Animal Crossing is not your typical game series per-se. What you do in your little town is completely up to you, meaning you can’t complete in the conventional sense. Some have used it as escapism from the hustle and bustle of the real world, while others for relaxation. Phenomenally successful around the world, but particularly Japan, it is little wonder that they have had Animal Crossing: New Leaf for over a year. It is only now that we are able to visit this world of discovery on the Nintendo 3DS, but is it worth boarding that train to your new life?
Some things haven’t changed since the series inception. You will still be in debt to Tom Nook constantly as he swindles you into buying upgrades for your home, you will still be shouted at by Mr Resetti if you happen to not save your progress after a play session, bees will still relentlessly chase you if you shake their hive out of the tree, and if you are stung the villagers will notice. However, this time around there is one major change. Right from the get-go, you are “democratically elected” mayor of your town where your responsibilities include developing Public Works Projects – where buildings and other town structures can be built with enough funding, and Ordinances – which act as the town’s philosophy for living. It sounds intimidating, but really it is just another thing to do in an already content rich franchise.
The world you play around in retains its scrolling map seen in more recent instalments in the Animal Crossing franchise, as well as its inhabitants retaining their animal-like qualities. Each one of your randomised neighbours takes on a particular animal and traits, meaning that you need to balance your answers with their personalities. Random passers-by will also appear from time to time, such as that devious Redd with his shady green tent of swindling or Joan: Queen of the turnip Stalk Market. This vibrant albeit slightly remixed style coupled with charming music that changes hourly and a host of characters certainly give off a very appealing first impression.
What you do in New Leaf is entirely up to you. Do you opt to be a champion of the museum by collecting all kinds of rare bugs, fish, aquatic life, and famous art? Do you try to build a relationship with your fellow villagers, doing favours as you progress? The fact is that the game rarely punishes you for your choices, unless they are particularly ill-advised, making for a rather chilled and refreshing experience. What makes New Leaf particularly inviting is that it always strives to introduce new activities every day, either via your overly enthusiastic assistant Isabelle when the game loads, or whenever you visit a particular place when they have new features available to you. We’ve discovered a tropical island and several new shops have opened up during our stay, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Still, it is very pleasant whenever something new comes up.
Our time using WiFi connectivity was limited at the time of review, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t come away empty-handed. Provided you have enough medals to redeem your membership to the Tortimer Club, you can interact with others online either locally or worldwide. Once at the new island, you have the option to play one of a wide range of mini-games with multiple people rather than just by yourself, where cooperation is vital to winning the task. There is a mild competitive edge to proceedings as the best performer will get better rewards, but it is very light-hearted. Chatting to players is fairly simple through text inputs, but the limited character space, short display time, and a lack of a discussion history when speaking to strangers, means that it could get tricky to read what someone might be saying.
As you spend time with Animal Crossing: New Leaf however, some unfortunate cracks soon begin to show. Fish sometimes lose interest in your bait while nudging against it, for no reason; while critters soon start to repeat dialogue already shown before. Kapp’n’s initially charming unskipable ukulele sea shanties soon become irritating when all you want to do is get back to your town to sell your haul from the tropical island. The StreetPass enabled Happy Home Showcase feature in particular feels a little undercooked as it primarily allows you to inspect other people’s homes before ordering copies of items in their home for your own use. For some, the biggest issue is that it shares a little too much with its predecessors, but that is all but a matter of perspective. One major boon for those wishing to record their adventures is the rather easy to use screenshot functionality (used for the pictures in this review), which enables you to quickly snap important milestones in your career.
Your term as mayor of Animal Crossing: New Leaf is bound to be different for you compared to mayors of all the other towns in the Animal Crossing world. As always, treating this as a conventional game is ill-advised, but this is the most game-like the series has gone. The results are pretty remarkable, with plenty to sink your elected teeth into. Some blemishes do feature in the overall proceedings, most of which are series specific quirks, but if you can look past them you will find oodles of things to see and do. If you are ready to take on the responsibilities of being the mayor of your very own country town, Animal Crossing: New Leaf might just be your ticket to a world of opportunity.