Nintendo is finally set to release a brand new entry in the Animal Crossing franchise on the Nintendo 3DS. The original title shipped more than 12 years ago on the GameCube. I've been a fan since I picked that one up in 2001.
Since then, we've seen two other iterations of the Animal Crossing brand. The second game hit the Nintendo DS in 2005, and it was dubbed Animal Crossing: Wild World. The third game, City Folk, released for the Wii in 2008. In less than a week's time, a brand new entry will launch for the Nintendo 3DS.
I've had Animal Crossing: New Leaf for more than three weeks now. I've spent time playing it each and every day, and I'm ready to express why I think this one is a must-own for fans and Nintendo 3DS owners alike.
A Mayor With Minor Talents
One of the major changes to this entry in the much loved Animal Crossing franchise is the role of the player. In previous games, you'd move into your new town as a resident and assume the daily life of fishing, digging fossils and making friends. In New Leaf, you become the brand new mayor.
The core of the game remains unchanged with this new addition. It's still all about collection, daily tasks and the passage of time. However, the mayor mechanic brings a new layer of customization to the Animal Crossing world.
You'll be able to add bridges to rivers crossing through town, you'll drop park benches where you like, you'll establish a camp site and you'll even erect street lamps. These are all public works projects, and they are funded by donations from you and the town folk (though, expect to donate the lion's share as your animal peers appear to be either stingy or completely broke).
You'll even be able to set town policy to meet your own needs as a player. Say, for instance, you work a graveyard shift overnight and this is when you like to play games. In old Animal Crossing titles, the only way to shop at this late hour was to dupe the game by resetting your system clock. As mayor in New Leaf, you can issue a town ordinance that dictates shops be open much later.
Being mayor in New Leaf doesn't drastically change the formula of Animal Crossing; but, you wouldn't want that anyways. It does, in minor and simple ways, add new layers of play to an already winning experience.
Squeaking Magic Out of Monotony
We'll get to the daily new bits featured in Animal Crossing: New Leaf in just a moment. Fans of this series know that, no matter how much new stuff there is to explore, there exists in Animal Crossing a daily grind of catching fish, digging fossils, checking shops and shaking trees. In the older games in this series, Nintendo hit a wall with these daily trials, and that lead to most players abandoning their towns a month or two into playing.
The game exists in a monotonous cycle: there's a need to buy things, a need to earn money and a need to expand. All of those pieces exist with each other, and that means players have to engage in the mundane in order to achieve in this virtual world.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf succeeds because it squeezes a little high-polished Nintendo magic out of the everyday activities you'll perform in this game. The music, the visuals, the art design and the basic brilliance of the mechanics at work make catching 1,000 fish, hunting your 500th butterfly and donating your 30th fossil engaging.
There's even special Nintendo swag hidden in daily fortune cookies that must be purchased with Nintendo 3DS play coins instead of the in-game Bell currency.
It all happens with a very laid back and relaxed rhythm, and that makes this game exceptionally playable. But, like I said, these are just the menial tasks. Nintendo found ways to make every day interesting beyond running your routine.
Something New, Every Day
When you're not running your routine in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, what are you doing? Over the course of my 30+ hours with the title, I discovered something brand new almost every single day.
My town had a roaming fortune teller or art dealer visit regularly, a sailor washed ashore, a new shop opened, I helped establish a night club, a turnip vendor introduced me to the "Stalk Market" (a twist on one of my favorite Wild World features), a camel offered to redecorate my house, a visitor pitched tent in my village, a fishing tournament kicked off and more.
None of that factors in multiplayer engagement (which was great when I had a chance to join fellow reviewers) or calendar holidays. Festivals are region specific, so I'd celebrate the 4th of July here in the States while, say, a gamer in Japan would be able to partake in the festivities of Golden Week. If we cross paths, by way of friendship, we can swap some festival specific items.
Even further, there's a new tropical island for visiting in this game. If the grind of daily life ever wears you down, you can hop on a boat and head to a tiny slice of paradise with its own unique set of items, clothing, purchasables and characters. There are even mini-games to play on the island, stuff that helps add fresh play to a game that looks to last for a long, long time.
There will be days when you get wrapped up in some sort of contest like a fishing tournament and you play for hours on end. Then there will be days when you dump maybe 30 minutes into the title before moving on. However, the fact that you know there will be something new to experience tomorrow means that the game never completely tires. That's huge for a title like Animal Crossing, and Nintendo really nailed that can't-wait-to-see-what's-new aspect well.
…the fact that you know there will be something new to experience tomorrow means that the game never completely tires.
A Process of Polish
Finally, Nintendo took time to polish the play of Animal Crossing with New Leaf and made this game a finely tuned instrument for longtime fans.
If you've been around these virtual villages long enough, you know that one minor annoyance that comes during play is switching between equipment. See a butterfly? Grab your net from your inventory and chase it. Is a gift attached to a balloon way up in the sky? Open your menu and grab your slingshot. It happens constantly, and this menu navigation can really drag the experience down.
It sounds minor, but one tweak in New Leaf makes all of this item switching that much better. You can swap between any equipable item in your inventory by pressing the right and left buttons on the d-pad (the Circle Pad is for movement, so the d-pad is now freed up).
You can also take screenshots in this new game, and that happens whenever you press both shoulder buttons on your Nintendo 3DS. The shots are saved to your SD card, and you can pop that into a card reader and yank them onto your hard drive whenever you like. I did that for the massive gallery you can flip through below.
The Best Animal Crossing To-Date
Everything in Animal Crossing: New Leaf is great. For longtime fans of the franchise, like myself, this game's additions and tweaks make it the most friendly and endearing entry yet.
At more than 30 hours played over the last few weeks, I still haven't tired of the daily tasks and life as a mayor. There are still shops that need to open, festivals that need to happen and fishing tournaments that need to be won.
I'll keep playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf because I absolutely love it. And, before you ask, Resetti is back, but keeping him in place requires a little something special that I won't spoil.
Disclaimer: We received a code to download and review Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS from Nintendo. We had more than 31 hours played before starting this review.