The Animal Crossing series, which started in 2001 on the Gamecube, has its first outing on the 3DS as New Leaf. The game takes a number of new directions with New Leaf, with many of the decisions being put into your hands. I packed my bags and went to go stay in the new town for a while to see what being Mayor is like.
Animal Crossing, by just about any standard, is a strange game. There’s nothing to shoot or kill, there aren’t any lives, no score to accumulate, and no real end goal. If you’ve not played it, you’ve probably played a game much like it: The Sims. If you’ve been through Animal Crossing before, you have a very good idea of what you’re in for. If you’re new to the Animal Crossing series, however, prepare yourself for one of the most addictive games available on the 3DS.
In Animal Crossing, you take the role of a person moving to a new town. The questions you are asked at the start of the game configures the way you look, your name and birthday, and the way the town looks. After naming the town, you learn that you’re the new mayor that everyone’s been waiting for. Congratulations!
The game occurs in realtime, so if it’s night time around you, it’s night in the game. And vice versa applies too, of course. Major holidays are also celebrated in your town, as well as whatever birthday date you’ve given your avatar. It’s a crazy level of immersion, making you come back on just about a daily basis. The thing is, the game isn’t meant to be played for hour after hour, day in and day out, as addictive as it is. The game is about taking it easy; pulling your pace down a few notches. It’s harder than it sounds. You’ve got a button that binds to a run action, but using it will scare away fish and insects that you need to catch to make money in Animal Crossing. In fact, running around really just defeats the whole experience.
Despite the increase in civic powers, you’ll find that you actually have very little say in the day-to-day running of the town. You can set ordinances that determine whether the town wakes up early or goes to bed late, for example, or you can choose which civic projects to embark on, whether they be park benches, bridges, or camping grounds, but beyond that, most of the world will happily carry on without you. And you can happily get on with…well, whatever makes you happiest, whether it be composing music, designing clothing, or collecting insects, fish, and fossils. On the point of fishing, I must say that the fish are ridiculously schizophrenic. Some of them will travel for miles once you drop the line into the water, simply eager to be caught. “Catch me, catch me!” they seem to say. And then there are the others. You can drop the line right in front of them and they’ll happily ignore you and swim off. It’s bait, you blasted fish! You’re supposed to take it!
In prior Animal Crossing games, you were employed by Tom Nook at his store, but this time around, Tom is now into realty and sells houses, housing upgrades, and facades. Furthermore, you’re no longer obliged to upgrade as before. Once your home is settled, you can just leave it as is, if you wish. But then you’re going to find people giving you things, and you’re going to find things, and buy things, and suddenly, the space you have won’t be sufficient. And you know what that means: a trip back to Tom’s Homes.
What I liked about the game is that it evolves as you play. The stores—which are all now on main street instead of in the village proper—stock different things every day. There are a number of empty lots on the main road too, and as you continue to fuel the economy, new shops and venues will open, broadening your choices.
If that weren’t all enough, a summer island becomes available to you soon after you’ve finished paying the first loan to Tom. There you’ll find the old mayor—Tortimer. He now runs a series of mini games that you can play to earn a second form of currency that’s only viable on the island. The best part of it, though, is that you can play with other Animal Crossing owners worldwide while on the island. If you find you enjoy playing with others, there are a number of other multiplayer options, from the Dream Suite (which allows you to visit other towns) to the Home Showcase, which uses Streetpass to show off other player’s homes. If you happen to find something within that you particularly like, you also have the option of buying said furniture.
What gets me every single time about Animal Crossing: New Leaf is just how addictive the game is. It’s always a case of “just one more fish” or “just one more design” or “just one more house extension” and the next thing you know, your 3DS is flashing red lights to tell you that it’s time to battery up again. Is it exciting? Not really. Will you be playing it a year from now? Oh definitely. Should you buy it? Without a doubt.
Final Score: 9 Animal Crossed prawns out of 10
Distributor: Nintendo SA (Core Group)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
RRP: R399 (from the eShop)