Animal Crossing is a strange game series. It’s a little like The Sims and a little like a children’s coloring book. You can do whatever you want in your little town, and there are no real rewards or penalties outside of the actions themselves. Still, Animal Crossing’s become a successful series since its Nintendo Gamecube debut. The newest game, Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS, adds a handful of fun features, but remains the same relaxing, zen-like experience you’ll either love or be very confused by. Regardless, this $34.99 (direct) game is worth a try even if you’re new to the series.
If you’ve played an Animal Crossing game before, you know what to expect from New Leaf. If you haven’t, it will be a strange, unfocused, but ultimately charming experience. Like in all of the Animal Crossing games, you’re a boy or girl sent to live in a small forested town populated by cute animals. You get a home loan from a tanuki shopkeeper, and have to repay your debt to expand your home, but otherwise you have no real objective. You can collect bugs, go fishing, talk to the other townsfolk, find different decorations for your home, and dig for fossils, and influence the town the way you see fit. There’s no true end game, outside of selling objects for “bells,” the game’s currency, and collecting more objects, but that’s the point. New Leaf’s like a zen garden or a bonsai tree, letting you rake, sand, or trim branches until it “feels” right, then requiring steady, calming upkeep.
Besides the town itself, a shopping district north of the train tracks that form the town’s north border holds most of the stores. This district grows and changes with time, starting with a small general store, a post office, a real estate agency, a clothing store, and a strangely large museum/aquarium, and eventually getting additional attractions like a late-night convenience store, a night club, and a “dream suite.” The dream suite, along with the Happy Home Association showcase north of the shopping district, are covered below with the game’s online functionality.
You’re the Mayor Now
This time, you’re made mayor of the town as soon as you get off the train for reasons not explained, and this adds a new layer of influence. By going to town hall and sitting at the desk, you can have public works projects started and place things like benches, street lights, clocks, and even a police station (which serves as a lost and found, because there’s no crime in Animal Crossing). These things all require “donations” of bells, which will come mostly out of your pockets because the townsfolk tend to be very stingy, but it still makes you feel like you’re shaping the town. You can also pass ordinances to make the stores open later or earlier or otherwise slightly change the behavior of the town. These changes are generally cosmetic or useful to players, and the townsfolk will usually only respond positively to them.
There’s plenty of fun to have besides just walking around town. The old mayor of the Animal Crossing series, Tortimer, now runs a resort you can access by boat. It’s a tiny island with activities and contests in randomly generated areas based on the fishing, swimming, digging, and bug-collecting mechanics. They can include a match game where you dig up random objects in a grid, run through a maze to collect certain kinds of fruit, catch butterflies, or dive for crabs. Instead of bells, you win medals from the games that can be used to buy special items in the resort’s own store. You can also explore the small island and its surrounding waters on your own, borrowing fishing poles, bug catching nets, and wet suits to collect even more rare and valuable birds and fish and bring them back to town. In fact, I found running around the island collecting giant beetles and sharks the best way to pay back my home loans, build a bigger house, and fund public works projects.
The game takes place in real time, with day changing to night based on the 3DS’ clock, and seasons changing based on the handheld’s calendar. Stores open and close based on the time of day, so you might find yourself waiting patiently to find out what new things the town has to offer each day. This gives Animal Crossing a living quality, letting you look for different bugs and fish based on the seasons and enjoying how the town changes over time. It also lets the game have different unique events in the town square, like art shows where you can buy art, or fishing contests where the townsfolk try to catch the biggest fish for a trophy. Changing the 3DS’ clock to make the game move forward is possible, but frowned upon and can disrupt how it tracks time (and can make the townspeople dislike you).
While direct multiplayer interaction is limited to inviting friends to your town and visiting their town (using the same frustrating friend code other online Nintendo games use), there are plenty of local and online multiplayer features that don’t require swapping numbers. You can visit random users’ towns through the Dream Suite, “dreaming” about their towns and exploring without being able to mess with them (which you can do if you’re invited to go to a friend’s town by train). You can also play games with other resort visitors at Club Tortimer, meeting with random players and competing once you collect enough medals through the single-player resort games to fill out an application to unlock the multiplayer. You can also share your house locally through StreetPass; when you pass another Animal Crossing player who is sharing his home, you trade copies of that home that appear in each player’s Happy Home Association showcase north of the shopping district. You can see how they decorated their house and even order similar decorations (for a higher price than if you found them elsewhere).
Besides bells and medals, you can also use 3DS Play Coins (the 10 coins maximum the 3DS accumulates per day through walking around) to buy fortune cookies at the general/convenience store. The cookies themselves don’t do anything, but they contain fortunes that you can trade for Nintendo-themed items at the store. They include costume components for Mario, Link, and Samus Aran, and decorations like the Triforce, a Metroid, and an Arwing.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf isn’t a massive change from previous Animal Crossing games, but it is a big departure from nearly every other video game out there. It’s less a game with rules and objectives and is more like a lazy afternoon in your pocket, where you can just relax and do whatever you want in your little town. It satisfies collectors and fans of the cute and quirky and will keep you playing for weeks, but if you want a defined goal and actual challenge, this might not be the game for you.
|ESRB Rating||E for Everybody|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc