Damn you turnips
Over the second week I’ve been playing Animal Crossing, I’ve come to a startling revelation, I’m still playing it. That might not sound startling, but what I mean is that is hasn’t turned into a mechanical process that I do out of habit and routine. Whenever I fall for a new MMO, I play it properly for around a week, and then it becomes a mechanical grind to the endgame. I start scouring zones for xp opportunities, I plough through enemy after enemy, I click my way through text, I’m working more than playing. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf I attempted this, I have set goals and I need money to make them, but something always gets in the way.
Firstly it was a pelican I found washed up on the beach. I was doing my daily routine, and decided to fish up some extra money (selling Ocean fish is incredibly lucrative) so wandered down to the coast, fishing pole in hand. In between Sea Bass after Sea Bass I came across a Pelican. He wanted some help about something or other, and then he went off to find home. That was the limit of the encounter, but it was surprising and novel, and that’s what Animal Crossing can do so well. Sometimes I’ll be hunting for fossils and come across a new visitor to the town trying to sell me something. Sometimes I’ll be checking out my collections in the museum and another resident will stop by to have a chat. There’s always something, it lures you into a sense of routine and almost tedium, but then it changes or a new event takes place that brings you right back into the immersion and the feeling that this is a real world.
Rodeo left today. I barely even spoke to him, he was some kind of bull and I didn’t care for him, he had a pretty nice house filled with sciencey equipment though. As an NPC who I had minimal interactions with, I was surprised that I was a bit miffed about him leaving. In part because he’s the first one to go and it in part because it was a slight against my town. New Leaf has upped the stakes in terms of keeping your neighbours happy. While in past games there was an odd sense of responsibility to keep everyone happy, as if they were socially inept and you were the only one capable of holding a conversation. In New Leaf, you’re the mayor, and if they’re unhappy it’s probably your fault.
Graphically the game is wonderful on the 3DS. Everything is simple, but this works well with the 3D and it gives it a real toytown feel. Everything seems solid and although nothing jumps out, little details really make the screen alive and makes wandering around the museum a treat. The audio too, while missing the amazing theme tune from the DS version, is still charming throughout and never get’s repetitive or annoying. Occasionally the animal noises can be an earful but thankfully there’s no harm in turning it down because everything is done via text.
That takes us on to the real shortcomings of Animal Crossing. For all the fun new features and spotpass and designing objects and clothes, this is still a game stuck in the past. Text is slow to disappear when you’re having the same conversations with shop staff every day, the inventory system is better than in past games but still takes a long while and features little annoyances that get in a way. Each day you can buy a couple of fortune cookies that reward you with Nintendo outfits. You have to eat each one individually, and then click through the dialogue to read the fortune, then go speak to the shop clerk, then select one from your inventory to see what you get, then do it all again if you’ve got more than one. When it’s a little routine you’re doing all the time, it should have been streamlined and cut down. Tapping buttons through text isn’t fun, the fun part is the fishing and exploring and designing and collecting, everything else just pads the experience out and in some cases makes it feel rather bloated with the amount of uninteresting and inconsequential dialogue.
Overall, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a great game. If you’ve played the series before, there’s enough new updates to keep you interested, and it looks gorgeous. If you’ve never entered an Animal Crossing town, you’re in for a treat and this is definitely the place to start. There’s nothing quite like it on any platform and the charm and persistent world is enough to win over most gamers. You’ll care about your museum collections, you’ll want your house to impress the judges, you’ll be slightly miffed when a bull decides to leave. You might hate yourself for getting so invested in a twee fictional world, but you can’t help but love the world.