Despite having been a success story for Nintendo for over a decade, Animal Crossing remains an entirely unique prospect in videogames. Some might compare it to The Sims for a loose understanding of the open-ended nature of the videogame; others might suggest that it has more in common with Harvest Moon in that of its relaxed style of play. Truth be told, it’s very little like either of these titles: Animal Crossing is simply Animal Crossing, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
This Nintendo 3DS exclusive release, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, will be very familiar to players of any previous Animal Crossing title despite its numerous renovations and the overhaul of the player’s role in the town they call home. Arriving in the town they name via a train – upon which gender, name and birthday are subtly determined – the player is immediately jumped upon by the locals. They had been expecting their new mayor on this train and since you are the only person to disembark, it must be you. If decades of videogame experiences have taught us one thing, it’s to never look a gift horse in the mouth.
As the mayor there are essentially two vital elements to your job: ordinances and town development. The first is simply making a decision that you think will benefit the town (or yourself) over time, whether that be starting the day earlier or increasing the flow of Bells (the traditional Animal Crossing currency) to boost the economy. It’s a simple checkbox situation – make your selection and leave it alone – so is hardly a revolution in the world of Animal Crossing. The town development however, has a much greater impact.
Upon discussing the available opportunities with your assistant, Isabelle, the player will be presented with a list of development options. Should you choose to begin the construction of one such item you will be asked to select a suitable location, and the fund raising will begin. Players can donate as much capital to the project as they wish, creating a new conflict between developing your own property and that which will improve the town in a fashion unlike anything previously seen in an Animal Crossing videogame. The townsfolk will also donate, though their generosity will only be encouraged by a player’s own, and they will also ask for additional development projects which will then be added to your list of options.
Further to the developments in your town’s residential area are those located in the shopping district (aka Main Street). Anyone who’s ever experienced Animal Crossing previously will remember the joy of seeing Nook’s expand, but now there’s a small strip of properties that can benefit from your business. And further still, there are empty properties waiting to be filled by those hoping to make a living from the prosperous town you are aiming to create. Animal Crossing has a built a reputation for delivering videogames in which most days offer something new, yet in Electronic Theatre’s three-week long review process there was never a single day in Animal Crossing: New Leaf without excitement.
There are numerous other new additions that merge into the established gameplay cycle of planting and watering flowers, weeding, fruit gathering, fishing, digging for fossils and donating to the museum (though running errands for townsfolk seems to have been dialled back), but in an effort to avoid spoiling the surprise Electronic Theatre is happy to simply state that all are welcome, even if Redd has become more devious than ever. The more important area for discussion is that of the multiplayer gameplay.
Local and online, mutually beneficial living in a single town or travelling from one save data to another, players will leave a lasting impression on one another’s experience. Animal Crossing: New Leaf is designed for such sharing, and even though the activities you can partake in when visiting a friend’s town online are limited, the simple act of planting a new tree and meeting the townsfolk is enough to make it an easy recommendation. Bringing into play the fact that the locals will remember you long after your visit and even the simplest of interactions via Streetpass is reason to get excited.
Of course, there’s much more to Animal Crossing: New Leaf than has been mentioned in this review, but to list every single feature and new addition would surely miss the point. From the day-to-day living to the luxury island and its mini-games, the Dream Spa to the Happy Home Academy, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is an engrossing experience simply because it constantly feels fresh; because you’re never sure what the new day will bring. That is not only something which is unique to Animal Crossing, but an asset which Animal Crossing: New Leaf has capitalised on. There is no other videogame out there quite like Animal Crossing, and no single title as enduringly engaging on Nintendo 3DS.