The newest iteration of Animal Crossing hits the 3DS. Is it worth firing up the addictive collect-a-thon again?
Animal Crossing is an oddity among games in the fact that there is no clear thing to point out and say: “This is why this game is fun.” On paper, a game about a charming town filled with talking animals and mortgage-collecting raccoons doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that would keep gamers enthralled. That’s just what ends up happening though, as you find yourself settling into the relaxing pace of the game that encourages you to simply spend your time how you wish, and gets under your skin with a collect-a-thon that will leave completionists panting and a level of customization that appeals to most any gamer. Chances are, if you’re a gamer that doesn’t always have to be firing a digital gun, you’ll find plenty to like in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which is easily the best entry in the series to date.
As you begin your game, you’ll answer a few simple questions that determine your gender and what you look like, assign your town a name, pick a map for your town, and be deposited by train into the center of a group of adorable talking animals who, in confusion, declare you their new mayor. While being in control of the town as mayor is new, what follows is not: you’ll be given a tent by Tom Nook and later dumped into a sizable mortgage that you’ll be tasked with paying off. Nothing about that sentence sounds appealing, but you’ll find yourself quickly earning money by fishing, catching bugs and butterflies, and doing a fair amount of shaking trees. Collecting furniture to customize your house will become your new priority in life and keeping your town happy is something that every good mayor wants. For those unfamiliar with the game, events all take place in real time; night in your real life is night in your digital town and different days will bring certain events. Christmas and other such holidays are celebrated in the game, and the seasons change as well.
As the new big shot mayor you’ll be granted an assistant that will let you know what the townies want and advise you in your day to day duties. At first there isn’t much to being mayor, as you have to pay off a down payment on your house first and get the 100% approval of everyone in town. Once you do these tasks though you’ll be free to start improving upon your town by opening up projects. These projects can be anything from a brand new town fountain to a police station and most of the buildings have some real effect on your town. Either way it will serve to keep your furry townsfolk happy and keep you looking like the best mayor around these parts.
Being mayor isn’t the only new addition to the series as shortly after you begin playing the former mayor, Tortimer himself, will introduce you to the island that he has gone into retirement on. The island is even more relaxing than city life, if that was possible, and often hosts rare fish and bugs that will quickly fill your bank account. Not only that, but for the first time in the series North American history, you’ll be able to play a variety of mini games that let you buy goodies from the tourist shop on the island with medals you’ll win. The mini games can even be played online once you’ve paid medals for the privilege, with both friends whose codes you have and complete strangers. While the games aren’t anything to write home about, mostly just a race to collect bugs or collect a checklist of furniture, it gives a welcome traditional game aspect to the series and something for friends to do besides just running about town stealing your fruit.
Another welcome addition to the Animal Crossing formula is a QR code scan that allows you to share customized tiles and clothes which adds a whole new level to the community that naturally pops up about these games. It’s also the most fully realized version yet, as players can visit each other over the net as long as they are friends, or even visit complete strangers towns whilst in a dream-like state. StreetPass is used to good effect here as well, as every person you pass that plays the game and has the function turned on, will have their house show up in your game in a Homeowners Showcase area. Most pieces of furniture in others houses, some hard to find in the game itself, are able to be purchased in these home showcases. You can even use play coins to buy fortune cookies in Nook’s store, which allows you to turn in the tickets within to collect cool Nintendo themed furniture and clothes. There are other additional touches here and there: being able to give multiple donations to the museum at once, more storage space available anywhere you travel, swimming that you can unlock after visiting the island, and more that are small but welcome touches to long time players.
The same audio experience you’ve come to love within Animal Crossing returns, with soothing, fitting tones gracing your town. Some fans may cry fowl at the change to their favorite pooch musician KK Slider, who now is a DJ that plays every night at a club you can unlock, as well as shows up his normal time every Saturday with his usual guitar routine. I found nothing to fret about though, as his remixed NES tunes and original stuff is catchy and showing up on Saturday usually nets you a copy of his latest song.
Graphically the game looks impressive and using the 3D effect at maximum adds a fantastic diorama effect to the town that seems to enhance everything. Art direction is rock solid, as it’s always been, and comes out extremely charming. Some players might be turned off by the cutesy graphics, but it’s hard to decry them for that since it’s always been a staple mainstay.
If you’ve spent hundreds of hours exploring every nook and cranny of your town in the past titles, it can sometimes be hard to recommend Animal Crossing games. The small annoyances are still there, like everything making you wait ’til tomorrow to finish. Cool new house upgrade? Tomorrow. Island opening for the first time? Tomorrow. The delay is understandable to maintain longevity, but it can get a bit irritating when you are eager to progress. Luckily this title gives you the most to do of any other game before it in the series, so the effect is downplayed, but it’s certainly still there. Grind can occasionally set in once you hit the long haul and aren’t making progress as rapid fire as before, but for a game that keeps most average players hooked for a full year it’s more than sufficient.
There is so much to be covered, and quite a few cool surprises awaiting players that would be easy to spoil. The game packs a surprising amount of content for what at first may seem like a shallow experience and it does so in such a way that is incredibly addictive. Even now as I write this I’m thinking of what to make next within my town, wondering if I remembered to deliver a present to one of my townies and reminding myself to swing by the island later tonight for some shark fishing.
If you’ve never played an Animal Crossing the game is hard to truly paint a good picture of, so find a way to get your hands on the game and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. For Animal Crossing veterans, know that this is the definitive Animal Crossing and easily the best entry in the series to date. Not only that, but it’s a fantastic addition to an already killer 3DS lineup and something that you should pick up if your even the least bit interested.
A copy of this title was provided to TheParanoidGamer by the publisher for review purposes.