The New Animal Crossing Stinks

Moderately motion sick and stuck on a Connecticut-bound bus this Thanksgiving Eve, I downloaded the pick-me-up I was certain my brain required: Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. And crossed the animals did, over a shaky mobile connection and onto my iPhone as the bus lurched into stop-and-go traffic uptown.

All Images: Nintendo/Screenshot

With a single thrilling tap I launched the app, and at once I recalled Nintendo's perplexing inability to just drop you into its mobile games. All the modal windows. All those pop-ups. All the lengthy tutorials.

But soon enough I'm ready to play. And oh boy, it feels like the old days. I am not on this bus; I'm playing Animal Crossing. The year is 2001.

The original Animal Crossing was, no doubt, my type of game - a game about moving to a new town, bugging your neighbours, and building up a tiny cartoon shack into a very sweet cartoon home. My lizard brain just loves to collect stuff, and from 2001 to 2003, I spent hours retrieving fruit, catching fish, and, later, playing the game's built-in Nintendo Entertainment System emulator. My little sister had her own town, too. And so did my mum. With those nostalgic memories intact, Pocket Camp seemed like the perfect companion to my three-hour ride. I was sitting there, trapped on a bus and ready to be tricked into caring about my little cartoon camp. But somehow Nintendo failed to trigger my gatherer instincts. It didn't trick me well enough.

Pocket Camp is a game that I genuinely want to like, but too many things about it are, well, terrible. I'm a camp manager with hardly anything to do but try to convince nearby animals to visit my campsite by building furniture they like. It's a boring idea and a lot of the characters just come across as demanding jerks. Along the way, Nintendo tries to nudge me into parting with my actual human money.

In my first 30 minutes or so, I was pummelled with duplicate how-to modal windows, slot-machine-like rewards, and - this I saw coming - offers to buy Leaf Tickets, the in-game currency. Nintendo never explained why I'm here doing favours and hunting for goods in this digital world. Stop this noise and tell me a story, bucko!

And the noise continued. I got bells for downloading more content and a Log-In Bonus before I ever logged out. Why should I care about these perks? Or about decorating this partially pre-decorated camp? What happens if I'm not in it for the campers at all, but for myself? The original, self-centred Animal Crossing story made this so simple: Here is a game. Live in this little town. Get to know a bunch of animal-people. Walk around, find stuff, buy stuff, and upgrade your house however you see fit.

But as I approached Level 4 in Pocket Camp, it felt like Nintendo's only plan was to frustrate users with various time-limits until they paid up with real dollars.

The solicitations are too obvious. There's a Special Offer banner whipping across the top-left corner of my screen. I could harvest more fruit if I use fertiliser that I can buy with Leaf Tickets. I could complete more requests for the animals if I wait a while, or… buy Leaf Tickets. I could visit the Quarry to mine for precious minerals, but I'll need just a few Leaf Tickets. Transactions have always been part of Animal Crossing games, but Nintendo placed way too much emphasis on transactions too early here. The whole thing's a big headache. I just wanted to wander around and explore, but all these alerts kept getting in the way - not to mention the tiny boundaries of each scene.

Frustrated, I buried the app into my overstuffed "Games" folder and opened up Spotify. I didn't even really think about the game again until yesterday, when I overheard two of my coworkers praising it.

"I have very few hobbies and real human interaction can be a drag," said Ryan Mandelbaum, science writer at Gizmodo, level 19. "But with Pocket Camp, I can develop friendships based solely on unconditional love and mutual respect, all without leaving my small, sad apartment."

"I like it because it's mindless and because I like hoarding any digital currency," said Kelly Bourdet, Gizmodo Editor-in-Chief, level 27. "I also love Ketchup, the best animal."

To which I say, no, the new Animal Crossing is bad.

"Harrison sucks," Ryan added.

Pocket Camp is cute. And maybe it will make Nintendo a lot of money. But after more than a couple hours with the game, I'm not at all hooked and that makes me sad. It's like Nintendo forgot to make the game fun - why build a game around running errands anyway? Why on Earth is my job "camp manager"? I don't fault Nintendo for wanting to create a habit-forming app, or for testing various ways to make more money, but ultimately the money making schemes, the slot-machine-like perks and the tiny little scenes all lead to a disjointed game.

It's a real bummer to say it, but the new Animal Crossing is bad. In fact, I'd even say it stinks.


Comments

    'Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp' is not a full game and does not quell my desire for a full game on the Switch, but to call it a bad game? Nah.
    Is it flawed? Hell yeah! The Villagers do seem to lack the "life" they displayed in the full games and end up just feeling like vending machines for materials. Just a few random things such as them running up to you with a gift, or talking about their interactions with other Villagers, or wanting a shirt/catchphrase change... anything to make them feel more alive.
    Then there's the severe lack of clothing options, no custom patterns to make our avatars truly unique, sets with barely the full set available (looking at you, Classic Set)...
    ...Okay, fine. It's currently a pretty bad game, but I still enjoy it and am currently level 45. I have yet to spend Leaf Tickets on anything other than the Tom Nook & K. K. Slider chairs, as well as the achievement that requires using Tickets that just rewards you Tickets straight back. Hopefully with future updates the game will get better and do a better job of scratching that "AC Game" itch with their talk of a garden and such, but at the moment at least it's something.

      I played it for a while during PAX. It was okay, but I didn't get very far. Ended up just getting out my 3DS and fished out my old Wild World cart instead.

    What do you honestly expect? You're not going to get a full experience for a Nintendo freemium game. Why would they cannibalise the sales of their console games?

    So, it's like any other game with microtransactions? I'm not seeing the problem. And in my opinion, the push for in-game currency here is not as in your face as other mobile games. There are no levels hidden behind a paywall. The only thing in the game that requires leaf tickets are the crafting slots, the special characters (Tom Nook and K.K. Slider) and a few custom paint jobs for the camper. Everything else can be done without them, if, like in any other mobile game, you are patient. You don't need 20 tickets for the quarry, you can get help from 5 friends and that is easy enough to get - there are players to be found in game that you can friend, or there are communities to get people's friend codes from (/r/ACPocketCamp). You don't need to unlock more quests with leaf tickets, they reset every three hours.

    I'm level 40 and I've not ponied up a single cent on this game, and I have over 600 leaf tickets. They are so easy to get it's laughable.

    I'm not saying ACPC is an amazing game, it has its flaws, but it's not the microtransaction hell hole this article makes it out to be.

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