How would you like to be mayor of your own little town? Minus the political intrigue, sex scandals and everyday corruption that make the job more of a danger than anything else, of course. In its newest version, exclusively crafted for the 3DS, the venerable Animal Crossing series returns, better and more addictive than ever before.
The premise is simple. You create a character and start your new life in a small town. Based on the date and time you set on your 3DS, your game plays out in real time. Morning fades slowly into afternoon and then into night. The hazy sunshine of misty mornings may give way to evening thunderstorms. Flowers bloom, snowballs form, trees grow, and neighbors move into your town and carry out their daily tasks, all while you go about yours, and even when you aren’t playing.
Neighbors aren’t just walking lumps of crudely formed goo, either. Your fellow townies will shake trees for loot, water plants, catch fish, hunt for bugs, go shopping, send you letters with gifts, and even mingle and converse with other townsfolk. They’ll also send you on various errands, sometimes as simple as getting them fruit from a nearby tree, or as involved as traveling to another town to collect signatures. The fact that every neighbor has their own personality and style goes a long way towards making your town feel like a living, breathing, populated village.
The twist this time around, as opposed to other games in the series, is that you arrive in town as mayor, your newly named town little more than a few plots of land set aside for a small house or two. As your village steadily grows, your duties as mayor open up as well. You have the option of building various public works projects, some suggested by townsfolk and some already on the list. These can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can go from useful, as in the case of bridges and expansions to existing buildings, to decorative, like statues, traffic lights, fountains, and even a replica of Stonehenge. These public works projects add a distinct flavor to your town, but funding them relies almost completely on you. Your neighbors may pitch in a few Bells here and there, but the lion’s share of the cost ultimately comes out of your coffers.
As mayor, you can also enact ordinances, for a small fee, if your population satisfaction is high enough. These can range from potentially eliminating dead flowers, cockroaches, and garbage from your town, to having shops open earlier or stay open later. These don’t have a huge effect on gameplay, but are an added convenience and a welcome addition.
The addictive element comes into play once your town is off and running. There’s a lot of things to do in town once it’s fully populated. Early on, you’ll pick fruit and collect shells to earn Bells, but soon enough you’ll be catching rare bugs and reeling in sharks to sell and populate your town museum. You’ll dig up fossils and other items buried around town, run errands for villagers, collect furniture sets, pay off and expand your home, improve your town, etc. Since each shop has a random assortment of items each day, you’ll find yourself playing daily, if only to see what’s on sale.
The only thing that begs a complaint is the small inventory that you have. With only fourteen or so spaces in your bag, and tools like fishing poles, axes, slingshots, and nets taking up a good chunk of these slots, your bag will fill very quickly, even more so if you’re a consummate fisherman or bug catcher.
The interface is both charming and intuitive. You move around your town via the top screen and the bottom screen is reserved for managing your inventory, selecting unlocked emotes, and typing messages on the in-game virtual keyboard. It’s actually quite simple to do everything and anything in game.
New Leaf shines in its multiplayer component as well. Once you have someone on your friends list, and they have you on theirs, you can “visit” their town and chat up their townsfolk (and even convince them to move to your town if they’re moving out!), fish in their rivers and oceans, buy out their stores, etc. There’s also a tropical island you can travel to, with tons of mini-games you can play alone or with friends for “medals,” special island currency to buy special island-themed items that don’t normally sell in the mainland shop, like pirate hats, mermaid themed furniture, and large anchors.
In addition to the expansive shops and museum which make a welcome return from previous entries in the series, the 3DS version features a few new locales. One is the aptly titled, “Club LOL,” a ritzy nightclub that plays host to famed Animal Crossing musician K.K Slider (appropriately known as DJ K.K). There’s a small light show and low budget pyro effects and it’s all very snazzy and cute, in a miniature-nightclub-in-your-hand kind of way. Plus, you may even see fellow townies getting their groove on when you visit.
Another new addition is the “Dream Suite.” Making use of the internet connectivity, this “shop” lets you enter a special “dream address” akin to your friends list addresses to “visit” other peoples’ towns in a dream state. Here, you can walk around, check out and borrow their patterns, and totally run wild through their towns, and nothing you do affects the real version of the town that you visit. It’s an interesting idea, and kind of neat that you can view other towns this way, but it’s not terribly compelling, since your actions have no effect whatsoever. Still, it’s a fun diversion, if only for a limited time.
Visually, everything is lush and colorful and seems painted with an eye for the whimsical. Your neighbors, especially, run the gamut from the monochromatic to the multicolored on the color spectrum and everything in between. Little details, like your footprints through sand and snow, add a nice touch as well.
The music, like most in the series, has a surreal, understated, almost zen-like quality to it. Whether you’re fishing at three in the morning or taking a walk at noon, everything sounds quite nice. The upbeat, peppy music that punctuates your days will slowly fade into a more somber, peaceful tune at night. Sound effects, like splashing around in oceans or the clickety-clack of passing trains sound pitch-perfect as well.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf seems a perfect match for the 3DS. It’s addictive in short bursts gameplay, coupled with charming visuals, a lush soundtrack, and engaging multiplayer are only a few of its many virtues. It’s a special thing to have a living, breathing world, right in the palm of your hand. As reality sometimes mirrors the world of gaming, the oft-cited mantra of, “all good things come to those who wait,” was never truer than in the context of Animal Crossing, where the most exciting discoveries are those yet to come, the most exciting neighbors may be those you’ve yet to meet, and the most enduring friendships may bloom and grow out of seeds yet to be sown.