PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

'Tomodachi Life' Is As Much a Digital Pet As It Is a Farcical Soap Opera

Arun Subramanian

A sequel to the 2009 Japan-only DS release Tomodachi Collection, Tomodachi Life is less a game than a virtual aquarium (or perhaps sitcom set) populated by Miis.

Tomodachi Life

Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1
Price: $34.99
Platform: 3DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: Nintendo SPD Group 1
Release Date: 2014-06-06

It's actually kind of a coincidence that the words "Tamagotchi" and "Tomodachi" are so similar. The ubiquitous digital pet keychains of the 1990s actually take their name from a portmanteau of the Japanese words for "egg" and "watch".  But it seems nearly impossible that they would not immediately spring to mind when anyone that spent time with them in their heyday first heard of the new 3DS title, Tomodachi Life. But "Tomodachi" is the Japanese word for "friend", and the title is about as apt as it can be for something this strange and unique. Although there are some aspects of care and management common to virtual pet titles, as well as elements reminiscint of titles like The Sims and Animal Crossing, Tomodachi Life is something all its own.

A sequel to the 2009 Japan-only DS release Tomodachi Collection, Tomodachi Life is less a game than a virtual aquarium (or perhaps sitcom set) populated by Miis. Although they've been around since the original Wii, Mii avatars have always felt like little more than a silly diversion. Sure, it was fun to create caricatures of yourself, friends and family, and random celebrities, but to what end? There was no real way for them to express personality, and although there was something kind of fun about having your avatar surrounded by a bunch of familiar Miis at the bowling lanes of Wii Sports, there never seemed to be much more to them than that.

Tomodachi Life presents the player with an uninhabited island and allows them to either create Miis from scratch, import them from their existing collection, or scan them from QR codes. A basic set of options is available from which to craft both a personality and a (surprisingly charming) digital voice. The avatar is then free to roam around and do whatever they want. They'll request (though not technically require) intervention from the player when they're hungry or want an opinion on something. Interaction with them freqently takes the form of bizarre minigames. But these characters are far more self-sufficient than is the norm for most sentient creature management games. Leaving them be won't incur any meaningful penalty. But despite the relative autonomy of the characters, the game isn't without incentives to interact with them. Fullfilling their desires will raise their happiness level and reward you with currency, unlocking both items for the island dwellers and new locations on the island.

When Nintendo receives praise, it's almost always with respect to the overall quality and polish of their first party titles. But one aspect of some of their most successful games that doesn't gain nearly as much attention is their sense of humor. When they're trying to elicit a laugh, Nintendo tends to be bizarre, slapsticky and self-referential. Tomodachi Life hits those notes as well, whether it's from some of the downright strange minigames to the ludicrous musical numbers, it's a game designed to put both a smile and a look of puzzlement on its player's faces. Tomodachi Life comes from the same internal development division as the equally crazy, though perhaps more chaotic, WarioWare series, and after a little time with the title, it's easy to see their common DNA.

Tomodachi Life is structured to encourage short bursts of daily play over the long haul. There's no real incentive for long play sessions, but the desire to check in to see what the inhabitants of your island are up to can border on compulsion. During any given play session, you'll check in with your inhabitants, see if they need or want anything, and then see what they've been up to. This daily routine is certainly reminiscent of any given Animal Crossing title. But with Tomodachi Life, you don't directly control the Miis, so much as respond to their desires, and then observe their responses.

Tomodachi Life exists in a gray area. It's not quite a game in the traditional sense, but it's much more interactive than a book or television show. There's no direct control over the characters in the game, but you influence their actions more than in a typical "god" game. It is as much a digital pet as it is a farcical soap opera. At first blush, there's a lot of things to do and see. But like many sim games, after a while, the actual experience of playing the game can feel somewhat repetitive.  

While Tomodachi Life will not appeal to every kind of player, it is such a unique, absurd, and overall enjoyable experience that it's difficult not to recommend that every 3DS owner at least give it a try, if for no other reason than to understand how fun experiencing its absurdity is. With all the criticism Nintendo takes for recycling its core franchises with nominal changes to mechanics every few years, titles like Tomodachi Life prove that the company can still be wildly creative when it wants to be.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.