Tomodachi Life.
Sure, not every joke is a hit, and neither are the very limited minigames that surface throughout the game. A Mii will challenge you to a quick game a few times a day, and these sections are exceedingly simple, like matching playing cards or naming an object based on a silhouette. These are tiny diversions that would be light even in a downloadable game, but there’s undeniable humor in the games-within-a-game being so banal.
Ultimately, Tomodachi Life is a collection of hilarious little moments that create a memorable experience totally unique from anyone else’s. You’ve shared so many good times with the Miis of your island that by the end, even as their silly antics become overly familiar, it’s still fun to visit them every now and again. Despite the mundane setting, Tomodachi Life’s amiable fun will become addicting to anyone looking for a slightly off kilter experience.
Tomodachi Life finds fun in the most mundane of activities, thanks to quirky style that makes hanging out with digital friends surprisingly engrossing.