Games developed by Nintendo have always been known for their unique blend of quirky and wholesome fun.
So, when the Japanese gaming giant announced that its up-and-coming Tomodachi series was getting an English-language release, I had high hopes for what this zany people-simulation game might have in store.
Tomodachi Life is not your average simulation title. Part The Sims, part Animal Crossing and very Japanese, Tomodachi Life lets you play god to an island full of tiny virtual people.
Just like any divine ruler, you have the power to create people in your likeness. In Tomodachi Life, your virtual subjects are called Miis, the same cutesy player avatars found in Nintendo's Wii and DS systems.
Your island's very first citizen is your own Mii and your job is to give your virtual self plenty of friends, turning the deserted island into a bustling town.
The word "tomodachi" means "friend" in Japanese, but friendships are not the only thing which can develop between your virtual people. Miis can fall in love, get married and have baby Miis of their own. While it sounds like lots of fun to watch a small island town grow, there is surprisingly little to do.
Gamers familiar with The Sims series of people simulation games will be disappointed to know that Miis in Tomodachi Life are not virtual puppets which will follow your every command.
In fact, you have almost no control over where they go or what they do and this limitation extends even to your own Mii.
Your duties as supreme creator extend little beyond feeding your Miis, playing simple games with them, fulfilling requests for items and occasionally doling out advice. When you are not needed, Miis will randomly wander around the island or simply sit at home and stare at the walls.
The game's item-collection objective feels equally mundane, as the in-game treasures you find only go towards filling up your collection book. Unlike Animal Crossing, in which you can furnish your characters' homes with customisable furniture, Tomodachi Life features very few in-game items which your Miis can interact with. The beautiful interiors of your Miis' homes are but fancy 3-D wallpaper - your virtual citizens would rather sit on the floor all day than relax on that fancy sofa.
There might be little for you to do in this game, but Tomodachi Life's interactive features are not quite as entertaining as the gameplay elements which you cannot fully control. One thing you can count on your virtual citizens to do is come up with plenty of odd surprises to make you laugh.
Once, when I was dropping by my Mii's apartment, I found my virtual doppelganger running around the room, pretending to be an airplane. Another time, I was watching my town's TV channel when a hilarious news report about one of my Miis turning into a human-headed fish popped up.
The events which happen in this game are bizarre, but it is the excitement of wanting to find out what crazy surprise will come up next that makes Tomodachi Life feel so much more fun than the sum of its parts.
Adults and hardcore gamers might find this title puzzling, but Tomodachi Life's simple game mechanics and its experiment-friendly game design makes it great for kids and casual gamers.
For simulation game fans, Tomodachi Life's strange approach to the genre might not be for you, but if you are determined to try out this game, go in with an open mind and you may just find the weirdness wonderful.
This article was first published on August 27, 2014.
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