If you had to describe Animal Crossing in one word, it’d be freedom. Here’s a game that lets you have complete control over everything that happens in it. This right here is freedom at its finest. Not impressed by your villager’s default clothing? No problem, simply buy some clothes from the Able Sisters’ shop or create your own designs. Don’t like how the foliage is arranged in your town? It’s as simple as either chopping down the trees and replanting them, or pulling up flowers and replanting them anywhere you want. You even gain the freedom to allow villagers move out of your village if you don’t like them as the game progresses! It’s this freedom and control over what happens in the game that will keep you coming back, over and over again.
Each time you come back, too, there’ll be something different to do. Be it going exploring with your villager and excavating fossils that are millions of years old, searching for your money and gem rocks to sell to Re-Tail for a rather nice profit in order to pay off your loan to Tom Nook, or taking 10 minutes out to relax and try and hunt down that elusive fish or bug to donate to the museum to fill the collection.
The game itself rewards you for coming back everyday, too. 6am sees the dawn of a new day, which means a new spawn of fossils and the replenishment of the money and gem rocks in your town, ready for you to hunt down once again and hit with your shovel to release their stored treasures upon you. Of course, with the start of a new day also comes a stock replenishment for the shops on Main Street, allowing for bells to be spent, all of which will buy you items for your house and/or new clothing and accessories for your villager, but ultimately the most important thing is actually hidden – spending bells in Main Street allows for it to expand, bringing in new shops whilst also allowing existing shops to expand and upgrade. What might start out as nothing more than a few shops (hardly enough to warrant the name of Main Street) shall soon enough become a hub of activity given time and bells. While the game rewards you in those ways for playing it, the game will also see you punished for not playing, with weeds growing every day that you’re away, and also the residents of your village noticing your lack of playtime and commenting on it next time you do play the game.
Allowing time to pass will also unlock the ability to travel to ex-mayor Tortimer’s private island. The island has a multitude of uses, thanks to the many ways in which it can be manipulated. Patient people can use the island and its waters to fish out the rare fish species that are found there, and sell them to Re-Tail. Conservationists can make the island become a natural attraction to the game’s wildlife by planting trees and flowers there to attract them. Bell hoarders (the category I fall into, I’ll admit) can manipulate the island so that only rare bugs spawn on the trees, resulting in a single trip earning a rather nice amount of bells. The island is also home to some rare items, not found anywhere else in the game. These however, have to be purchased using Medals, which are earned on the island by playing mini-games that are fun and addictive be there be one player playing or four. The mini-games are of perfect length and difficulty, meaning its not going to take forever to earn enough medals to purchase that mermaid closet you so desperately want.
Of course, with the return of the island from the Gamecube original, there’s also the return of everybody’s favourite singing turtle – none other than good old Kapp’n himself, who’s more than happy to ferry you to and from the island for the fee of 1000 bells. What happens to that fee is never shown – does Kapp’n use it for fueling his boat? Maybe he uses it to take care of his family? Or perhaps Kapp’n has also gotten a little in debt to a certain someone we all love to hate.
Anybody who’s played any of the previous entries in the Animal Crossing series will know exactly who I mean straight away. Nope, not Rizzo the Mouse, but that bell hungry, good for nothing Tanooki known as Tom Nook. He’s back this time as a property developer seemingly, and you’ll be pleased (or not so, depending n your view of him) to know that he’s just as annoying as ever, constantly after your hard earned bells after charging extortionate prices for renovations. Whether you decide to pay Nook for the renovations or not, I’d whole heartedly recommend doing so, if only for the bragging rights of being able to say that you have the biggest house in the game to your friends, who will no doubt be envious of your house. Size definitely does matter.
Just when you thought the game couldn’t possibly add anything else in over its predecessors, Animal Crossing New Leaf actively thrusts a whole new set of content upon, which is probably the cleverest thing in this game, by establishing you as Mayor from the moment you start the game. Mayoral responsibilities are, however, rather limited. As mayor of your town, all you can exploit this new found role for is building public work projects or establish an ordinance, though any of those has to be run through Isabelle, your secretary. The ordinance you impose as mayor has a direct effect on your town, seeing it either rise early, sleep late, never get dirty or become wealthy. Which of these ordinances do you choose to enact in your reign of tyranny, though? That is the question.
Like I mentioned earlier, character customisation plays a large role in the game, and thanks to the expansion on ways in which your villager can be customised. Thanks to the new height changes, it’s now possible to change all of you clothes from your tee to your shoes. If that isn’t enough to satisfy you, Shampoodles also makes a return, allowing you to get a haircut and colour similar to your own, or not so similar, if that’s how you prefer it, leading to each villager being unique.
This wouldn’t be a review of an Animal Crossing game, however, without mention of everybody’s favourite musically talented dog. I am, of course, talking about K.K. Slider. K.K. has been given a larger role in this game, as players can now enjoy his music every night from 8pm after Club LOL is built on Main Street instead of the Cafe where he used to play. A step in the right direction, I’m sure anyone will agree. Even when K.K. isn’t playing, the soundtrack is still incredible, to the point where you could spend a whole session doing nothing but listening to the music. My personal favourite is the 1am theme, which is so relaxing to the point where I have fallen asleep multiple times whilst listening to it.
Like all games, however, Animal Crossing isn’t without its flaws. The biggest of these being that it is easy to grow bored of the game, as the game mostly relies on you repeating the same game play pattern each day. The ‘dig fossils, find money, do stuff’ mechanic as I call it, whilst solid, just doesn’t give enough variation to keep you interested after a while, and as such game play time will most likely decrease over time. The second of these is that the online part of the game is susceptible to the same old disconnections we’ve gotten to associate with Nintendo. These can be perhaps the most frustrating thing in the game, as a disconnection at the wrong time can see you lose all progress made since the last time the game saved, meaning you could lose all of the rare bugs you’ve just caught with your friends on the island, or all the medals you’d work so hard to get to buy a certain item, just to see it all blow back in your face as a disconnection sees all your hard work be in nothing but vain. Whilst they’re not as frequent in this game as they are in say, Mario Kart 7, they’re still frequent enough to point to better servers being needed.
Animal Crossing New Leaf takes the greatest parts of the previous games, combines it all into one with extra functionality (such as SpotPass and StreetPass functionality for social aspects, as well as being able to take a screenshot by pressing L+R shoulder buttons together simultaneously) and produces a game that not only one of the essential 3DS games to own, but a game that is also bound, slowly but surely, to take over your life with its addictiveness and soundtrack.