As gamers and general entertainment seekers, we look to our favourite experiences to take us to new places, where we’re able to meet and interact with new people, critters and/or beings. It’s all about escapism, after all, and our favourite interactive industry is at the top of the list when it comes to offering that. However, for all of its strange new worlds, exciting quests and richly crafted races, the world of video games isn’t without its quirky titles, which possess weird settings and mechanics that wouldn’t sound good on paper, yet happen to be strangely addicting and fulfilling in practice.
Two of the best examples of the above-mentioned category are Harvest Moon, a life-simulating farming experience, wherein chores and relationship-building are the keys to success, and Japan’s odd and soothing Animal Crossing series. Both games are similar in that they task players with slowly building a life in a foreign, digitally crafted environment, where they must deal with new personalities and try to become successful through button-based work and dedication. On top of that, both games are predominantly open-ended, although one can achieve a concluding evaluation in the aforementioned farming franchise.
Evaluating both series brings tons of questions to mind, because neither one should be fun. However, to the right people who can appreciate what they offer, they’re two of the best franchises in gaming. I fall into that camp, having previously become addicted to both life simulants.
For the purpose of this review, we’re going to focus on just one of the two, with that being Animal Crossing. That’s because, as you surely know, North America just received its anticipated localized version of Animal Crossing: New Leaf for Nintendo’s 3DS. We’re now able to fish, mingle, bug hunt, decorate, treasure hunt and buy and sell to our hearts’ content, while looking at depth-adding 3D effects. Surely, if you’re reading this, you’re either curious or just about ready to plop down some of your hard-earned cash for a copy. To you, I offer my thoughts on what is a lengthy, incredibly replayable and addicting, not to mention great, video game, in the hope that they will help you make a decision.
If you’ve missed out on this particular craze since the days of the GameCube, you’ll surely want to know exactly what Animal Crossing is. To answer that, the best thing to do is to call it a quirky life simulation RPG. Technical in terminology, and different from just about everything else out there, the Animal Crossing games are Japanese through and through. To boot, their gameplay doesn’t fall into the standard RPG category, but the genre is well represented by what’s on offer.
The whole idea behind the series is that it lets players become a new inhabitant of a town where animals act like people. They meet, greet and settle in, exploring the strange new world, while trying to make a life for themselves. It sounds simple, and it really is. After all, the design is quite straightforward, allowing you to collect unique items, capture bugs, catch cool fish, dig for fossils and grow/harvest different types of fruit. All the while, your task is to become friends with and help out the locals, endearing yourself to them in the process. It’s all very simple, but addictive, and very unique.
If that’s the standard focus, what separates Animal Crossing: New Leaf from the pack? How about getting to be the mayor of your own town? That means you’re responsible for the satisfaction of your neighbours, which is affected by how much you talk to them, how well you treat them, how much greenery you plant, and what public works projects you put into place. Though it’s a new layer added to an already rich core experience, it doesn’t drastically change things, and is a subtle addition more than anything, because, at the end of the day, being a good and successful citizen is still key.
After starting my new, and very digital life on board a moving train, I was asked to answer questions that determined what type of look my character would have, as well as what the name and layout of my town would be. It was all standard stuff that was familiar to me from back when the original Animal Crossing took over my life. However, the new mayoral twist entered the fray shortly afterwards, forcing me to think more about how my newfound friends will think of me than ever before. So, I made a pact with myself, to make sure that I would become the best mayor possible.
Following my departure from the rail-based transportation vehicle, I was introduced to the townspeople (all of whom were very nice), as well as my personal assistant, who said that I couldn’t become mayor until I planted a ceremonial tree in the town square. I did that, and thus began my new career, as the tent-living leader of a unique town. Why a tent, you ask? No houses were available, so I was asked to pick a plot of land, set up temporary residence and make enough money to pay off my first down payment on a brand new house.
Since then, I’ve put approximately two hours into the game each and every day, choosing to log on at different times. Over that time, I’ve gotten to know my neighbours, and have helped support the local economy by buying, harvesting and selling. On top of that, I’ve picked weeds, gotten rid of dead flowers, paid off two loans and put into place a collections box for my first town project: a water fountain. The latter option only became possible once my approval rating got to 100%, and I’ve yet to force any mandates on the area (be it increasing business hours, putting the economy first, or choosing to make the most beautiful town in existence), because that costs 20,000 bells and I’m not sure of what I want my town to be as of yet. Still, it has grown quite a bit. New animals have moved in, a new store is in the works and the local museum has received tons of donations at my hand.
As expected, living in the world of Animal Crossing: New Leaf has been made easier by the inclusion of new shops, interesting shopkeepers and some great advice. This time around, there’s a real estate office, an Internet enabled house sharing option, a large clothing/accessory store, a swap shop complete with its own flea market and Tom Nook’s kids’ store. Furthermore, based on what I’ve read, the more money that I pump into the listed businesses, the more I’ll get out of them, eventually being able to work in a coffee shop that will sprout up. Granted, not much has happened as of yet, but it’s early, and the proper way to play this game is bit by bit, all year round. New seasons bring new opportunities, new events and new critters to collect. Plus, time is required in order to build one’s dream town and populate it with great animals, as well as fruit trees of various types.
To round out this feature-based discussion, it’s important to note that the 3DS’ ability to talk to others’ systems is utilized here, providing a more eclectic inventory of items to purchase via the homeowners’ association. On top of that, players can once again visit their friends’ towns for unique fruit, furniture, gifts and more. Of course, that’s also the best way to get new types of fruit, though the island, which makes its return, is also a great asset. Not only does it allow you to fish, bug hunt, swim and play minigames, but it also offers unique things to collect and supports more than one person.
Of course, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, like its peers, is not a normal type of game. Going further, it’s brand new. As a result, it’s a game that won’t show all of its cards to myself, or other players, for a long time. That will surely keep us coming back for more, but it also makes reviewing the experience difficult. However, I feel like I’ve played enough to allow me to properly provide an opinion based on what this early summer has given me in my newfound hometown. To that extent, I have no complaints to register, because my time with this good-looking, great playing, relaxing, addictive and glitch-free installment has been fantastic thus far.
If you think that there’s a chance that this type of game will interest you, or if you happen to be a longtime fan of the series who has been on the fence about picking up another of its installments, give Animal Crossing: New Leaf a shot. As long as you go into it with an open mind, and expect to be into it for the long haul, you’ll get your money’s worth and more. This truly is a great, and value-filled release.
This review is based on a copy of the 3DS exclusive game that we were provided with.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a fantastic addition to one of gaming's most addictive franchises. Fans of the series should not pass it up.