Animal Crossing: New Leaf 3DS Review
Imagine that you’re an individual headed to a town, trying to find a new life. You run in to somebody who’s quite curious about your life, and after giving a few details (including the name of the town to which you’re going), you wind up getting to the train station. The moment you step off, a bunch of the town’s citizens greet you because apparently, totally unbeknownst to you, you were elected the mayor without so much as campaigning. So begins the story of Animal Crossing New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS. While it’s clearly implausible, considering this is a world with sentient non-human species, it’s just crazy enough to work.
The game eases you in to things slowly, as far as what you get to do. The first day, you basically move in to a tent, learn how to earn money through various agrarian and outdoorsy activities (fishing, bug catching, gathering food, digging for fossils, and finding items in trees), and get told, “Hey, thanks for being mayor, I’ll let you just go about doing non-mayoral things for a while.” Admittedly, there are a few things you can do beyond that, such as interacting with the townspeople (a wise choice, given that you’re technically a politician), shopping (when you get enough money), and donating fossils, insects, and fish to the local museum. Donating to the museum doesn’t get you any money, but if you’re academically curious about what you’ve caught or found, it actually does provide scientifically accurate (if fairly brief) information about the items in question. After the first day, you start learning how to acquire certain abilities as mayor. The start is with a permit to develop the town, which means owning an actual house and getting citizen approval. By this time, you’re in to day three, and potentially have planted some of your own items, established friendships, expanded the museum’s collection, and figured out how to properly fish and catch insect species. From this point on, you’re mostly collecting money to either pay for your home (either the base of it or potential expansions) or to pay for civic improvements, as well as anything else you might want to have. As it’s set in real time, the pace of play can be fairly slow, but that’s because Animal Crossing has always been a low-stress game.
Once you get past the third day, the game really opens up. With each civic improvement, the town changes. You can go swimming in the ocean. Your mayoral home can grow at whatever pace you like. You can change shop hours so that you can play whenever you like. There is also an island you can visit that lets you enjoy more than just your town. Also, you can visit friends’ towns, if you like, in order to see what they’ve got going on. This may seem somewhat strange if they’re your neighbors or immediate acquaintances, but if you’ve got online friends from other parts of the world, it may become quite useful. It does allow you to get collections and the like, and since the game does have achievements, it means something beyond just collecting for the sake of collecting. One of the more amusing things you can do is to change characters’ greetings, so you can have them say some pretty off-the-wall things, if that’s your predilection.
The game’s controls and navigation are fairly simple to grasp, especially due to the tutorial that guides you through the first parts of the game. The touch screen is integrated well, as it’s how you handle your inventory, your encyclopedia (which is how you get basic information on creatures you’ve caught), and your personal appearance. The D-Pad doesn’t feel at all redundant here, as it is the main way that you can quickly access the tools that help you earn money and explore the town. The joystick is used in the obvious way, i.e. moving the character in the indicated direction. The button pad also has fairly intuitive uses. The major issues with this system come from the way that the game allocates items, and how it treats directional and positional functions. As far as the directional nature of the game, this is most clearly seen in the parts where you’re using the fishing pole, the bug net, and the shovel. You can be right next to a dig site, and yet you could attempt to dig it three to four times before actually digging up your intended spot. You could be trying to fish, but if you aren’t standing in the exact right spot, a fish right in your line of sight isn’t even going to see your bait. The worst culprit, however, is when you’re using the bug net. Unless you are perfectly placed, if you try to catch an insect off of a tree, you instead hit the ground next to it, or the top of it, sending the bug off in to a hidden spot. While you can easily find another insect elsewhere, it is annoying when you think you’ve managed the perfect catch.
Visually, however, the game really does shine. While it would have been easy for designers to simply ignore the need for true depth, and simply layered the image so that it would be three-dimensional in appearance, the designers have gone for the gusto. The lighting actually changes based upon how you look at any given scene. The horizon actually seems like it’s coming at you, and objects coming over it have different shading depending on how close your character is to them. Fish and other aquatic creatures have different sizes. Insects actually look and behave differently depending upon what they are. Fossil models have their shadows shift and move. Of course, as the graphics are based upon previous Animal Crossing games, they also have the quality of a children’s cartoon. The animals actually do look like identifiable species, but you could be watching a Saturday morning anime. The player character looks like a Mii. The homes are basically a TARDIS (i.e. they’re a lot bigger on the inside). As such, having seen much more detailed character models and environments with other 3DS games (Kingdom Hearts 3D comes to mind), I can’t say that it’s completely perfect.
Overall, the game is a good addition to the Animal Crossing franchise, taking aspects from previous iterations and improving upon them. It is also a good children’s game, as it requires patience (due to both the real-time aspect and the fact that many of the money-making pursuits take time and effort) and can be educational (via the museum). Additionally, there is nothing that is in any way offensive, although the implication that a person could just decide to arbitrarily give somebody a job that is theirs is a little odd. If you are looking for a game that you can play for fifteen to twenty minutes a day just to kill time, this is a great title. If you’re a parent wondering whether this is age-appropriate, as long as your child is capable of understanding money, activity completion, and resource management, this is a good game to add to the library. It may not be a hardcore gamer’s dream come true, but for casual enthusiats, Animal Crossing New Leaf is something that pretty much anybody can pick up and enjoy.