SchmameReviews: Animal Crossing New Leaf
Animal Crossing is a game like no other. That phrase gets bandied about a lot in the gaming press, usually referring to the slight differences between this modern military shooter and that modern military shooter, but for Animal Crossing the cliche is completely true. You’re not going to find anything else like Animal Crossing in the world.
Reviewing Animal Crossing is a hard thing, because it’s so hard to pinpoint exactly what is so wonderful about it without waffling about with vague phrases like “it lets you do what you want” and “it’s just so relaxing.” And without the context of other Animal Crossing games to compare it to, descriptions of the game end up sounding like an obsessive collector’s wet dream version of Harvest Moon.
Though that isn’t far off from the truth.
Animal Crossing is a game about being the mayor of a costal town, collecting, and making your house bigger. It’s also about playing the stock market. And about island vacations, doing chores for friends, and city building. Sometimes you serve coffee to customers. Sometimes you dig up T. Rex skulls. Maybe sometimes you’ll just stand at the beach and marvel at how wonderfully relaxing and beautiful this game is.
Let’s start over.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the latest in the Animal Crossing series, and is available for the Nintendo 3DS. Animal Crossing is a simulation game, with the closest comparison being the Sims. Of course that comparison is about as accurate as saying a dollar frozen pizza is as good as a five course steak dinner in a top-tier restaurant. The two are only similar in that they’re both simulation games.
Still, it’s hard to describe. What you can do in Animal Crossing is a good place to start. You can fish, deep-sea dive, dig up fossils, collect furniture, customize your house, play the stock market, take out loans, dictate when your town’s citizens open and close their shops, visit a tropical island and play games, meet a red frog that says “brah” at the end of his sentences. There’s a llama that buys your junk and sells it… somewhere else. There’s a mole that yells at you for turning off your system without saving.
There’s too much in this game for words.
Yet Animal Crossing never overwhelms you with all of these systems, all these avenues for collection and profit, the game just puts them out in front of you and quietly backs into a corner to watch and see what you’ll do. It’s like when your parents left you alone in the home when you were a kid, left to your own devices to make up your own amusement.
Speaking of kids, the game is unrelentingly happy. And I mean this in the best way possible, but playing Animal Crossing is like having the world’s happiest child around you at all times. Not an annoying and obtrusive child, but one that is a constant joy to be around. Everyone in your Animal Crossing town is happy to see you, to see each other, to see life in general.
It helps that Nintendo upped the resolutions for the 3DS version, looking better than any version to date. While still very stylized your human avatar looks more human and less blob with a human face. Water and ground textures feel less like tiles on the floor and more like actual terrain features. And the sound design, both in terms of music and sound effects, is incredibly soothing. Nothing is harsh or jarring, it’s all bright and happy and calming. This is the first game I’ve ever played that’s lulled me to sleep because I was so relaxed not because I was bored.
Maybe that’s the right way to describe Animal Crossing, it’s like taking a really relaxing nap with dreams full of fishing and collecting. Like warm sunlight on a cool day, curled up in the blankets with your lover and pets.
You may have heard horror stories about the real-time clock in Animal Crossing. Miss the bug catching event and the only way to do it again in the next four months is to cheat and change your 3Ds’ internal clock! But so what?, the game tells you. Relax. Go do some fishing, sell some furniture, dig up some fossils. It’s fine, there will be more fishing tournaments.
Animal Crossing isn’t just a game that doesn’t push you around, bullying you into doing what the developers wanted, it’s also a game that doesn’t want you to finish it anytime soon. With developers spending millions to develop DLC and multiplayer to squeeze more money from consumers and give them a reason to not line Gamestop’s coffers, Animal Crossing just packs more content into itself than a human could possibly consume in the standard week’s turn around time that most games enjoy these days. There’s content in the game that literally can’t even be accessed until two weeks into the game! To real world weeks! How many games can hold a gamer’s attention for that long without the promise of DLC.
Animal Crossing does this with a casual ease.
For all the bizarre praise I’ve dumped on Animal Crossing, it isn’t perfect. Animal Crossing is, as it has always been, hampered by a lot of excessively time consuming and limiting UI choices. Non-expandable inventory, time wasting unskippable conversations, the “B” button syndrome where the “make text go faster” and “automatically choose ‘no'” buttons are one and the same. And like all Nintendo games, the online functionality is fun, once you take the two hours to get it all setup right and figure out the difference between a friend and a best friend.
Despite these minor niggles, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is one of the best 3DS games you can pick up. I whole heartedly recommend it for any gamer of any age.
See you in town!