Animal Crossing always has been a rare breed of video game. After four entries in the series, I still don’t know who these games are for or why I love them so much. In true Nintendo fashion, each entry fails to drastically move the franchise forward, yet we continue to buy them and cherish the days we lose to our charming little towns filled with whimsy.
Disregard fun, acquire bells
Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS)
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 2
Released: June 9, 2013 (NA) / June 14, 2013 (EU)
It’s hard to explain Animal Crossing to an outsider without making it sound like one of the many “ville” titles on the social network of your choice. You collect and sell various goods for money and then you upgrade and customize your home, all while learning about debt and the self-interest of bastard bipedal woodland critters. You can also buy and customize clothing, if that tickles your fancy. Despite what the more diehard Animal Crossing fans would protest, that’s basically the entirety of the game.
The biggest change New Leaf has going for it is that the player now has the role of the mayor of the town, instead of the lowly pleb that is destined to be in debt every time he gets stung by a bee. Unfortunately, being the mayor is all too familiar and the decisions you make don’t feel as influential as they should and you will still yourself ass-to-ankles in debt at all times.
Ordinances and public works are the two big things the mayor has the power to erect in the town. Ordinances add little perks to your town. For example, there’s the Bell Boom ordinance that makes your town economy much richer, giving you higher amounts of bells per item sold to shops. Unfortunately, items bought are also slightly higher, but it’s still in your favor – especially when you’re trying to acquire a large amount of bells for your home upgrades . Other ordinances are less beneficial but still hold interesting results. Some make the town folk more prone to litter the town with flowers and others increase the amount of activities that happen at night. They all have their uses, but it’s hard to top the Bell Boom ordinance because bells make this world go ’round.
Public works are little additions to your town in the form of buildings, bridges and various cosmetic decorations such as fire hydrants. In theory, they are a community effort and every citizen should pitch in and help pay off the cost… but everyone in your god forsaken town is a narcissistic bastard, so you’ll be paying off the vast majority of it yourself. In addition to town ordinances and public works, there’s a wealth of new content to horde and critters that’ll largely be ignored by your mayoral duties of shaking trees like you’ve got Parkinson’s.
My main gripe with New Leaf is something that has been around ever since the very first Animal Crossing, and that’s the needlessly repetitive dialogue and loading times. Every time you want to leave town to go sell items, you have to sit through a 5 second blank loading screen, walk a couple of feet, sit through another 5 second loading screen, and then listen to a Nookling ramble as soon as you open the door before getting your ear talked off once more when you finally instigate a conversation with him to sell your goods. I wouldn’t have a problem with it if there was at least some variety to the words coming out of his coon-skinned mouth, but that’s not the case.
Speaking of useless repetitiveness, bug puns have returned. Whenever you catch a bug in your net, the camera zooms in to a close up of player character where he excitingly spouts off a pun about the bug he just caught. Having to sit through a pun about how the grasshopper I just caught “has hopped his last” is cute the first time, but not something you should have to sit through after every single catch. That should be something exclusive to the first catch of the insect so that stupid pun reminds you that it has been caught before and you can sell it instead of taking it to the museum.
Each Animal Crossing feels like more of an expansion than a standalone title, and New Leaf is no different. If you’ve skipped out on a couple of Animal Crossings and have considered giving it another go, then now is the perfect time to return to the franchise – but it’s hard to recommend to someone who has sunk countless hours into each iteration. More of the same isn’t necessarily bad, and I’m not sure what direction Nintendo could take with the series other than just tacking on new minor features and additional items, but Animal Crossing: New Leaf is no exception to the formula Nintendo knows so well – it’s more of the same and that will either make or break the entire experience for you.