Being mayor feels so good.
There’s just something about Animal Crossing that never fails to put you in a good mood. Perhaps it’s because you never have to worry about rent or losing your home. Or maybe it’s because your main source of income has to do with either fishing or bug catching. Or perhaps it’s because your neighbors never stop sending you gifts, even when you never send anything back. Whatever the case, playing Animal Crossing has always been a refreshingly pleasant experience.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the latest installment in Nintendo’s popular life sim franchise, and one that adds loads of new content making it thus far the definitive Animal Crossing experience. While seemingly simple at first glance, New Leaf only feel impressively complex once you sit down and actually think about what the game is doing. For anyone who has played Animal Crossing in the past, needless to say it’s nothing short of amazing, and New Leaf is no different.
New Leaf starts you off as a young boy or girl who happens to land in a town where you’re mistaken to be the mayor. As mayor, you are responsible for plenty of things, including cleaning up and decorating your town, satisfying the needs of your neighbors, and improve the overall well-being of the place. To achieve this, you’ll need to spend a lot of time and money in your tiny little village and beyond, all while improving your own personal life as a fellow citizen.
Much of what you do in New Leaf involves collecting stuff. As a life sim, ACNL has you collecting a multitude of items, among them fruit, fish, bugs, furniture, clothing, trinkets, and more. Selling these items can net you “bells,” which in turn allow you to purchase other items to your liking or improve your town as a whole. This process of buying and selling has always been Animal Crossing’s most predominant feature, and things have mostly stayed the same in New Leaf.
But while the idea of it seems simple enough, actually obtaining the items you want is much more interesting. Bugs and fish require specific tools to acquire, and furthermore different bugs and fish appear not only in different times of day, but also at different times of the year. Using the 3DS’ real-time clock function, New Leaf recognizes what month and time of day it is in real life and translates that into the game. Thus, the only way to collect 100% of all the bugs and fish in the game is through playing it throughout the entire year (unless, of course, you alter your 3DS’ internal clock, which obviously I do not recommend).
Another thing you can collect is fruit, which can be a bit more complicated than bugs and fish. When you first move into your town, you’ll notice that only one type of fruit will be present. If you want to obtain other fruit, you can either visit your friend’s town via wireless or wi-fi (each town has a random fruit at the start) or visit the Tropical Island and gather fruit there. The Tropical Island is a new feature in New Leaf and allows you to play minigames that will net you medals, which you can trade in for exclusive items. These minigames can also be played with friends or strangers online, which adds more fun to the mix.
Of course, if nature isn’t your thing, you can also collect furniture to decorate your home. Home décor can be purchased from the second-hand store “Re-Tail” or the small shop on Main Street owned by the Nook twins. Obviously, if you buy too much furniture, you won’t be able to fit it all in your home, and so you’ll have to talk to Tom Nook if you want to expand your real estate – all at a high cost, of course. And if you’re a fashionista, you can also spend your bells purchasing clothes at the Able Sister’s. New Leaf allows players to also customize their pants, socks, and shoes (all firsts for the series), so you can finally show off your cowboy outfit in all of its full glory!
But collecting is only one small part of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Another big feature in the franchise is its randomly generated world. I’ve said before that each village’s native fruit is random, but so are the neighbors, the layout, and even the dialogue. Fossils will appear out of nowhere, allowing you to display them proudly in your home or, if you want, donate them to the museum along with your bugs and fish to show off to your friends. Many other things are also random, for instance when balloons will fly overhead, or when a tarantula will appear in your town, or when Gulliver the sailing seagull will wash up ashore on the beach – Animal Crossing is a truly unpredictable game, meaning that your experience will most definitely be different from everyone else’s.
This element of randomness though is most prominent in the game’s NPC’s. I already told you that which neighbors your village starts off with is totally random, but what about what they say? This, to me, is what’s most fascinating about Animal Crossing: New Leaf; each neighbor has a distinct personality and a distinct way of speaking, and, depending on how you interact with them, will form different relationships with you. For example, giving a present to your neighbor will compel them to give something back, whereas opening your neighbor’s mail will disgust them to the point where they might leave your town. Thus, your town will slowly but surely be made tailored to you specifically, even without you knowing it.
This aspect of the game being tailored to you is especially true when you consider that you are also the mayor of your town. As mayor, you have the ability to set up public works projects (which your neighbors personally request to you) like gardens or bridges or café’s or clubs. You can also pass town ordinances that have various effects on your village, like making it so that weeds never grow or that your town sleeps later.
Surely, you think that this is a lot of information to take in, but understanding the game’s concept is one thing; playing the game is completely another. The reason why many people adore Animal Crossing is because it is so charming; not only are the neighbors so full of personality, but the game itself is loaded with lots of exciting surprises. For example, on specific days of the year there will be bug catching competitions for fishing competitions. Sometimes, a hypnotist will show up in your town and cast a spell on you for a small fee. You might get a visit from an otter who gives you badges for your progress. You might unlock a new shop on Main Street, or meet new neighbors, or happen across buried treasure; every day is different and exciting, and that’s why I keep coming back to New Leaf time after time.
It can be tiresome, sure, especially when you start getting into the hundred’s-of-hours point of the game. Pacing is definitely a reoccurring issue in Animal Crossing, and while New Leaf takes strides to make it better and more bearable, there are still moments where you can’t help but feel a bit impatient and even frustrated at the fact that the game refuses to budge after you’ve done all you’ve wanted to do in a day.
New Leaf also suffers the unfortunate fate of being the fourth title in the series, and I can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu whilst doing my daily “chores” and whatnot. It’s time for Animal Crossing to evolve, and in more ways than just visually. New Leaf’s newer features feel fresh for the first dozen or so hours, but the novelty wears off quickly afterward and you’ll find yourself remembering that this is really just another Animal Crossing title.
Having said that, however, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is still a game full of excitement and surprises. For those who StreetPass often, the game also allows you to send your home wirelessly to another person’s town and let them to purchase items from your home – kind of like a full-scale IKEA, if you will. And even if you choose to do nothing and instead just sit there and enjoy the scenery, you will be delighted by one of the best video game soundtracks ever created. Hardcore Animal Crossing fans will be overwhelmed with all the little details found in the game as well, from flower breeding to feng shui.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a true pleasure to play, and if you’ve ever felt hesitant to dip your feet into the Animal Crossing franchise, this is the perfect place to start. New Leaf is one of the best video games released this year and sits among the best of the 3DS’ ever-growing library.