Video Game Review: Animal Crossing: New Leaf

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Oddly addicting and incredibly charming. That’s the only way to describe Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series.

The newest entry is a portable title for the Nintendo 3DS, Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I have to say it’s one of the best titles to hit the market this year.

The basic premise of any of the four Animal Crossing games is a player’s character moves into a new town and spends each hour befriending villagers, catching fish, harvesting fruit, catching bugs, digging up fossils, decorating their home, and even pulling weeds. Reading that description might make you ask, “Why on earth would I play that?” Let me tell you!

I’ve spent roughly eight and a half hours with the game and I can’t put it down. The game has a methodical pacing to it that continuously drives the player to forge ahead.

So far I’ve caught more than 20 types of fish, planted various fruit trees, and found four different types of dinosaur bones. The great thing about the game is the player doesn’t have a set mission or goal. You simply live in your village. When the player turns the game on they come out of their village to begin play. The game syncs with the 3DS clock to provide real day and night cycles. If the player logs on at 11:00 p.m. most characters will be asleep and all of the shops will be closed. The variety of wildlife in the player’s village also varies based on the time of day. Animal Crossing is unique in that players can spend their time in the game as they see fit. If someone wants to spend all of their time fishing, they can. If you choose to focus on decorating your home or village you can do that as well. Animal Crossing is meant to be an escape from the formulaic video games we often play.

However, there are several new features that push New Leaf to new heights. In previous installments of the franchise, your village was randomly generated and non-customizable. Not anymore.

Each of the Animal Crossing games begins on a train ride to your future village. At this point you name the village and your own character. In New Leaf there is a twist on the formula. You are thrust into the role of town Mayor. Not only that, you are then allowed to pick your village layout from several different options.

One of the driving forces in Animal Crossing is the constant desire to make money, or “bells”. Village layout in previous editions occasionally proved problematic. If your home was located on one side of the map and the town store, run by the infamous Tom Nook, was on the other side, it could be frustrating. For those who don’t know who Tom Nook is let me explain. In previous Animal Crossing games the player would arrive in their village and Nook would immediately greet you. In that greeting he would go on to inform you that he is giving you a home but there is a catch. He wants you to pay for it! To do that he essentially forces you to work for him. This was frustrating for many! Now you aren’t accosted by Nook in the same manner. Back to the review! Now the player picks his or her layout. I, for instance, placed my home as close to the village shops as possible. The beauty of this new system is choice.

The customization continues as you progress through your time as Mayor. Your character can decorate his or her village, not just their own home. Do you want a fountain next to the train station? Go for it. It’s your world.

Players also have quite a bit of incentive to play nice in town as well now. If the player ignores the requests of villagers, running errands for example, then their Mayoral Approval rating will suffer. This makes it a good idea to be kind to your neighbor. Your fellow villagers submit Public Works suggestions that can lead to further village improvement. The happier you keep the villagers, the more you can improve.

As you can tell, I found the ability to customize my village to be the key feature of New Leaf. Animal Crossing has always been a great reprieve from shooting zombies or going on endless quests. But now I feel like I really had a hand in shaping my village. I’ve taken a boring town and transformed it into something all of my own. It feels like your village. You helped build it.
I can say that previous editions made me feel like I needed to constantly earn more bells. I ignored the town museum. Now, you aren’t paying off housing loans all day long. I’m filling the halls of my museum. It’s growing because of me. That’s a unique feeling. I’ve always believed when a game pulls you in so completely it’s accomplished something special.

The game also has a treasure trove of new unlockable items. One of the series’ calling cards has always been finding that perfect item from Nintendo lore. I, for one, am still on the lookout for a Triforce from The Legend of Zelda. I will find it, eventually. Nintendo pays homage to all of their famous franchises in New Leaf. I suggest buying the fortune cookies in Nook’s shop. You’ll find some of the coolest items that way. The quest to find the perfect home design is addictive and never ending.

Multiplayer also received a makeover. In previous versions you could visit the villages of your friends. Nintendo added the ability to visit a dream version of a friend’s village in the “Dream Suite”. If you’re feeling a little mean you can trash the place from top to bottom, pester their villagers, and basically run amok. The best part? When you leave it’s like nothing ever happened. No lasting repercussions! I will say that it makes for a great way to blow off steam.

With StreetPass, players can visit the home of anyone they pass on the street. StreetPass is a cool feature of the Nintendo 3DS in many games, actually. Players can set their Nintendo 3DS to Sleep Mode and carry it with them on the go to share characters, high scores, and more with other users they pass on the street. As far as New Leaf goes, there’s nothing like getting a glimpse of someone else’s home decorating style for a few ideas.

If you’re wondering who can and should play Animal Crossing: New Leaf I can tell you. This game is great for kids of all ages and adults, too. It’s extremely family friendly but for older gamers it’s still a great title. That’s one of the things that make Animal Crossing great. Anyone can enjoy it.

I wholeheartedly recommend Animal Crossing: New Leaf to anyone with a Nintendo 3DS. It’s addictive, charming, and fun. Just make sure to clear your schedule, because it will make your real life disappear.

Score: 9.5/10


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