Review: Tomodachi Life for Nintendo 3DS

This is the Life.

Tomodachi Life may not be the sort of game you expect. Categorized as a “life simulation” game, one might think it is basically a different flavor of Animal Crossing with a greater emphasis on Miis, rather than a community of animal friends– especially since Club Nintendo has offered an early trial version to those who registered Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

However, the truth is that this game is an entirely different beast. There is a certain similar appeal, to be sure, but it operates by different rules which make it a unique and– depending on your lifestyle– possibly preferable experience.

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Unlike Animal Crossing, you don’t actually have direct control over any of the characters herein– not even yourself! Actually, your Mii isn’t technically “you” here; rather, they are considered your “look-alike,” or vice-versa, as you’re often referred to as your Mii’s look-alike. You’ll also be able to add Miis of your friends, family, celebrities, or whoever– up to 24 in total (Correction: Since writing this review, I’ve been informed that nearing the limit sees the apartment expand to at least 48)– and all of them, including yours, will speak with you as you solve various “problems” for them, ranging from feeding them to getting them to clothes to introducing them to other Miis in the apartment complex of the island you’ve named (mine is “Dinobot Island”).

There are a number of ways to add Miis to your island. Similar to the Mii Maker, you can start from scratch or create one from a photo, or even just transfer one you already have in the Mii Maker. You can also trade with others or scan QR Codes, should those options be available to you. After adjusting their features, you go beyond the Mii Maker norm by noting whether they’re a grown-up or child (affecting some of the relationships in the game), their relation to you, the voice they’ll speak with, and numerous aspects of their personality. Should you change your mind, you can easily edit whichever part you like later, save for some of the settings which might be locked by the creator (nickname, favorite color, gender). You can also create new Tomodachi Life-based QR Codes which contain all of your Mii’s in-game features for others to use in their copies of the game.

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Having numerous Miis is key to activity in this game; the more you have, the more there is going on and the more there is to do. Though incidentally, if you want to pair up with, say, your wife? You might want to just start small with only the two of you and let that relationship take its course before adding more. That’s what I did in mine, and things are going well; my wife started with several at once, and her Mii is showing interest in someone else.

As you add more Miis, more parts of the island will open up to you, such as the cafe, the observation tower, the park, the amusement park, a concert hall, a rankings board (gauging things such as “vitality” and “charm”), a compatibility tester (see which Miis get along well together, though birth years are unfortunately required), and the beach. Numerous businesses will open as well, including shops for selling you interiors (from normal fare to more exotic options, such as pirate ships and space stations), clothing, hats, food, and imported items (you can export your own via StreetPass as well). There is also a newsroom which keeps you updated not only on new places opening on the island, but other bizarre high jinks as well.

There are also some other options for you, the player, as well. Specifically, you can capture images from the top or bottom screen (as seen throughout this article) and using the island’s airplane, share them through Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.

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Each Mii has their own likes and dislikes– not all of which will correspond with their “look-alikes.” For instance, mine didn’t care for the vest attire which clearly references Back to the Future in its description. That’s nothing short of blasphemy, of course, so I’m making him wear it anyway (fortunately, even if their initial reactions aren’t favorable, it doesn’t seem to affect anything further). On the bright side, he shares my taste in headwear (as you can see above), so we’re good on that.

As you give each Mii food, clothing, or help them along in other ways, their level will rise and you’ll receive money, allowing you to buy bigger and better things for them. Each time they level up, you’ll be able to give them your choice from a variety of options: Gifts (ranging from books and cat or dog rental coupons to Nintendo 3DS XLs and Wii Us), songs (which can be performed at the concert hall), interiors (exclusive to this menu, and not available at the normal interior store), custom catchphrases, or just get some more cash.

The gifts (limited to eight per Mii) are the most interesting, in my opinion, as they give the Miis different things to do both in their apartment and out. I gave one a metal detector, and he began hunting for buried treasure along the beach, while a skateboard was put to use at the observation tower. On more than one occasion, my wife’s Mii and mine have gotten together to play Nintendo 3DS XL together, and while it hasn’t happened in my game yet, it looks like several can get together for a Wii U party as well.

