I’ve never felt compelled to check out Animal Crossing. Ever. Not even when the original promised NES games within that, at the time, weren’t available since an eShop didn’t exist yet. For whatever reason I simply looked right past it with the same disregard as those ‘no cellphone’ signs on gas pumps. But, because I adore my 3DS so and try to gobble up every new game that comes out for it I thought I’d give it a second chance.
So now that I’ve taken the plunge, how is Animal Crossing: New Leaf?
What the cat’s really doing is profiling you psychologically
Animal Crossing is a (forgive me) strange animal. It bills itself as a real-life simulator and it is except that everything’s hyper exaggerated. At the onset you’re whisked away on a train and asked a series of seemingly innocuous questions by a cat about what time it is and your excitement about travelling to a new town. What the cat’s really doing is profiling you psychologically to determine how your character will look. Apparently my psyche profile necessitated I look like drug addled hobo. But more than that, upon arrival to your new town (which you get to name) you’re immediately dropped into office as the Mayor so, go me! I already have a perceived drug problem and am now tasked with managing the day-to-day lives of a menagerie of terrifying animals. It sounds nightmarish out of context but as time goes on (literally at the pace as the real world) The plot of this unfolds.
Get to Work, Bum
Mayor or not the first order of business is to get your bum ass a job and a house. The logic goes that the Mayor needs to live in the town and so you need a house to be a resident to be the Mayor to dictate the course of your village and the direction its denizens will take.
Of course, building houses takes time so the shady real-estate agent, Tom Nook, not only gives you a ratty tent to hold you over while your land is developed, but also is realistically evasive about the actual amount you’ll need to fork over for the down payment on your bonkers house in the middle of crazy town. In true-to-real-life fashion you buy a house without giving it the thought it rightly deserves and then figure out how to pay for it later. In my case I began by shaking down trees for pears and bells (the in-game currency which I’m betting has the same exchange rate as the soon-to-be-defunct Microsoft Points).
Thanks to the adorably titled ‘Re-tail’ store, you can trade in nearly anything you find to be re-purposed and in turn you’re paid handsomely in bells to do things like make the down payment on your house, purchase tools like fishing rods or shovels to engage in other activities around your town, or pay off Isabel, your Mayoral assistant to keep quiet about the raunchy, drug-addled parties you throw in abuse of your elected power. Ok, that last one’s not yet come to fruition but my time in the game is young and I’m sure that’s coming.
There’s a deceptively large amount to do In Animal crossing: New Leaf. Between public works projects to improve the town and changing your town’s flag or official tune, you can also personally engage in a variety of fun activities. Fishing, fossil-finding, fruit-swindling, bug-catching and the like are just some of the things you can do when you’re not taking in the sights or getting down with your Mayoral duties.
Granted, almost all these activities revolve around the acquisition of bells which is fine considering housing isn’t cheap in Animal Crossing, but you don’t have to go the pure capitalist route and you can opt to be more altruistic by donating your fish, bugs, and fossils to the local museum if you wish. It’s also sickeningly adorable to watch other animals running about with their fishing poles or umbrellas outside. If you chat them up they’ll even give you little errands to run which usually results in your acquisition of a new shirt or a piece of furniture for your house.
Of course, like most games, it’s always more fun with a friend whether they’re of the animal persuasion or real-life humans to enjoy New Leaf with you.
The Prince and the Pauper
One of the most intriguing elements of the game is the ability to travel to other players’ towns to see how their version of the game has evolved compared to your own. My friend, Jared, invited me to come check out his town, lovingly deemed ‘Buttland’.
I sauntered over to the train station where the adorable (like everything in Animal Crossing) monkey conductor asked me if I wanted to visit a nearby town or a faraway town which is just cutesy monkey-speak for ad-hoc wireless connection or internet connection to visit a friend. I chose faraway as Buttland certainly is but instead of being instantly whisked away like some mini Hogwarts express we encountered a few connection errors trying to get going. But, after a few extra attempts I finally boarded the train and was transported to Buttland safely.
Entering Buttland was magica-er, bad phrasing. Jared’s town made mine look positively barren by comparison. He had a dance club and enough fruit-bearing trees to make the Garden of Eden blush. Multiple suspension bridges made traveling across the town’s rivers a breeze and the town itself was comprised of the kind of mini-mansions that made my humble cottage back in the more boringly named Shady Oaks feel a bit sparse.
I barely had time to take it all in before Jared and Carrie started talking to me using the in game chat I didn’t know existed. It’s a little awkward typing everything out with a stylus when I’m so used to typing with my thumbs all day on a mobile device but I managed to squeeze out some basic phrases that made me appear only slightly off. After looking at his ridiculous 3-level house stuffed with every Nintendo collectible on the planet we headed over to the dance club and well, did some dancing. After growing tired he showered me in gifts of foreign fruits like bananas, coconuts, cherries, and more and even gave me a monocle that I’d secretly hoped I’d find here. I appreciated it, but was too proud to tell him before I figured out where he was located in the town (friends don’t show up on the map for some reason) that I’d already started shaking down all his fruit trees like a greedy little monkey, stuffing my pockets with quite literally the fruits of his labor.
At the end of the day Animal Crossing: New Leaf feels like an experience I’ll revisit often. It seems the standout feature is that it’s anything but a pressured play experience. You’re free to leisurely take in the town and just fish all day if you want or aggressively pursue the expansion of your town. Throw in the flexibility of enjoying these experiences with friends online or off, local or faraway and it becomes even more enticing- especially if you’re one of those people who loves to multitask and watch a movie while you play a handheld, this game’s about perfect for it. I honestly wish I’d picked up the digital version in a way because I feel like I’m constantly cart-swapping to see what’s going on in Shady oaks and, well, Buttland.
How’s your experience been? Are you loving New Leaf or is it just more of the same?