Review: Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Posted 13 Jun 2013 at 15:00 by Iun Hockley
Oh no, not this again…
Look, we’ve been through this before: I bought the house, then an upgrade then another and another until I had a mansion. I filled up the museum with insect specimens, fossils, artwork and fish for the aquarium. I made friends, dozens of them and wrote them letters: I comforted them when they were sick; found rare treasures for them; engaged in friendly fishing competitions and bug-offs. I watched the local store grow from a seedy little shack to a multi-department monstrosity staffed by cackling baby raccoons; I befriended the clinically depressed barista and took in evenings of music at the local coffee bar… you put up a statue to me, for goodness’ sakes! Now you say you want me to start all over?
For those of you unfamiliar with Animal Crossing, it’s a life sim. If that’s all you need to know to go and buy it, stop wasting time reading this and go get a copy. Go on, scoot!
Still reading? Well, it must mean you’ve already played the games before and want to know what’s new, or you’re an AC virgin and want the low-down on why these games have been consistently top sellers since their release on the Gamecube a decade ago (Ouch, are we really all getting that old?).
It’s impossible to answer one without answering the other, so let’s just dive in, shall we? By the way, diving for treasure is something you can do in the game later on. Just throwing that out there.
You arrive at your town after a short train ride, and a lengthy conversation with Rover, a talking cat whose watch is broken. Throughout this not-so-subtle chat you will determine the gender of your avatar, your name, your town’s name and even the basic lay out of the town from a map this jabbering cat shows you. As soon as you are satisfied with all of the above, BAM, you’re pushed off the train and welcomed by a group of villagers from your newly-created town as the mayor. Yes, you’re the mayor. You’ve never been there before, these people have never met you and suddenly…you’re the mayor. Hooray for… democracy? Maybe?
From there on, you get to choose the plot of land you will eventually build your house on, gladly supplied by this shady “Tom Nook” character, who delights in putting you up at first in a tent. You can either spend the rest of your life in this makeshift accommodation or get yourself into some serious debt with the greedy raccoon and build a house fit for a mayor. After all, public life is all about keeping up appearances, so you might as well. Once you have a basic house, you can customise both the interior – with furniture, wallpaper, stereos and the like, and for the first time, the exterior is fully customisable too. Don’t like your door? Go buy new one. Exterior features getting you down? Why not go for the crazy log cabin look or even the stone walls of a castle. Which, by the way, you can eventually turn your house into.
Your duties as mayor are many and varied, to start with you should get to know your new peons, er, neighbours by chatting with them, help them solve cross-fence disputes and generally making yourself a shining beacon of light in their otherwise dull lives. Did we mention that your neighbours are animals? They are. Animals. Penguins, lions, zebras, dogs, bears, ducks, cows, anteaters…they will all eventually come to share your village, each has his or her own personality quirks and preferences. Send a present to a villager and they’ll write you a letter back, maybe even with a nice rare little something-something for you in return. Visit their houses, remember their birthdays, have them over to check out your stylin’ new pad… it’s all in the days work of a village official.
Of course, as an official, you also have to take some kind of responsibility for the town environment, and that involves watering plants, planting trees, recycling trash, pulling up weeds, filling up the aforementioned museum with exciting exhibits and taking the lead in public works projects. You are the mayor after all, so it’s you who literally and figuratively builds the bridges, statues and drums up the support for new business on Main Street, the shopping district to the north over the train tracks. To begin with Main Street looks more than a little dilapidated, but through your custom and the custom of local animals it can turn into a thriving shopping district. When you first arrive, just expect a Post Office, Museum, store, real estate broker and a fashion studio. In time, this place will be jumping.
So, what’s the catch? If you didn’t already know this, Animal Crossing games happen in real time. I other words, whatever the time is on your 3DS internal clock, that’s what time and date it is in your town. Time passes exactly the same as it does in the real world, and that means that there are twenty four hours of gameplay to be had every day of the week, whether you want them or not. This means that the villagers are going about their lives while the system is off – you may come back after a two day break and find that a good friend has moved out, someone new has moved in and the whole place is covered in weeds and dead flowers.
It pays to visit every single day, even for fifteen minutes. And the game really encourages you to take part in special events days such as fishing and insect catching tournaments, gala days, festivals and bazaars. These events are often marked by one-time special gifts and treats that improve the town or your home. The best stuff is always the most difficult to come by, so anyone with OCD who absolutely MUST have every bit of the festival-exclusive furniture had better be prepared to sit with eyes glued to the screen. Let’s not also forget that the seasons change regularly just like in the real world, and the fish, insects and change in habits reflect that. Don’t miss that rare summer-only fish.
For old timers and newbies alike there’s plenty to enjoy: Tom Nook has now expanded his empire into real-estate and runs the brokerage on a full-time basis, leaving the Nooklings to run the store. A new shop, Re-Tail handles flea market sales as well as the purchase of most of your fishing and insect catches. They offer better prices than the Nooklings when you sell, so be a canny consumer and head there first. They’ll even help rid you of unwanted tin cans and other rubbish for a modest fee, and all this goes towards the improvement of the town. The Town Hall and your secretary there will give you a constant heads-up on the feelings of the townsfolk and the kind of improvements wanted and available to you. Let’s not forget the new island that is available for your holiday pleasures, run by former mayor-for-life Tortimer. This really is the most advanced Animal Crossing yet, and for old-timers like myself is a vast improvement over City Folk. It truly feels like Wild World all over again, and for those of you who missed that on the original DS, it was a blast.
Graphically, the game is much the same as it ever was – cute characters with their own little quirks and nice textures cover everything. Animal Crossing works better on the small screen, so any cosmetic improvements are pretty minor compared to the last two iterations. But that doesn’t really matter as they were already pretty enough. The villagers babble away in their own little language, which is thankfully represented in region-appropriate text in the speech bubbles. Background music is unobtrusive, twee and instantly forgettable. Turn the sound off though and you will miss some of the cute magic.
What can we say about the gameplay and lifespan of this little gem? If you are not into second-life sims, then this may not turn you on to them, but it does warrant a purchase just for the sheer depth available to gamers on the go. As far as lifespan is concerned, the game has plenty to offer every day and the promise of exciting events every month and week should keep drawing you back in for more. The sheer volume of new things to do and collect will keep old hands interested and amaze new players with the wry humour, gentle pace and the relationships you form with the villagers and your own town.
N-Europe Final Verdict
A leap of majestic proportions from City Folk, this is the Animal Crossing we have been waiting for. New players will love the cute style and be drawn in by the near-endless depth.
Massive amounts of customisation
Deep and varied events and projects
New villagers, furniture and features
Repetitive in the early days