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Tomodachi Life definitely has some humorous leanings spread throughout. Some of the wackier instances seen in trailers and on Nintendo Direct, such as giant Miis rising out of the ocean or a character’s shocked expression blasting into space and back, are actually what take place in the characters’ dreams, should you choose to look in on them while they’re sleeping.

Other zaniness come from some of the things they do when alone in their apartment, or conversations they might have at the cafe. Still more come in the descriptions of various things you can buy, bizarre news items (such as the one seen above), or the different mini-games that you’ll be asked to play (some of the “guess what’s pictured” games can be pretty tough– can you recognize a donut by its hole?). When two Miis are ready to hear wedding bells, you’ll even be asked to help with the proposal by tapping a heart on the bottom screen whenever the special someone they want to ask is thinking of the other, but though your timing may be good, the stuff which keeps happening around them mean that a proposal is easier said than done.

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Different activities occur at various times, such as Guys’ and Girls’ Hangouts at the Cafe, while others are scheduled, such as Afternoon Markets, Barbeques, and Photo Shoots at the Park. My personal favorite, though, is “Tomodachi Quest,” which occurs twice daily (though you can only play once per day) among other activities at the amusement park.

In Tomodachi Quest, four random Miis will come together in a retro-styled turn-based role playing game adventure. It’s very brief, only about three or four encounters long in most cases, and you’ll take on bizarre items with regular or special attacks, hopefully defeating them before they can reduce your entire party’s health down to zero (at which point they “pretend to be dead”). Beat the boss, and you’ll be able to take home a “real” version of that item!

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Like Animal Crossing, Tomodachi Life is a rather easygoing, relaxing sort of game. It only requires the stylus (or your finger, if you so choose) and touchscreen to play (though you can move and zoom the camera with the Circle Pad and shoulder buttons). Unlike Animal Crossing, it doesn’t feel quite so involved, thanks in part to being rather menu-driven, and that’s alright.

In Animal Crossing, there is a lot of ground you’re typically expected to cover in something of a daily routine, and sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with, depending on your schedule. Tomodachi Life, on the other hand, is very easy to drop in and out of for short bursts of gameplay. Sometimes, you might even find there isn’t much to do at a given point in the day.

As I write this, all nine of the Miis I currently have are asleep after vowing to stay up all night, leaving little to do but listen to their mutterings and peek in on those with active dreams. One I just poked imagined she was 50 years older, resulting in me acquiring a cane when she briefly woke up before drifting back off; another had a chain of tiny Miis dangling from a door handle, which I could swing around before they awoke and I got the doorknob.

Of course, you can also continue to just look around and shop, if you wish.

Oh, and here’s an update: My Mii and The Hoff’s have both woken up since I began writing about everyone being asleep. Go figure; I guess that just goes to show how quickly things can turn around.

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Overall, I’d say to those who are looking at this because they enjoyed Animal Crossing is that it’s definitely worth a look; it’s a lighter game which feels like it carries less obligation, but it’s still a fun title to have and play in short bursts. If you’ve not played Animal Crossing, it’s still fun to check out for its unique quirkiness. It’s especially good to have loaded on your SD Card so that it’s not taking up your cartridge slot, allowing you to dabble in this between playing other games.

Try as I might, it’s actually been rather difficult to put into words all the weird and fun little things that go on from moment to moment and day to day in the game, as new things come up all the time. For a better sampling of what I’ve seen in the game so far, be sure to check out the gallery below. And just so you know, more has opened up since I uploaded the pictures, while there are still more locations and events which remain unopened. It’s definitely a game to play bit by bit over the long term.

Finally, if for some reason you’d like my Mii to live on your island, just scan the QR Code above and I’ll be there, lickety-split!

N3DS_TomodachiLife_BoxArtTomodachi Life was released for the Nintendo 3DS on June 6th, 2014 at a price of $39.99.

A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.


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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.