Reviews// Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Posted 4 Jun 2013 16:00 by
Itís difficult to explain why Animal Crossing is just so engaging. If you explain the concept to anyone else - itís essentially a ĎLife Simí where you interact with cartoon animals and maintain a village - it all sounds incredibly boring. Start playing the game, though, and I guarantee that youíll be hooked for weeks. Damn that insufferable Nintendo charm.

After tending bespoke gardens and trying to pay off virtual debts to a money-obsessed raccoon for years on Gamecube, Nintendo DS and Wii, this new version of Animal Crossing - titled New Leaf - changes the traditional formula just enough so it feels fresh. But not too much that it makes it feel like a completely different experience.

Just like previous titles, you act as a resident of your own little village, interacting with the scenery and your fellow virtual neighbours in real time. If you decide not to play Animal Crossing for a day, the villagers will wonder where you went and react like theyíve not seen you for the same amount of time. Various activities take place in the village on certain days of the year, too - fishing contests, special offers in local shops and seasonal celebrations to name but a few.

Whatís different this time around, is that your character doubles as the Mayor of the town. On your first day, you are introduced to your assistant - an adorable little pup named Isabelle - who will guide you in decision-making and your day-to-day activity. Before youíre allowed to make any impact on the townís operation, you have to earn the respect of the town community.

Once thatís done, you can start construction of Public Work Projects (which allows you to build funky new features to your town, ranging from simple bridges to new shops, buildings and museum improvements). You can also enact ordinances, which have a profound effect on how your town develops and looks.

A lot of the old-school Animal Crossing buildings and features remain, but are arranged in a different format in New Leaf. Many of the shops and businesses of interest, including the Museum, Able Sisters clothes store and the Nooklings General Store, are now situated in its own area called Main Street. This is a special zone beyond the train tracks of your town, where you can spend money (bells) to improve your land.

Youíll keep coming back to Main Street for two reasons. The first is simply by choice, because youíll quickly start to get a love for the town you inhabit - picking up gardening tools and flowers from Leifís store, ordering new patterns for your clothes from the Able Sisters, donating fossils and bugs to the Museum... The second reason is by necessity, as you still have to face the one character that comes closest to a villain in Animal Crossing - Tom Nook.

Nook runs a real estate agents on Main Street, but you will learn that for most of your virtual life you will be indebted to this crafty raccoon for one reason or another. Mostly, it will be paying off loans to build or improve your house. Later, you will be able to purchase external decorations for your residence - new fences, new letter boxes, new roof tilings, the works. Heís still a total git, though.

Itís the charming presentation and wonderful characters that initially draw you into Animal Crossing: New Leaf. But once the initial buzz wears off, you still find yourself doing menial tasks and odd bits of upkeep around your town to make it look nice. As mentioned, days pass in real-time, so any neglect will be reflected in weeds cropping up around the town, dead plants, wilting trees and - worst of all - cockroaches in your house.

This is enough of a deterrent to ensure that you spend a little bit of time in the game once a day. Even if itís just for thirty minutes while you water plants, go fishing, catch bugs, dig up fossils and plant seeds (or fruit, which then grows into a fruit tree). Itís a persistent cartoon world thatís individual to your tastes and mayoral decisions, and you quickly grow attached to it. Thatís probably why my New Leaf town name is the same as my Nintendo DS Animal Crossing town, which is the same as my original Gamecube town name - ĎSpaniardí (I donít know why, either).

Itís not all trees, flowers and fish though. Your animal neighbours always have something to say too, and are equally as good at remembering things as the rest of the town is. If you tell Rocket the pink gorilla that her outfit sucks, sheíll remember that. She might even leave your town if youíre that mean to her. Being friendly to them, however, will ensure that they stick around and remain your friends.

You do spend a large amount of time performing often-monotonous tasks to win their trust and respect, though. Delivery missions, burying time capsules, fetch quests... this is the sort of thing you can expect to do if you get caught up in conversation with a town resident. You can also invite them to your house, trade items with them and write them letters. I have a cool blue wolf in my town called Lobo. I immediately wrote him a letter urging him to NEVER LEAVE ME. Because he is so cool. I still live in fear that someone may poach him though.

This brings me to the connectivity side of Animal Crossing, where things really shine. Your 3DS Friends can be invited to your town either locally or via the internet, and whilst theyíre visiting they you can trade items, chat to new animal characters, and explore how other players have decorated their own piece of land. Itís worth doing this, as certain items (such as different kinds of fruit) can only be obtained by interacting with other players.

You can assign players who visit your town to be Ďbest friendsí, which allows you to send messages to one another even after they leave your town. Which is ace. And for those who want to engage in multiplayer fun and games when friends are invited, you can gather at a special island which offers exotic items to buy, mini-games to play (which earn you medals) and sea shanties by Kappín, resident boat-owner.

All in all, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a breath of fresh air for veteran players of the series, and an enticing new experience for those who have never had the delight of bumping into Mr Resetti when you forget to save your game. Itís the best version yet - finely-tuned in almost every gameplay aspect, with the presentation vastly improved. Adorable, compelling and utterly addictive, itís the perfect handheld title to take on holidays.


Pros:
- Fine-tuned Animal Crossing experience
- Utterly compelling life sim gameplay
- Incredible depth

Cons:
- At times must undertake monotonous tasks for villagers
- Forgetting to play it for a day and missing something important


SPOnG Score: 9/10

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