Nintendo’s long-standing tree grows some new leaves
Animal Crossing will never truly be the series I wish it were. Playing this latest 3DS-powered iteration—Animal Crossing: New Leaf—my mind went wild with ideas for what it could have been. Why not let the game access another popular 3DS app, Swapnote, so that I can send and receive mail to and from friends via my mailbox? Why not let me represent myself via my Animal Crossing avatar all across the 3DS interface, instead of those little Mii things? Why not have a stall for Nintendo’s eShop directly in the game, so I can browse digital wares without ever leaving this furry-filled virtual world?
OK, so Nintendo will never look upon Animal Crossing in the same way as Sony once promised we’d be interacting with PlayStation Home—that’s a given. As well, long gone are the days when the games were filled with some of their more ambitious little additional points of interaction. (Remember when we used to be able to unlock NES games in the GameCube Animal Crossing? For free, no less!)
And yet, having not seriously stepped foot into the world of Tom Nook–fueled debt and fruit cultivation since the DS release, I can put aside those desires when playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Sure, it could have more ambition—but there’s still something so charming and endearing in what it does accomplish.
Part of that undoubtedly comes from the time I’ve spend away from the series. Whenever you take a break from a gaming franchise that continues to pump out new releases, it’s always going to be easier to appreciate its offerings when you return.
My time with New Leaf’s predecessor—Animal Crossing: City Folk—was scant enough that I don’t feel confident in making direct comparisons between it and New Leaf. I do know that fans weren’t totally happy with some of its additions, as well as some of its omissions. In terms of direct features and offerings, many of those complaints seem to have been addressed here. What I can say for certain, however, is that the two games have confirmed for me that Animal Crossing is an experience meant to be on a handheld. I love being able to jump back into my village whenever and wherever I want, and everything from New Leaf’s gameplay to its overall scope just feels more fitting on the small screen.
Another checkmark in the plus column for New Leaf is that Nintendo has put a lot of obvious work into offering players more customization options while also bringing back some previously removed features. Personalization possibilities have been packed into the game—and they start right away when your character becomes mayor of his or her new home. Being fair, filling that role doesn’t dramatically change things, but it does offer an interesting platform for choosing which public works projects to take on or for setting the hours your local shops are open.
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 customize 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.)
I’m also glad to see better support for those who want to go online and share the Animal Crossing experience with friends. We’re still not at the point where villages can fully live on the Net, or where players not in the same household can populate the same city (maybe one day, if I dare to dream), but New Leaf offers an in-game friends system that lets you know who’s online—and allows you to message them when they are. It’s nice that meeting up with pals is now easier, because one of the things brought back here is the not-seen-since-the-GameCube island paradise. While there’s plenty to see and do there on your own, Tortimer Island has a number of minigame activities that can be especially enjoyable when you’ve got a few friends to compete against.
Even with all of its good, I can offer up some valid complaints that speak to Nintendo’s intentions (and not my imagination). Given that Animal Crossing—and especially New Leaf—are so heavily based around players going crazy with customization, why are we still given a world where things like hairstyles and facial features are determined by completely arbitrary personality questions? While a trip to the hair salon is a waste of the game’s currency, at least you can return to give it another shot; having to restart the game over and over until you get a face you can stand, meanwhile, is stupid. Tools still eat up valuable inventory slots, and while fruit stacking in groups of nine is a very appreciated new feature, why can’t they stack automatically? And, really, who in the world thought the grass-wears-down-in-heavy-traffic-areas idea was a good one? It’s definitely toned down from the ridiculousness of City Folk, but it’s still here nonetheless.
I could nitpick aspects of New Leaf all day, but when comparing it to what’s come before in the series, this is easily the best Animal Crossing experience we’ve ever been given. It isn’t always as complex or ambitious as I wish it were, but it never ceases to amaze me how lost I can get in this world. Nintendo’s digital life of flower-tending, animal-befriending, bell-collecting, and fossil-discovering is like a warm virtual blanket—the kind of game that you break out when you need a quick escape from the harshness of reality (or the harshness of today’s over-the-top action-adventures).
If you’ve never tried an Animal Crossing title, then Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the perfect place to start. If it’s been a while since you’ve paid the games a visit—or if you weren’t totally happy with how City Folk turned out—then New Leaf should have enough content to make the return trip worth it. From the convenience of its portability to the 3D affect that legitimately makes the game look and feel better, Nintendo’s latest handheld provides a fantastic platform for the future of the Animal Crossing series.
|Developer: Nintendo • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 06.09.2013|
Animal Crossing is a franchise where I’ll never fully be satisfied with the effort Nintendo puts into it—but after taking a break from the series for a while, I realize how much I’ve missed it. New Leaf brings updates both major and minor, but the most important of them for me was the push for customization. You’ll now spend far more time making your town just the way you want it to be and personalizing your character to suit your specific tastes—and, really, that’s what Animal Crossing should be about.
|The Good||New Leaf combines the refinements the Animal Crossing series has received over the years with both great new additions and some previously-removed features, and the ability to always have it on your handheld (via digital download) is a real boon.|
|The Bad||Even with all of its improvements, New Leaf still shows areas in which important points of player connection are made overly hard or obtuse.|
|The Ugly||How adorable I find New Leaf’s newest cast addition, Isabelle. Infatuation like this leads to dangerous territory.|
|Animal Crossing: New Leaf is available exclusively on the 3DS.|