3DS Game Re:Re:Reviews - Animal Crossing New Leaf

5:40 PM

Welcome to what's hopefully to become somewhat long running series. Here I'm planning to write some reviews of some games I've enjoyed on the 3DS as the system turns 5 years old. A lot of these games will be pretty old, some from the system's early line up, and some released last month. It's not a comprehensive list of what's good on the 3DS, but rather a list of games I've played, liked and think that people who haven't tried them  really should give these a shot. I'm aiming for a 1 game every other day schedule so hopefully I can keep that up for a good week or two.

Most of the games are games that most 3DS owners probably have. Some of them are a little more niche. First up: Animal Crossing New Leaf.

Animal Crossing New Leaf was released June 9th, 2013 (North America) for the first Nintendo 3DS. It was developed and published by Nintendo.

Of all the games on the system, this is probably one of those games that the majority of 3DS owners have. At the height of the game's popularity, you could StreetPass 10 people and 8 of those people would have it as their "currently playing". It's also one of the few (read: likely the only) games from the early on in the 3DS's catalogue that I'm still playing to this day. I've logged around 540 hours in game (3DS system time) so far and I think my girlfriend has somewhere around the same time clocked.

New Leaf is the latest mainline games in a (smallish) series that spans back to 2001 on the N64. 

It's a “find-your-own fun” kind of game. It's a free form game that's largely about day to day life, in a Wikipedia genre called "life simulator". It's a relatively stress free time where there isn't any conflict, deadline or problem that needs a dramatic or immediate fix. I say mostly because finding out your favourite villager has decided to up and move on that day you decided you wanted a break can be devastating. Which brings me to the next point: the characters. You get attached to them and their weird and goofy quirks. They ask you for things incessantly and they'll argue with each other. While they're relatively limited in their actions, watching the town tick through the day is a magical experience that you really get invested in, despite the characters operating largely on a limited number of options. It's the kind of game that's really good to pick up for an hour every day to unwind from the real world. In your town, life's idyllic - no one's there to give you a hard time, and everything is calm, pleasant and welcoming. When the world's going to shit, there's always Animal Crossing New Leaf.

The StreetPass function for New Leaf is pretty neat. StreetPassing someone loads a model of their house into a separate zone called the Happy Home Academy Showcase. You can visit these models, poke around their house and get some hot decorate tips from people you pass. You can also order most of the regular furniture you see in the houses, making it a great place to find items you want. Talking to the wandering avatars of StreetPass'd folk can net you some nifty items, like a soft-serve cone, balloons, or pin-wheels of various colours. It's a real neat feature that ties really well into the both the game and it's spin-off, Happy Home Designer. 

Warm fuzziness aside, the game's UI is clunky and is often a little frustrating to navigate it's menus and inventory screens. Have a stack of oranges in storage, and you only want one? You'll need to pull the whole stack out, close that storage window, open your inventory, pull one out, close inventory, open storage and put the stack back. It's sounds specific in that situation, but there are more than a few situations where the game's inventory management could be much better. While on the topic of inventory, the storage situation is a little iffy. You start with a decent amount of storage, but that never really increases. It sounds like a problem for hoarders (like my girlfriend), but as the game throws special furniture sets and clothing out during events, you really run out of storage quick. I think having options to increase both personal (on your person) and box storage (accessed via furniture etc.) would be a nice addition in future games. Also, give the character a backpack or something. The mayor's got a freaking axe and a shovel in his pocket, along with several bugs, fish and whole freaking weight machine. Sure, a backpack doesn't make that much better, but at least you're not walking around with whale shark in your pants pocket. 

Another minor disappointment is the lack of creative options at the player's disposal. They address this in off-shoot game, Happy Home Designer, where you're given the keys to customize villagers' houses to your hearts content, in ways that would have be really cool if they were in New Leaf. Don't get me wrong; you can definitely make some very nice house interiors in New Leaf, but the additions in HHA really make me wish they ended up in New Leaf too. Stuff like curtains for the windows, or hanging light fixtures can help differentiate rooms. Another thing in HHA that I wished was in New Leaf are the outdoor furniture. Customize the front yard! While I wish it was in New Leaf, I can see why it's not. It'd mean more items, more space for the houses, which in turn could reduce where things could spawn. Lastly, we have roads. Present in neither New Leaf nor HHA, roads are pretty much the sign of a built up town. While you can build Public Works projects, ranging from sculptures to facilities, you can't build up permanent roads. You'll rely on player made patterns to put down makeshift pathways, easily swept away with an accidental press of the Y button.

While part of the game, another thing that bugs me about the game is it's “always on”. In recent years, that phrase has generally referred to constant and required connectivity, but in this case, “always on” means that the game is literally always running. Even when you're not playing, something is happening to your town while your system is off. Don't play for a while and that pristine town you worked so hard to maintain falls into ruin. Weeds run rampant, flowers have dried up, villagers have left and are usually replaced by a villager you don't want. The game is holding my town hostage, demanding that I play at least every couple of days, lest it all go to shit. It makes the game feel “alive” but at the same time, it creates this constant paranoia of checking in on it like a sleeping infant. I'm legitimately dreading the day they release the next entry of the series, because it means that my New Leaf town effectively ends. I'm actually hoping that they release a patch of sorts that lets you “retire” your New Leaf town. Putting this game away is going to be hard, like saying good bye to an old friend. Animal Crossing was always there for you, so long as you're always there for it. 

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