Tomodachi Collection has been available in Japan since the days of the Nintendo DS, and the second version of the game for the Nintendo 3DS saw release in English territories a few months ago as Tomodachi Life. Pre-release, Tomodachi Life drew comparisons to Nintendo’s current king life sim Animal Crossing, but for two games that fall into the same category, the gameplay is very different.
The heart and soul of the Animal Crossing experience is the lawn. You place things, water flowers, and maintain your lawn. Animals will move in or out depending on how they feel about your lawn. I did have one of my villagers cry that I wasn’t paying enough attention to him, but an understanding passed between us that it was really the lack of carnations in my village that sunk my mayorship in his eyes. If that was going to be his stance he really shouldn’t have parked his house on top of my only carnation patch when he moved in but the dialogue options in Animal Crossing are a bit limited so I was unable to address the issue as I would have liked.
Tomodachi Life has no lawn to speak of. The game is set on an island made up entirely of pre-made areas, some of which have some green but there are no insects to collect or trees to cut down. You get to name your island (which is randomly assigned a food-based sea name to break waves in) and then set about unlocking these pre-made areas though gameplay. The only environmental customization is the single-room décor you bestow upon your islanders that functionally only changes the wallpaper. There is no modular furniture in Tomodachi Life, and the collection of clothes, hats, food items, etc. is a much more passive affair than in Animal Crossing.
The selling point and main differentiator between Tomodachi Life and Animal Crossing is that Tomodachi Life is populated entirely by Miis of the player’s own choosing, the intent being for players to move in the Miis of their friends and watch the hilarity ensue — which in practical terms means that players will force their friends and favourite actors into horribly embarrassing situations and clothing, which brings us to the raison d’être of life simulation games.
It is possible to be a jerk to your villagers in Animal Crossing, but Tomodachi Life is the 3DS’s most potent id X-ray to date. Beating an unnaturally coloured chipmunk with a shovel simply doesn’t compare to the schadenfreude of seeing the eternal romantic loser on your island get cruelly dumped yet again (or maybe it does because I did want those carnations). Celebrity stalkers out there might also want to take note that trying to become “special someone”s with a certain Mii is like throwing spaghetti at the wall, unless you specify that Mii Ryan Gosling/Mii Angelina Jolie is breathless at the sight of Mii you on moving them in.
The trial versions of Tomodachi Life, limited to taking a handful of requests from one particular Mii, don’t do the experience justice as it takes about twenty resident Miis and a week for the drama to really heat up, but anyone who has ever wanted an Animal Crossing without the insects and more character interaction would be well served by Tomodachi Life.