Animal Crossing takes its most drastic leap forward yet with the release of Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS.
Like all Animal Crossing outings, this game should be labeled by the FDA for being a highly addicting substance. You will lose all touch with reality. You will lost contact with your friends and family. And you will love it.
Those of you who have played an Animal Crossing before can expect all the usual trappings of the series. Your player character moves to a forested village populated by anthropomorphic and highly mercurial animal neighbors. You can decorate your house, catch fish and bugs, help your fellow villagers, and donate rare finds to the local museum. This time around though, you are not just a casual citizen of your animal burg, but the mayor of your town. The mayor angle of the game is probably the most drastic and welcome change to the series. But it’s mostly because your secretary, Isabelle, is such a wonderfully likable supporting character.
As mayor, you have greater control of your town than in any other AC game. Via public works projects, you can install fountains, benches, lamposts and even a “Reset Taskforce Center” to make your village unique. You are also allowed greater control over the exterior of your house. As mayor you can also command special ordinances that alter the actual gameplay mechanization of your town. For example, one law makes it so stores are open much later in the day. Another will task your villagers with keeping the town free of weeds, and plentiful with decorative plantlife. The one I chose to enact makes all objects you sell worth double the bells.
And you WILL need those bells, because New Leaf has so many more ways to spend them. Public works projects and ordinances do not come cheap, and neither does paying off all those loans on your house. Fortunately this pricier in-game economy is balanced out by the wonderful addition of a thrift shop called “Re-Tail.” Run by a charming alpaca couple, this new store allows you to buy your villager’s used furniture at lower prices as well as allows you to put your furniture up for sale for visiting friends. Daily “special items” will sell for double the price if you happen to come across them. These items are usually “stock” items such as fruit, shells, fish, and bugs, so there are plenty of chances to make bell.
A major complaint in the previous AC installment, City Folk, was that the addition of the city area just felt like a tacked-on concept. Here, it feels more like a streamlining of where you can go to shop. It saves a lot of back-and-forth travel between arranging the furniture in your house and catching fish by the river. And kudos to Nintendo to putting those playcoins to use; buying fortune cookies from the local store for a measly 2 coin gets you a rare Nintendo-themed item. Clothing options are incredibly fleshed out this time around, with so many different methods of customizing your character. Also, it warms my heart to see how cool the denizens of AC are about gender flexibility and expression. Boys can wear skirts and it’s just fine. Porcupines support it.
The Tropical Island from the first game makes a triumphant return, and you don’t need any auxiliary hardware to enjoy it. The island is much more fleshed out in this go around. Not only can you nab some fruits and fish unique to the island, you can play some pretty fun minigames as well. Winning these games earns you medals that you can cash in on the island souvenir shop, which is stocked with unique clothes and furniture. The island is also one place in the game where your character can swim and dive for fish and items, a first for the series.
The difficulty and misfortune has been toned down a lot since the first game. Remember how downright vicious and shady the animal villagers from the first game could be? No animal has yet to steal my Coelacanth. And the temperaments of my neighbors seem to be balanced. They’re all very well-adjusted sorts. Even fishing and bug-catching seems easier this time around, with a higher frequency of rare catches–you should see the shark I have in my room. Yes, a living shark.
The music of AC is far more entertaining, combining the experimental instrumentation of the first AC with a more symphonic bent. Music is, of course, a major component of the series. Still, there is something about the music that came after the Gamecube Animal Crossing that just doesn’t match up. Not one to be blinded by nostalgia, there’s a certain atmospheric weirdness to Animal Crossing that I feel has been lacking since its original outing, and its not just the music either.
The first Animal Crossing hosted plenty of strange discoveries–a spirit hiding in the town well and even a ghost who would only appear between the hours of midnight and four AM. These little mysteries were one of the aspects I enjoyed most about the first game. But to be fair, I’m only one week into the game and I feel like I haven’t even explored half of it.
And that’s what’s always made Animal Crossing such an enjoyable series; the constant sense of discovery.