This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Tomodachi Life.
It is of course a popular understanding that there is no such thing as bad publicity, a theory best tested by pasting a huge blown-up photo of someone's knob along the side of Sydney Harbour Bridge with the caption, "Guess where I've been? Here's a hint: You were born from it." But it's a sad fact that the only reason I even picked up Tomodachi Life was because the Internet collectively swam right up its butthole for being a life sim that doesn't allow homosexual relationships, which was officially awarded the daily prize for "Cause of All the Evil in the World" before somebody noticed that Assassin's Creed: Unity didn't have a female protagonist and Ubisoft collectively shat itself into a mic.
If you ask me, there's way more mileage in the Tomodachi Life outrage. You can argue over how much work it would realistically have been to staple jugs and a couple of pigtails to an existing male character, but it would at least have been some work, whereas allowing any character to rub themselves on any other character would have been less work than exclusively restricting the drive shaft to the inlet valve, if you see what I mean. If a game like, say, The Witcher wants to have a relationship system but slap the player's knuckles whenever they reach for the sausage platter, then fair enough. Even in branching fiction, the creator is entitled to declare some things to be out of character. Tomodachi Life, meanwhile, encourages you to populate it with the Miis of real-life friends and family, and to disallow same-sex relationships in it is to tacitly deny that they exist in reality or at least to assume that no gay person or friend of a gay person could possibly be playing it, 'cos they're all off playing their special gay games for gay people that come in pink boxes adorned with chest hair.
Admittedly, the game is so rabidly family-friendly that it prefers the term, "special someone" to anything as racy as, "girlfriend" or, "fuck-buddy", but it's rather coy for a game in which it's still entirely possible to create a Mii with what looks like a flaccid cock for a face. You can cheat the system and add a gay friend by lying to the game about their gender, since gender does not restrict appearance or clothing options, but there's no way of knowing whether they'll shack up with the Mii of their real-life partner or with the man with a cock for a face.
Tomodachi Life is something I can't exactly review as a game. The best I can do is speculate on the purpose for its existence. It's on 3DS and is vaguely trying to muscle in on Animal Crossing's racket, except unlike Animal Crossing, you decide who comes and lives in your little bubble and very little else. Miis are added to the population as fast as you can come up with them, so I added myself and all my friends, but I figured a real community requires more than three people (ha ha, I'm lonely). So I populated the rest of the apartments with characters from my novels and indie games, as well as all the Miis that were already on my 3DS, which should explain the presence of Senor Koquonfaes and Lady Hitler.
I gotta tell you though, Senor Koquonfaes ended up being the fucking Man! He had by far and away the most friends and everyone was asking to be introduced to him. He was like the Fonz from Happy Days, but with a cock instead of a face. Interestingly, of all the hotties that were fighting to catch his jab's eye, he ended up marrying X, the secret agent from my second novel, Jam. I guess only she could be trusted to keep the terrible secret of what he has instead of a cock.
So once you've populated the island, your residents start making requests to be fed or clothed. "Errh, I want basic survival needs," whine, whine, whine! And doing so raises their happiness level. Or you can not bother and leave them wearing sackcloth and sucking the radiator for nourishment and their happiness won't go down. The only thing that seems to make them sad is being rejected socially. See that, Nintendo? That is how you made the gays feel! But you know what, it may be insulting to deny the existence of gay people and group them with pixies and jabberwockies, but I can't think how it could be more insulting than the way the game depicts people who do exist, as a sort of high-functioning plankton with a face.
Remove any comparisons to The Sims from your mind. You have zero ability to meaningfully direct the lives or activities of your little pals, but neither, it seems, do they. Left to their own devices, they are mostly content to lie on the carpet trying to lick their own nostrils until they decide the time has come to make friends with one of their neighbours, and if that all turns out well, you may in future see two people lying on the carpet trying to lick their own nostrils.
Let's not dismiss the relationship system, for it is one of the few ways we are granted agency. When someone wants to make a friend or take a friendship to the next level, they must request your approval like you're the stern overseeing patriarch of a Jonestown-style death cult. Maybe you'll want to seize the opportunity to finally enforce your will and make your community completely racially-segregated to appease Lady Hitler. But personally I just allowed whatever, except when a love triangle arose between two strapping young fellows and an obese elderly woman which I swiftly put a stop to. I'd given these characters enough shit in their respective works without letting some game turn them into granny-fiddlers too.
The only time I felt anything close to investment was during the marriage proposal mini-game, mostly because getting two of your little buggers hitched is the only thing that carries the slightest sense of achievement, lessened somewhat by the knowledge that it is one that the game has essentially handed to you at random.
Animal Crossing did the same thing: each day, a new selection of random collectables, wonderful trophies to mark your exceptional achievement of having done fuck-all but turn the game on today. But at least there were options as to what you did with them: put them in your house, donate to the museum, bury them alongside the remains of the reindeer man who just had to ask for a peach one too many fucking times! Tomodachi Life merely rewards you with random objects it found in a dumpster, and your options are to either sell them or close the DS and toss it into a vat of boiling prison wine.
But it's alright. I have now figured out what the purpose of this game is: the same as those paper fortune-tellers you used to make at school. There's a special mode where you enter embarrassing questions such as, "Who loves a clammy minge?", whereupon a random selection of islanders put their hands up, allowing you confront the real-life inspiration of the islander and go, "Look, you love clammy minges!", leaving them shamed and exposed until they reply, "No, I don't", and thus torpedo the debate.
I would recommend a sock puppet over Tomodachi Life. They're equally as fulfilling and you can make them as gay as you please. Maybe the Streetpass features make the difference, but sadly I got no Streetpass hits at all. Apparently I'm the only person in Brisbane who bases their purchases on homophobia.
- Fun for all the family: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Also Mr. Wonderful from Mogworld ended up marrying Drylda from Mogworld, which was all kinds of weird
- Got nothing against Nintendo as long as they don't do it in front of my kids