Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp Is Charming But Sleazy

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a perfectly serviceable entry into the series, until the game reminds you that could be spending money on it.

When you open up Pocket Camp it's unsettling how much it looks and feels like the other Animal Crossing games. You're first greeted by K.K. Slider, then Isabelle, two fan favourite characters, who get you set up in your campsite. From there, things feel comfortingly familiar.

You can earn bells by completing favours for villagers, and in turn you can use those bells to buy new clothes as well as some furniture to upgrade your campsite. In Animal Crossing games, you're a newcomer to a small village in the woods.

The details of your arrival are different from game to game -- in the most recent one, New Leaf, you become the mayor -- but the overall goal is the same. You meet some animals, weed the weeds, and generally make your town a nice place to live.

The same is mostly true for Pocket Camp, except it's a camp rather than a town.

There are more explicit overtures towards the other games as well. Last year's update to New Leaf added Town Initiatives, new quests that will earn you extra rewards. In that game, there were daily quests as well as quests that didn't expire. They would earn you tokens to spend, interestingly enough, at a camp ground.

That system is replicated almost one to one, except those tokens don't exist and instead you can earn a variety of different rewards. There's some throwbacks to Happy Home Designer as well. In that game you could visit other players' homes and give them ratings, as well as leave them messages.

That system has been simplified here. Sometimes you'll run into players on the map and be able to visit their campsites. Once you're there you can give them kudos. You can also visit any campsites from the villagers in your friends list at any time.

There's even a few features I'd be happy to see in a future Animal Crossing game. In Pocket Camp, you can also set up a "Market Box" where other players can buy items from you.

You can sell four items, and those items can't be recovered from the Market Box regardless of whether or not they sell. It's a bit clunky, but it has potential, especially as players begin to figure out what items you'll need and which you can safely sell.

Even so, some aspects of Pocket Camp strain against the relaxing, friendly vibe of the Animal Crossing series. While you can buy a few items of furniture, for the most part you craft it. You earn crafting materials by completing requests from villagers.

Once you collect all you need you go to the menu, select what piece of furniture you want, and you wait for it to be "completed." A lot of objects only take a minute or two. Right now I am at the beginning of a seven hour wait to build an amp.

This is where Leaf Tickets come in. You can use leaf tickets to expedite a lot of the timers in Pocket Camp and otherwise make the game go a little quicker. Want that amp right now? You can use a Leaf Ticket for that. Not enough crafting materials for that lamp? Leaf ticket. Want to be able to craft more than one thing at a time? That costs 80 Leaf Tickets.

You can also use Leaf Tickets to buy special paint jobs for your van, some of which cost up to 150 tickets. You can earn Leaf Tickets through quests, which is nice, and the game is pretty generous with them. After two days of playing I have 176 tickets.

But if I bought this fancy paint job with the flowers all over it, I will have fewer tickets to use to expedite furniture orders.

The option to just buy your way to shorter timers and more materials is everywhere in this game. In the mainline Animal Crossing games, waiting is often the point. When you shake a tree for fruit in the main game, you won't be able to get more fruit from that tree until the next day. Sometimes your animal friends will want to come over, but they will use vague words like "soon" or "in a little while" and you just have to remember to check in with them.

In Pocket Camp, where the timers are very visible, I feel like I'm being taunted. Sure, fruit re-grows more frequently, after only a three hour wait, but knowing I have the option to spend money and instantly regrow it feels sleazy.

When the wait is indeterminate and vague, I don't feel that bad checking in on my town occasionally to see when things get done. When I know that amp will be done in another seven hours, I feel a stronger urge to just spend some money on it.

Most of the timed quests reward you with Leaf Tickets, so I've got a stockpile for now, but I wonder how long that will last. Right now there's also a special offer on Leaf Ticket bundles, as a pop up in the corner of my screen keeps telling me.

I wasn't.

The most annoying example of this is Shovelstrike Mountain. Unlike the other Animal Crossing games, you can't freely roam around in Pocket Camp. The map is split up into discrete areas -- you fish over here, collect fruit over there.

One such area, Shovelstrike Mountain, can only be entered once you ask five of your friends for help. Or, you can use twenty Leaf Tickets. Hm, I thought. Must be some great rewards there! No. You have five chances to use a shovel to break five rocks to find geodes, and then you get a reward based on what you find. I earned 1,500 bells and eight preserves.

Bells really aren't hard to come by in Pocket Camp -- I'd had over 10,000 of them that morning -- and I'd already earned 40 preserves by just completing requests. I have a sizeable friends list and was able to get help from friends to enter Shovelstrike Mountain quite quickly.

Most players aren't like me, and can't gain a dozen friends in about fifteen minutes because they have over ten thousand followers on Twitter. Prior to tweeting out my friend code, I only met two or three other players a day, and there was no guarantee that they would accept my friend request or accept my request for help at Shovelstrike Monutain.

In fact, I almost did spend Leaf Tickets on it before realising I had other options. And once I got there, the results were incredibly disappointing. I can't help but think that other players are going to feel ripped off by this deal.

There are times when playing Pocket Camp feels just like playing any other Animal Crossing game. When you make friends with a villager or even when time passes and the game goes from afternoon to night I get a strong pull of nostalgia.

