I mean, come on, it’s Animal Crossing. Nintendo’s addictive life sim series has always maintained consistently high review scores, and New Leaf is no exception.
Although a few chided New Leaf for its stubborn refusal to shake up the series’ gameplay, the sheer number of customisation options and the many ways to develop your town and build up your relationships made some consider this title the best Animal Crossing yet. Here’s what six reviewers are saying.
Animal Crossing is a hard series to assess because, to this day, I still struggle to understand what I like about it. (…) Even so, every Animal Crossing excites me. Something about it always draws me in, even though I know it won’t be long before my virtual life becomes a monotony of shaking trees, fishing, and paying off loans in a game that perpetuates itself through a constant shifting of goalposts. Eventually, as always happens, I’ll get tired of it, and realise every game, no matter what else gets added, will always boil down to fruit and fishes.
For newcomers, the main reason to choose New Leaf over any of the other versions is surely the fact you are now the town’s mayor, taking over from Tortimer who has semi-retired from work and now oversees activities on the Tropical Island. With your new title, you have the power to develop the town however you see fit. That means you can add practical objects like a second (or third) bridge over the river that runs through your town, or add aesthetically pleasing scenery elements like fountains or a lighthouse.
It wouldn’t be an Animal Crossing game without that decadent love for hoarding, and New Leaf has, by far, the most content in terms of furniture sets, clothing options, and city accessories. It’s about time we’re given the chance to customise the outside of our homes like we can their inside; for me, however, far more exciting was my wardrobe. Players have been given many more choices in clothing, and if you can’t find that perfect San Francisco Giants baseball cap or Japanese Gothic Lolita dress, you can now download an endless amount of texture creations made by other players via generated QR codes. (Of course, if you’re like me, the 10 provided slots the game gives for those custom textures doesn’t begin to be enough.)
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is really about striking a balance between your personal life as citizen and your professional life as mayor. I started focusing on projects, bringing both a nightclub and a “dream suite” to main street, the latter allowing me to check out other players’ towns in a dream-like state. The dream suite felt largely useless, since you can’t impact these towns in any way — and you can’t bring back any goods — which means there’s no clear benefit to bothering with the option at all. Dream suite aside, improving Hayward by working on projects and enacting ordinances made me feel more like a town caretaker than in past games. Being mayor equates to having more goals to achieve and more items to collect.
Then there’s the multiplayer, which is far beyond anything the series has ever attempted previously. As expected you can visit your friends’ houses either online or locally — dropping off gifts if you’re a good friend or chopping down their trees and messing up their flowers if you’re a big jerk. But that’s just the start. You can also visit “dream versions” of other villages in the Dream Suite. This allows players to upload their town for friends and strangers alike to visit. The genius part is that nothing visitors do actually affects the person’s real town since it’s just a dream. So you can go crazy stomping flowers and pissing off neighbours without paying the consequence of never being invited over again. Getting to be so bad without any negative repercussions is cathartic to say the least, and is a great way to encourage you to open your village to outsiders without the risk of a rude visitor ruining your town (and your day).
There’s a wonderfully endearing pointlessness to much of it. Take, for example, the coffee house (run, of course, by a moustachioed pigeon) where you can spend your virtual money on a steaming hot cup of the black stuff. There’s no reward for this — although continued loyalty gives you the opportunity to enjoy a takeaway coffee — beyond partaking in a familiar activity in a relaxing, peaceful world. It’s a game that rewards you in the best possible way. It subtly encourages generosity and altruism: part of the fun is in collecting items and upgrading your residence to turn your house into a palatial mansion with all mod cons, but your mayoral duties are more about creating a liveable place for others.
Most of Animal Crossing’s design urges players to slow down. Yes, I mean this metaphorically, in that some of the smaller things in the game — like watching fireflies light up the night sky — can only truly be enjoyed if you step back and soak it in. But I mean it literally, too. If you run everywhere, you’re going to destroy the flowers around town, you’re going to scare away fish and insects. Animal Crossing is the rare game where I don’t take the option to run, although it’s there. That’s kind of amazing.
Top picture: Gergő Vas