Review - Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Animal Crossing is a series you either get lost in for months and years on end, or you can't bring yourself to understand at all. Even series fans like me have to look at Animal Crossing: New Leaf's thrilling advertised features like swimming and wearing pants and ponder the question, "Why do I even want to play this game?" Several weeks in, New Leaf is now part of my morning and evening routine in that good ol' Animal Crossing way.
As soon as I stepped off the train into the town of Limbo (or in your case, whatever you decide to name it), I found myself being praised by the animal inhabitants as their prophesied god-king who would lead their civilization to glory (barely exaggerated, but for dramatic purposes all the same). Yes, this time around, Tortimer is in retirement, leaving the duties of running the place to the next human being to enter the village.
Mayorship is New Leaf's big "hook" and it allows you to extend the customizability previously exclusive to your home, all around the community. Through Public Works Projects (available after a few days), mayors can start town-wide fundraisers to construct amenities like benches, water fountains, and even wind turbines, but also more useful structures such as camp sites (for temporary guest villagers), The Roost cafe, bridges, and dozens of other features I've yet to discover for myself. Beyond the addition of building, you can set up ordinances to tailor the law of the land to suit your real-life schedule, preferences and play style – something I really appreciated the most. By enacting ordinances, mayors can open shops earlier or close them later, earn money more quickly, or prevent weed overgrowth to keep the town beautiful.
Being on a handheld grants the Animal Crossing franchise the benefit of being at once more personal and more sociable. You're less likely to have friends and family gather around the smaller screen, but through the inclusion of StreetPass and SpotPass, you can gain access to model homes of those you come into close quarters with (and order their furniture, albeit at higher prices), plus some exclusive bonus items which are downloadable straight from Nintendo. You can eventually gain access to a QR code scanner which lets you receive patterns straight from images found online and turn your own patterns into easily-sharable content. It's easily one of the cooler new additions.
Online functionality is expanded, but not improved upon. If you remember having to slowly connect to the internet just to see if your friends happen to have their gates open or watch thirty-second-long cutscenes every time a new player arrives in your town, and the maximum amount of players allowed in at once being a measly four… none of that has changed. Eight years after the release of Wild World, they all feel like archaic limitations that should have been lifted now that we have more powerful hardware. Additionally, I've found that the rise of smartphones since the last handheld entry has spoiled me, what with features like multi-touch and predictive and corrective typing. None of these are found while trying to communicate with other players, due only partly to hardware limitations, and the rather short character limit per message adds to the hassle. Censorship is inconsistent; I'm not allowed to make a pattern called "ScrewAttack flag," yet I can invite brutalmoose over and he can drop F-bombs in chat as much as he pleases.
That said, where New Leaf's online capabilities expand, they expand where it's needed the most. You can add people on your 3DS friend list to an in-game Best Friends list, from which you can instant message them, even from your own separate towns. And yet, for some reason, you still can't mail them gifts. For the first time, players can meet with random players on Tortimer's island (unlocked after joining Club Tortimer) where they can fish, bug hunt, and participate in a wide variety of mini-games. They're mostly pretty boring, with the only real incentive to play them being earning enough medals to purchase furniture, clothing, and plants exclusive to the island, but the challenge and fun factor increase somewhat with the number of players you can get in on the action. That said, there has been exactly one instance so far in which I saw more than two players on the island at the same time, so expect to go solo or with one other person most of the time. But beware; griefers can easily prevent other players from leaving the island simply by staying in conversation with the only character who can take you back home. Unless you can get your connection to lag enough, your only way out is to turn off your handheld's wireless switch.
The "rolling pin" effect first introduced in Animal Crossing: Wild World for DS returns, this time enhanced by some effective 3D visuals. Following in step with previous entries, the soundtrack is always pleasant and never frantic, very fitting to the leisurely nature of the game. There's a new track for every hour of the day or night, plus different renditions for different weather. I personally enjoy playing the drizzly rain soundtracks as I go to sleep at night. It's that kind of soothing.
Also, file this one with the rest of the minor features that die-hards will love, but when you're inside a home the camera can now be spun around in a full 360, courtesy of the D-pad. For some reason, this feature doesn't extend to every building.
Like previous entries, replayability is the name of the game in Animal Crossing as it's designed to never truly end. The slowness of it only allows for so much real progress to be made each day, so you'll almost always have something to look forward to each day. Seasons change in real time, holidays and competitions are always around the corner, and special visitors frequent your town multiple times a week.
In the first weeks and months of mayorship, new neighbors and shops will frequently pop up, but Animal Crossing's longevity has historically come from goals set up by the player, such as completing furniture sets or seeing how many bells they can accrue. This doesn't change with New Leaf, but for those who prefer more concrete goals, the new addition of swimming (as ridiculous as it sounds pointing that out as notable), will give players all the more items to collect.
The new online features, like the Dream Suite and especially Tortimer's island, are consistently the biggest uses of my time. The Dream Suite, once acquired, lets you visit dream versions of other towns at random, allowing creations to be shared with the world at zero risk of griefing.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a slow game. It takes a little time for the world to really become your own, but as you find yourself becoming more and more invested in your town's community, checking up on your neighbors and selling fossils just becomes part of your daily routine in a way very few games can. It has some obvious shortcomings and it doesn't feel like a quantum leap for the series by any means, but the ideas behind New Leaf give it enough of its own identity that even veterans who haven't jumped in yet will find themselves lost in a village of animals all over again. And if you haven't become a mayor yet, what are you waiting for?
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Nice review Nick. How did you capture pictures from your 3DS?
This review might warrant a not safe for work warning.
That third picture ..... RUN FOR THE HILLS !
The naked body reminds me of an enemy from Kirby games (weird umbrella with an eye)
and I bet my ass you now own it
That naked body shirt reminds me of Silence of the Lambs for some reason.