Becoming friends with villagers is especially cute. After you complete enough requests for them, they will invite you on a short outing and you'll see an animation of you and your friend checking out their bug collection or standing around a barbecue.

It's the intimacy of these moments that I love, and that remind me of the series that I've enjoyed for years. These games are a place of comfort, with an ethos that asks you to sit back and enjoy the country life.

Other times, Pocket Camp feels more like something Tom Nook would sell you -- something predatory, dishonest, and trying to squeeze more and more money out of you. These two things butt heads against each other, and they make the world of Animal Crossing feel a little tainted.

I would actually pay an embarrassing amount of money for Animal Crossing on the Switch, and even though I am enjoying Pocket Camp for now, at the end of the day it's leaving a sour taste in my mouth.

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Comments

    I've got nothing against this post, but boy do you sound like someone who time-travelled in the other AC games.

    Been playing this game since the day it soft-released in Australia. Gotta say, I agree with some of the points raised in this article: Shovelstrike Quarry rewards are utter garbage for the effort (especially since the number of friends who accept the request resets after time -- what the hell is up with that?), it does feel like the other AC games, and bells are too easy to earn and pretty much worthless. I've got 135000 bells lying around that I really can't do much with, except pay off loans which I've already done heaps, and it annoys me that there's nothing else they're really good for.
    That being said, I've got a full friends list despite not having played with any friends to begin with, I'm currently at level 40 nearing 41, I've got 390 leaf tickets and already spent a sizeable amount on speed-ups and a good camper paint job and I also have most second stage amenities at level 5. And even so, I have rarely ever felt cheated by this game. In fact, I was surprised by how little the game forces you to make purchases or watch ads, since most free mobile games I've played have been the most ad-filled, money-hungry crap I've ever witnessed.
    One problem I will acknowledge is that leaf tickets are ridiculously expensive for what you can do with them. Buying them is definitely not encouraged. But instead, what is encouraged is grinding through the game and waiting it out in classic JRPG fashion. And that's something I've never minded -- the game encourages patience. While it's similar to the other AC games, it differs in that it doesn't want you sitting there playing it for straight hours on end, and it doesn't want to take up all of your time. The fact that level-up and login rewards are quite generous, and that different animals move in after a number of hours is just more reason why Pocket Camp is encouraging you to play only a couple of times each day: playing for a few minutes, and then coming back in a few hours. Crafting, and then leaving the game alone. Checking even as scarcely as once a day, and then leaving it. It's not trying to be a full-on new addition to the series; Pocket Camp is only trying its best at being a companion game.
    And it's a damn good one. With new tid-bits about some villagers and cute new dialogue, it's a nice side dish to a series I have always loved. The whole check-in-and-check-later gameplay might not be something everyone is after, but personally, even as someone who has had full nights without sleep playing ACNL, I still find it fun and rewarding, and think it really suits the calm and zen atmosphere of going out on a camping trip!

    If anything, all I'm holding out on are more less-obscure villagers to be added. Otherwise, I'd gladly recommend Pocket Camp to anyone, and I really don't think calling it 'sleazy' is fair to the spirit of the game.

    I dunno if we're seeing the same thing... the microtransaction angle seems more pushed in this article than it is in the game.

    Honestly, I've never been a huge fan of Animal Crossing. I've liked it plenty and got into it a few times, but the fact that it's really at it's core a mobile game has always had me giving up - no I don't want to swap games every few hours to see what animal crossing task needs doing. I actually found that this works a lot better. Sure theres a lot more from the console version they could bring over (especially as the phones it's played on are more powerful than any of the consoles it's been released on up until now).

    The microtrans, IMHO don't feel forced at all. If anything they seem kind of pointless - wait times aren't that long for all buy ameneties, you can easily get enough tickets for those things you think you need or want, and they're really poor value. Like REALLY bad value.

    I've had the game a few weeks and really just in the first week, before the guides even started coming out online, I got up to level 20, upgraded my camper to the $100k debt level, built out most of my camps, got both the "special cameo seats" for my campsite, a premium camper theme and took a few trips to the manual labour rock smashing arena without even coming close to needing to spend a cent. I also don't feel like it bothers to tell you about premium currency that much - most freemium games advertise that after every level.

    So far all I can see is if you can't be bothered to wait for things to complete, you'd have to pay, but even then the wait times aren't that bad. The tents are the only thing that take a long time - getting up to several days. I dunno, it's not great, but for a freemium game it's really not bad either. You'd also be barking mad to pay to skip any amount of time as well because the currency is so expensive.

    Look at it like this: Animal crossing on the 3DS is 40 bucks. When they release it on the switch, it will be 60. This game is 100% an animal crossing game, with out too much missing for no dollars at all, and you can easily get through most of it without paying. I'm struggling to see the sleaze if I'm honest. If you can't be bothered to wait for things in real time, the whole Animal Crossing franchise might be a skip for you.

    Australia here; was obsessively playing the game for two weeks. Realised I was only missing one animal rotation per day but managed to unlock the swimming pool with no microtransactions. I would say the necessity to spend real cash is far far far less tempting than fire emblem

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