"I just thought this one smelled better," said Peter Griffin, incompetent father, when asked why he voted for Xbox One over PlayStation 4 in a Judgement Bay poll down at the beach on Radtastic Island. Confused? Welcome to Tomodachi Life, one of the more bizarre life simulation games to come out of Japan. Mr. Griffin's olfactory Xbox One review isn't even the half of it.
Like its peers in the life sim genre, Tomodachi Life puts you in the role of a voyeuristic overseer, keeping an eye on the citizens of your island, helping them out of strife, and watching the ridiculous antics they get up to.
Your island is populated with Miis, those little cartoony avatars with which Nintendo console owners will be familiar. You can invite them to your island any number of ways: by creating them from scratch, by getting visitors from StreetPass, or by scanning QR codes to use a Mii created by someone else.
The latter is definitely the game's single biggest strength. Thanks to QR code functionality and expansive databases of user-created Miis like MiiCharacters.com, you can invite anyone you like to your island. Celebrities, cartoon and game characters, historical figures, you name it - anyone whose appearance can be captured in a Mii can join your game. While Miis created specifically for Tomodachi Life exist, with some even endorsed by their celebrity likenesses, like Shaquille O'neal, you can use any Mii created with any Mii Maker software.
With your population sorted, the next step is to look after them. Residents will constantly come to you with problems ("I'm starving," says Abraham Lincoln; "I want to be friends with Batman," says the Joker) which you'll need to solve. As you help them out, your Miis will earn experience and level up, at which point you can give them a reward in the form of items to decorate their apartment, songs, catchphrases, and so on.
When they’re not asking you for things, the residents will be getting up to all sorts of mischief, and this is really where the fun of Tomodachi Life lies. Once a day, a Mii News bulletin will report on the strange goings on around your island (like Taylor Swift being embarrassed and hiding out in a loo, resulting in everyone else wetting themselves because the cubicle was in use.) You can also visit various areas of the island, which unlock as you reach certain milestones, and watch what people are getting up to.
Unfortunately, as funny as the game is, it really is a one trick pony. Once the initial hilarity of Chie Satonaka beating Batman in a rap battle wears off, there's little else to keep you coming back to. The simulation mechanics are not particularly deep or exciting, and the minigames scattered throughout, though humorous, don’t really survive more than a single play due to how uninteresting they are.
The game setup also means it isn’t the kind you’ll want to sit down and play for long bursts. Rather, Tomodachi Life plays like a casual Facebook or mobile game, one that you'll have on nearby while doing something else, checking in every now and then to see if your people are hungry. There's nothing inherently wrong with this design, of course, but this is a full priced retail game, so one expects a bit more.
Tomodachi Life is undoubtedly a strange and hilarious game, but there's little to keep you around once the quirky humour starts losing impact. It is, at best, a casual game that you’ll check into periodically rather than one you’ll actually sit down and play for any length of time. Were it a $20 download, or even a free-to-play, microtransaction laden affair, I’d say go nuts - but it’s hard to recommend at the current price being asked.