Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a difficult game to review. Not because it’s a challenging or divisive title, as it’s in fact quite the opposite. It’s easy and feels as though it’s a game that just about anyone that can hold the 3DS in their hands can play.
It’s actually due to the fact that the real-time nature of the game play, much of the title’s content is hidden away in days, weeks and even months of playtime. After having played the title almost every day for the last few weeks, I still feel as though I’ve only barely scratched the surface of what the game has to offer.
Luckily, that long was more than enough for me to come to the undeniable conclusion that Animal Crossing: New Leaf is not only a great game but one that every self-respecting 3DS owner should have.
The player begins their journey on a train ride to an unknown place. A fellow passenger sits in front of the player and asks a bunch of questions that will ultimately set the stage not only for the name and appearance that one will have throughout the whole game but also the name and layout of the town that will become the player’s new home. Arriving at the destination in question, the player is mistaken for the new mayor of the town and, with one misunderstanding to another, is officially inaugurated into office.
The story from that point on is up to the player, as what becomes of the town and its people are entirely dependent on the actions of the new mayor. To call Animal Crossing: New Leaf a nonlinear game would be correct, but it would also be quite the understatement. Outside of a few key events, most of the time spent in the town will be used to achieve the goals the player sets up for themselves. Unfortunately, much like in real life, almost nothing in Animal Crossing is free and much of the activities in the town revolve around making money, or bells as they are called here.
Making bells isn’t a difficult proposition and the variety of ways one can do so opens up as the days roll on, but mostly they involve collecting and selling things, whether they be seashells or even exotic paintings. While at first it might seem rather dull, due to the real-time nature of the game, it takes a good deal of time for things to respawn which in turn encourages the usage of multiple methods to acquire bells. Bells will be required to buy tools, furniture, clothes, pay off debts to build and expand the player’s home along with major construction for the town.
Since bells are so important, the player is oftentimes forced to make choices in regards to short term vs. long term gains. I once got an apple gifted from one of the town folks for making a delivery for them, and was left pondering whether I should sell the fruit for nice sum of bells or plant it so I can pick three apples in a few days. At that point, I decided that I should plant it and, a few days later, I was able to get the apples then once again decided that I should plant those as well. While I had not made a single bell on those apples so far, I knew that I would be collecting from four apple trees soon. Then there is the museum which will gladly take donations of unique discoveries like fossils and live specimens of any kind. However, given some fossils and rare catches can sell for tens of thousands of bells, I was left with yet another tough choice. Figuring out new avenues of income and maximizing how many bells one can earn in the least amount of time is a game onto itself.
New to the Animal Crossing series, the role of “Mayor” comes with more than just a fancy desk and a title, but also a number of mechanics that help to guide the overall vision of the town. First, there are the public works projects, which are the act of constructing new structures ranging from entirely new buildings to something small like a bench. The constructions require a certain amount of bells donated to the project and while the citizens of the town donate daily, much of the funding will have to come from the player to see it through. There are also ordinances, which are sweeping decrees of how the town ought to be, which have a great impact on how the town is managed. For example, if an ordinance of “I want this to be a rich town!” is made, everything the players bring to the stores would sell for more but everything would also cost more to buy. With the help of those tools, building almost any kind of town is a simple matter of time and bells.
Ultimately, none of that would matter if I didn’t care about the town that I was living in, but the game did a fantastic job of really making the town feel like my own. I was able to name the town, and decide its layout from the very beginning. Later on I was even allowed to make up the design of the flag that would heroically flow in the wind all around the town. I took great trouble in drawing the best little polar bear face that I could and made that to be my flag. Hey, I’m not embearrassed (pun intended) to admit that at all! Also, I was able to compose the theme song to the town which would play each hour of everyday, and also as a little jingle that would play in a unique way depending on who I was talking to. All that as well as seeing the progress of this mostly empty town grow and prosper over time into a great town with lots to see and do made me feel a sense of pride that’s uncommon in video games.
On the multiplayer front, it has never been easier to connect and play with friends in Animal Crossing. After friend codes have been swapped on the hardware front, it’s a simple matter of opening the gate and waiting for my friends to show up. When they arrive, they could also be made into “Best Friends” which expedites the invitation process on later visits. At the town, they could look around and grab some souvenirs in the form of unique fruits and wildlife not present in their world. We could also grab a boat to the island, which is a perpetually sunny paradise filled with various tours that we can go on. Tours basically served as mini games that the players could compete against in for the best scores to earn island specific currency which can be used to buy unique items sold only on the island.
However, it was at the island that I felt the sting of how limited and non-intuitive the inventory space was. While it’s possible to stack some objects like fruits, there’s no auto-stacking method and the game forces the player to stack them one at a time by hand. I also found myself frustrated when I picked up one object too many and had to go through the slow text of “you have too much stuff, drop or swap?” time and time again. A quick auto-sort option or even making picking up an object an impossibility when the inventory was full would have been a very easy thing to do and while it’s a bit of nit-picky problem, it’s one that remains throughout the whole experience.
If the player doesn’t have many friends to play the game with, there is also the dream suite which allows for the visitation of many different towns uploaded to the internet in a dream-like state, where nothing could be taken home outside of unique designs, but it serves as a nice way to look around the towns others have created for some inspiration. Houses of other players are also recorded via streetpass, which the player can browse at their leisure and even buy furniture in the houses from a catalog at a marked up price. Thanks to these connectivity functions, whether the game is played alone or with others, there’s plenty of content to explore.
As I pointed out earlier, the core of the Animal Crossing experience stems from its real-time nature. That means when one hour passes by in reality, one hour would have also passed in the game world. It’s rather jarring to be told that a construction would take a day and then realize that literally just means a day and there’s nothing I can do to speed that up outside of messing with 3DS’s system settings. Personally, I consider that cheating and would never do it. I’m not saying that to put myself on some high moral ground, but rather because I simply feel this is a meticulously paced game and I want to play it the way it’s meant to be played by the developers. What this ultimately did was make me look at New Leaf not as just another video game, but more like a companion to my 3DS. A companion that brings new bounties with each passing day, filled to the brim with discoveries waiting to be made and my perfect little town, waiting to be realized.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is arguably the best in the series so far and is a welcome addition to anyone’s 3DS library. What greater praise can I give it other than to say that It has become a part of my life; just as I check my email daily, I check in on my town of “Asgard” everyday to reap the fruits of my labor and slowly but surely build that utopia that perfectly embodies my vision.
Fun Tidbit: All the screenshots here were taken from in-game by pressing L and R buttons together. Try it!
Review copy of game provided by publisher.