Animal Crossing: New Leaf 3DS Review

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Every Animal Crossing game starts the same way. You’re asked a few questions to determine what your character will look like, a town layout is randomly generated and then you arrive. The first thing you’ll notice is that literally everyone you meet bar yourself is a walking, talking animal. And you’ve just got to be okay with this. The second thing you’ll just have to accept is that you will be in debt to the estate agent indefinitely. As soon as you finish paying him for your lovely new home, he’ll blether on about an upgrade and won’t stop until you’ve agreed to go into even more debt.

A typical day in my town of Winterfe (the max number of characters allowed in the town name fell disappointingly short by two L’s) involves running around digging up fossils for the museum, collecting the various fruit growing around the house, watering the flowers, fishing, bug catching and much more. Different days can bring travelling merchants, fireworks displays and competitions for all the residents to take part in.

 

Winterfe is not a ghost town. Neighbours come and go, each with their own personalities and quirks. Some are perfectly likable, and go about their business happily. Others can inspire a Desperate Housewives-esque response of secret loathing until you eventually force them to leave forever (or they choose to move, whatever).

In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, a case of mistaken identity leads to the job of Mayor being thrust upon your fresh-faced character without so much as an ID check. With this new (apparently unpaid) responsibility, you can change and improve the town with much more freedom than in past iterations. Upgrading shops and adding new buildings is no longer just about how much you spent there. Townsfolk can request some new stores and attractions when certain conditions are met, which are then funded publically. In reality, you end up paying 99% of the bill. As Mayor, you choose which project to work on and where construction should begin. Scenery, bridges, benches and fences can also be built in the town. Another mayoral power is to set ordinances, changing the focus of the town to suit you. They can increase wealth, or change the times when the town is most active to fit your schedule. Being Mayor is a nice addition to the series, giving the player more control and customisation.

New Leaf has several other funky new features. One of which is ‘the island’. About 2 weeks into the game, a boat will appear at the docks waiting to take you to this fresh area. Certain items, fruit and wildlife can only be found here. The climate is tropical, and the old Mayor from previous games is now a permanent resident so either it’s a retirement home or a holiday hotspot. They use their own currency, which you can earn by taking part in various competitive events. These can involve free diving, catapult shooting and more. You can do these on your own, but they can quickly become dull and are best enjoyed with up to 3 others.

A key theme of Animal Crossing is decoration. From your house interior, to your outfit, even the great outdoors. Everything can be beautified to your liking. The house needs to be stuffed with wallpapers, carpets and furniture and you have a massive range of choices (including some Nintendo classics). Dressing yourself is a similar affair. You can also produce custom patterns to be used as clothing designs, posters or just placed around town. Some players have used these to great effect, creating the illusion of pathways and small streams. Public works projects allow you to build new aesthetic features like street lamps and benches to mould all aspects of the town as you see fit.

Thankfully, New Leaf makes great use of the 3DS hardware to make completing your vision a viable reality. It is a massive upgrade visually over the DS’s Wild World and also uses the internet to expand the Animal Crossing community. Not only can you use the train to go visiting your friends, but you can use the new Dream Suite to enter a copy of their town when they’re not around. Nintendo themselves have made their own town available, and as you’d expect, it is filled with a variety of imaginative designs and furniture. Using Streetpass, you can build up a collection of houses from passers-by that are all available in a special area. If you suddenly become jealous of any special furniture or decorations they have, you can order it for yourself. QR codes allow players to quickly and neatly pass designs around, and you can take screenshots of your game as you play.

Animal Crossing is the kind of game you could spend hours on, and realise you’ve actually done almost nothing. There is no main aim, and no ending. It is best enjoyed in shorter, daily doses. Shops replenish stock every 24 hours, plants grow, travellers and new residents move in. Eventually, you’ll run out of things to do beyond fishing the sea and rivers dry and catching everything with more than two legs until the next day.

It’d be impossible to see everything that New Leaf has to offer in just the two months since release. As seasons come and go, new events and items become available. There is a deep well of content on offer, and every day in town is a little different. Many people probably wonder why so many spend so long doing so little on these games. The reason is hard to describe. Animal Crossing is cutesy, it’s inviting and it’s addictive. It’s a mug of hot cocoa after the stresses of the many gritty, intense blockbuster games on the shelves today.

8/10

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Version tested: 3DS

Developer: Nintendo/Monolith Soft

Publisher: Nintendo

Genre: Social sim