Published on June 26th, 2013 | by Christian0
Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Relaxation: The Game
This has been a phenomenal year for the 3DS. With Fire Emblem Awakening, Etrian Odyssey IV, and now Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the hits just keep on coming, and those are only the ones I’ve played. If there was any doubt before, I can say for sure now that Nintendo has done what seemed impossible at the launch of the 3DS: turned this system from a complete non-starter into an incredible platform for exclusive titles you won’t get anywhere else. I went into ACNL already a very pleased 3DS XL owner, but without any special affection for the series. I had played a fair amount of the GameCube version many years ago, but honestly would not have had a terrible amount of interest in this new one if not for the sweeping wake of its zeitgeist that pulled the gaming community along as it went by. Now that I’ve spent a little time with it, I’m happy to say it deserves all the praise it has gotten, and I’m also a bit surprised to find myself enjoying aspects of it that would drive me mad were they present in other games.
For the uninitiated, ACNL is a sort of busy-work debt simulator. You arrive by train in a new town and find that the residents have mistaken you for the incoming mayor. From there, you’re mostly gathering stuff around town to sell at the shop, Re-Tail. You’ll collect fruit by shaking trees, sneak up on bugs to catch them with your net, catch fish in what’s basically the most standard and unimaginitave fishing mini-game possible, and dig up fossils. You’ll do all of this to earn bells with which to pay off your home loan, expand, buy furniture, clothing and tools, and build improvements for the town like bridges and benches.
If you take a really reductive view of the whole thing, ACNL is about as mechanically compelling as the average Facebook game. Couple the somewhat non-existent gameplay with the occasionally maddening pace of interaction with the townspeople, and on paper it looks like a recipe for disaster. In practice, however, what you have in ACNL is relaxation: the video game. Every time I jump in the game I get a little slice of life of my town at that particular time in day. While I’m running around attending to my chores, my neighbors stop to chat to me about whatever is going on with them. Sometimes they’re looking for something in particular, or need you to make a delivery for them, but most of the time they just want to chat about how I like their shirt or some other such nonsense. There’s a huge amount of variety in the dialog, and so far I’ve seen less repetition in the conversation topics from my virtual neighbors than in my real life interactions, so score one for video games I guess. Even though I quickly got set into a routine of activities during each session, the monotony is broken up very nicely by the excitement of catching rare bugs and fish or digging up new fossils for the museum.
There are some small annoyances, though. Every time I interact with a shopkeeper or the museum curator, I have to listen to their whole spiel which would be tiresome anywhere else, but here the characters are written with a whimsical charm that forgives the repetition. Also, the drag and drop inventory management using the stylus and touch screen is quite literally a drag. Items that can be stacked in your inventory have to be stacked manually, which adds unnecessary irritation to the organization of your already frustratingly small backpack. Sometimes you’ll jump on at an odd time and find that there’s just not much to do, especially late at night when all the shops are closed, so if you’ve got a busy schedule or only game during limited or odd hours you might miss out on a fair bit of the game’s content due to its reliance on the system clock. You can get around the system clock problem if you want to, but doing so will spoil the pace of the game and eliminate some of the sense of discovery (as well as your time-sensitive turnips), so I don’t recommend it.
ACNL the perfect game to stop and check in on for anywhere from 15 minutes to 90 minutes if you’ve got the time. There’s always something to do, and the sheer quantity of items, clothing, and town improvements to collect will ensure that you’re busy for as long as you care to be. Seasonal changes, the real-time clock, and special town events like the bug-off (a competition to catch the most impressive insects) are a welcome change of pace from the daily grind. ACNL also includes the new to the series option to set some mandates for your town that’ll make it easier for you if you have a weird schedule, too. Right now I have my town set to stay up late since I mostly play at night, so now all of the shops stay open until midnight. This game has wide appeal and I’d recommend it to almost anyone who owns or is thinking about purchasing a 3DS. Keep in mind, though, that if you’re not the type of person who takes pride in arranging their virtual furniture, gardening for efficiency or aesthetics, and writing fake letters to your AI neighbors, ACNL’s charm might not resonate with you. Otherwise, hop on a train and move to a new town.