Astute viewers of last week’s 3DS press conference may have noticed a peculiar Mii-based title nestled among the event’s many announcements. Little in the way of footage was shown, but the game’s debut trailer only proved to be more confounding than informative to those of us who do not understand a word of Japanese, featuring what was presumably a married couple (insofar as digital avatars can be wed) reminiscing of their lives together (complete with disturbing photos in which the pair’s faces were superimposed onto human figures). It was certainly an unusual sight, the type of game one would normally attribute to the nation’s collective eccentricity, but what could not be gleaned from this brief and obtuse footage was how significant the title in question really is. You see, unbeknownst to most western gamers, the strange project is in actuality a sequel to Tomodachi Collection, a popular DS life sim that has become something of a minor cultural phenomenon in Japan.
For those unfamiliar with the game, Tomodachi Collection (which literally translates to “Friend Collection”) falls somewhere between The Sims and Animal Crossing on the scale of life simulators. Players do not take control of their avatars directly but rather interact with them on a more indirect level. Miis can either be created from scratch or can be imported from a Wii console and, once a character is selected, it is moved into a virtual apartment complex which can be shared between up to one hundred different residents.
The game proper bears more than a passing resemblance to a pet simulator– players must tend to their companions’ whims, feeding them when hungry and answering their other demands in an effort to keep them happy. The Miis in your collection can even interact with one another, and certain holidays and events will occur depending upon the time and day of your visit. Sufficient care for your digital companions earns you funds, which can then be used to purchase new interiors for your apartment or food and outfits for your various characters.
As quirky as this premise may seem, Tomodachi Collection has proven to be an unstoppable success in its homeland. To date the title has sold over three million copies since its release in 2009, making it one of the best-selling games on its console. This widespread popularity has even led to the creation of an off-shoot television show called “Koi no Kaitou?! Tomokore Ni-Se” (“Love’s Answer?! Tomodachi Collection Second Generation”). The program is hosted by a trio of second-generation starlets who interview other children of Japanese celebrities about relationships and similar topics. During each episode, a Mii of the guest is created and is used to participate in some of the game’s group activities. This may not sound like a particularly rousing endorsement of the title’s appeal, but it goes to show just how much of a cultural impact it has had in its home country.
One would think this runaway success would all but guarantee a worldwide launch, but as has oft been the case this generation, the title was never released outside of Japan. This, however, is not for a want of trying– all signs seemed to indicate Nintendo had every intention of bringing the life simulator stateside, going so far as to register a trademark for the name “Friend Collection.” Ultimately, it was technical hurdles that sealed the title’s fate– in an interview with 1UP, producer Yoshio Sakamoto (of Metroid fame) candidly explained that the game’s complex language generator proved to be incompatible with English, preventing any localization efforts. He did, however, offer a glimmer of hope for a prospective release: “Obviously I can’t speak to future plans, but this seems like something we might be able to revisit once more powerful hardware comes along.” Perhaps with 3DS’s added horsepower, the series could finally make its way across the ocean.