Developer: Nintendo / Publisher: Nintendo / Played On: 3DS / Price: $34.99 / ESRB: Everyone [Comic Mischief]
Only in Animal Crossing could I be excited about planting a banana tree, or catching a rare butterfly, or paying off the loan for the second story addition on my house… or fear the omnipresence of an anthropomorphic raccoon.
With every new platform since the GameCube, Nintendo has released a version of the life simulator game Animal Crossing. The trend continues with the latest release on the 3DS, Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Although the collecting and repetition is still present, a handful of additions make this iteration stand out.
Gameplay is largely unchanged from previous Animal Crossings. You quickly get sucked into the game’s “collect everything” nature: there’s dozens of fish to hook, bugs to catch, fossils to find, rooms to decorate, and special Nintendo-themed items to discover. It seems daunting at first, but this is the draw to every Animal Crossing: you play the game at your own pace. Sure, Tom Nook may get on your hide about paying back your home loan, but you can pay him whenever you want. You can completely neglect your town and cut down all the trees if you want. Hell, you can even send messages to your townsfolk telling them you want them to leave. It’s all up to you. The magnitude of player choice isn’t as high as say Grand Theft Auto IV, given its sandbox style, but there are countless tasks to keep you entertained.
On the other hand, New Leaf isn’t doing much to capture gamers that already gave the series a try and didn’t like it. If you played a previous title and didn’t enjoy it, you’re not going to like New Leaf. However, for those who love the series, New Leaf is the best version of Animal Crossing yet, especially how it takes advantage of the 3DS’ hardware.
In New Leaf you are mistaken for the new mayor of the town, and being the mayor has its perks, as you can enact ordinances that alter how your city functions. For example you can make it so your townsfolk stay up later at night or are more proactive at keeping the grounds clean; this feature is invaluable for the busier gamers who would come home from work or school only to find the shops in their town closed (the game uses the internal 3DS clock). It’s a small addition that doesn’t greatly change the way the game plays but does give customizability beyond simply decorating your home.
Another plus to being mayor is having a say in the expansion of your town. Assuming you have the required funds, you can build new structures for your town: park benches, bridges, water fountains, street lamps, campsite, and many more projects can be completed to further customize your town. Some permits turned out to be very useful, such as a new bridge, but most are just for aesthetics.
New Leaf on a portable system is even better. Every Animal Crossing game requires your constant attention, meaning you’d have to play the game daily. Flipping open your 3DS and playing for an hour is much easier than getting home and turning on your system. Because of this I am confident in saying that the Animal Crossing series belongs on a handheld. In nearly every way the game is suited to be a portable series.
Further cementing this notion, New Leaf has the best incorporation of StreetPass I have seen to date. Every player you StreetPass in New Leaf is added to a special area of your town called the Happy Homes Showcase, which is a collection of every player’s house as it was at the time you added them. Not only can you peruse through their homes and get ideas for you own, you can purchase almost everything they have on display! Most items available in the game are random, and there are thousands of items to discover, so this is a unique and fantastic way to discover new stuff! It’s a well implemented feature that complements StreetPass’s purpose.
Also, you can visit a friend’s entire town. You can connect locally or wirelessly with up to three other players to transverse your town or theirs, buy wares from each other’s shops, trade items, and interact with the townsfolk. There are also multiplayer minigames you can play with your buds, which earns you special items. As with every aspect of the game, playing multiplayer is completely optional, but highly recommended.
One of the final major aspects of New Leaf is customizability. Using the 3DS’ touch screen you can edit or create patterns that can go on shirts, wallpaper, the town flag, and more. Taking advantage of the 3DS hardware yet again, you can export most of your patterns as QR codes which any other player can scan and download into their game as well. Creating and sharing has never been easier.
New Leaf is a game that you can literally play for months straight and STILL find new goals to complete. There is always something to do in the game; something that cannot be said for many other games. Even with the incredible replay value you can find yourself going through the motions. After playing the game for a week straight I had my routine down and the game lost some of its excitement: shaking cherries off trees was exciting the first time but just felt like work afterwards.
You can also expect long load times while playing with friends, and the game may momentarily freeze if you decide to check messages on your 3DS home screen. There are other nuisances as well: fruit items can stack into groups of nine in your inventory but you must do so manually, so you’re managing your items frequently. The town map on the bottom touch screen doesn’t show where other players are while they’re visiting your town, so even though I was sitting right next to the person I was playing with I had no idea where they were in the game when I wanted to trade items. Though minor, these issues do add up to create a downside to the overall experience.
New Leaf is a massive game that has broad appeal. No one person in my group of friends was playing the game the same way: I was trying to expand my house as much as possible, one of my friends was trying to get every item in the furniture catalog, and another was trying organize her house. And that’s the idea of Animal Crossing: you play it however you want. Being the mayor and the improved sharing options are wonderful additions, but there isn’t anything to entice disheartened Animal Crossing players to give the series another try. Regardless, New Leaf still manages to be the best iteration of the series to date, and one that’s hard to put down.