Review by dolphinmage

Reviewed: 06/19/13

Animal Crossing: New Restrictions

Animal Crossing New Leaf is the fourth Animal Crossing game released outside of Japan. I’ve only played Animal Crossing Wild World before I started New Leaf, and I don’t generally play many sim-type games.

Gameplay:

Animal Crossing New Leaf has you create an avatar who will become the mayor of a small village. There is no character customization to start, but you can later change your clothes and hairstyle. Your initial appearance will be based on seemingly unrelated questions asked by a character you meet on the train to your destination.

While the mayor idea seems like it could create lots of opportunities not previously explored in other Animal Crossing games, the concept is wasted here. Your only duties as mayor are to create structures in your small town called public works and pass town ordinances. It takes several real world days to unlock the ability to build public works, and even when you do, you only have access to a fraction of the eventual list. To gain more options, you have to hope that villagers will approach you with requests for other structures. They will approach you randomly. It makes planning your town layout and executing that plan very difficult. One town ordinance can be put into effect at a time but it only influences when the shops open or close, how plentiful the flowers and weeds are, or how many bells it costs to buy and sell. Other than that, there is really no appreciable difference between playing as the mayor or playing as one of the other three possible avatar characters.

Once you reach the town, you will soon be able to place your house. In theory, you can place it anywhere; however the game is a bit particular about allowing you to place it too close to rivers, cliffs, the plaza, or other buildings. The same goes for public works. You may not be able to place them exactly where you’d like because it happens to be too close to something else. Your house and the plaza in particular seem to take up large amounts of space. The animal villagers are able to place their houses wherever they’d like. They may even decide to build their house where you were planning to build a public works or perhaps choose to wipe out the orchard you had just planted.

The villagers have eight base personalities which are split evenly between the male and female characters. The personalities don’t seem very distinctive and the animals repeat themselves often. They may request items or house visits and will give you rewards for assisting them. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to offer any meaningful, lasting interactions.

The special visitors and standard inhabitants of the town aren’t as entertaining as they were in Wild World. Blathers in particular had his personality wiped clean. He no longer has anything to say when you donate to the museum. It is also disappointing that Redd isn’t scheduled to visit the town every week. Instead of bringing one painting, he brings four pieces of art. The three forgeries have slight changes made from the original work allowing you to pick out the true piece if you know your art. The blurriness of the image can make it difficult to see the difference though.

Catching bugs and fish is still an important part of the game, but the focus is slightly different. Even rare bugs and fish are common in this game, so it doesn’t take long to fill out that portion of the museum. Now, you will be catching bugs and fish mainly to make the hundreds of thousands of bells needed to complete the public works and pay off the huge loans to your house. You will likely even need to create multiple characters to store all the furniture and clothing because the game has greatly increased the amount of things you can acquire but not bothered to give you enough storage with which to keep it. Since each character gets his or her own house, you’ll find yourself constantly needing more money. It soon becomes apparent that the island is the most efficient place to make money. Unfortunately, the island is painfully small. It does not take long for fishing and bug catching on that tiny patch of land to become tedious and dull.

Mini-games are also offered on the island. There is a decent variety of mini-games such as catching a certain amount of bugs, shooting down balloons, or going on a scavenger hunt. The mini-games can be fun with multiple people competing but are not enjoyable when done solo. Unfortunately, there don’t appear to be a great variety of prizes to make the effort worthwhile. You’ll want to pick up a wetsuit, but there aren’t many deep sea fish and they aren’t worth many bells. Once you fill out that part of your museum, there isn’t much reason to swim again, especially since your character swims slowly and that is while rapidly tapping the swim button.

As is the norm for Animal Crossing, there are shops to purchase new clothes and furniture. Unlocking the shops takes several real world days. This isn’t because you have to spend a certain amount of money at them or you have to talk to people a certain amount of days, though you have to do those as well. Instead, it was just decided that certain shops would just be locked to you for an arbitrary amount of days, most likely to prolong the amount of time it would take you to accomplish anything. Not just the shops in the main street of town, but many things in New Leaf are locked to you until you’ve played a certain amount of real world days. For those who like to make progress quickly, this decision is infuriating.

Two aspects of the game that will eventually be unlocked are of most interest to designers: the dream mansion and the QR code machine. The dream mansion allows you to create a code for your town and pass it on to others. They will be able to enter a version of your town completely disconnected from the real one. They can appreciate what you’ve accomplished or tear it down as it suits them with no repercussions. The QR code machine allows you to take your pattern designs and share them with others via QR codes.

Graphics:

The graphics are bright and colorful and fit the tone of the game well. There are lots of nice touches like minor light effects. It would have been better if there was greater contrast between the fish shadows and the water. Fishing at night especially can be very difficult because of this. You can adjust the camera inside buildings, but not while you are outside. It is difficult to spot bugs on trees or fish in the lower beach because of the camera angle.

Sound:

The music is soothing and fits the atmosphere in the game but isn’t particularly memorable. Eventually you will also get music from a character called K.K. that you can use in your house. K.K.’s music is taken from many different musical genres and allows you to further customize the atmosphere of each room in your house, assuming each room has a music player.

Playtime/Replayability:

This game will take an extraordinary amount of time to make any sort of progress. It also requires that you play it daily and usually for at least an hour each day if only to do the bare minimum of upkeep. It isn’t the sort of game that you would replay, but it is the sort of game that will take a very long time to experience everything within it.

Final Recommendation:

This game requires a huge time commitment, but doesn’t offer much more than a limited amount of customization for your efforts. Most of the mini-games, conversations, and events are not deep and engaging at all. You have very little ability to make any meaningful changes to your town. I can only really recommend this game to people that like never-ending games with little depth or those who want to take advantage of the dream mansion or QR codes to share their creative visions with others. For those who enjoy freedom in their games or are easily frustrated by constant roadblocks, look elsewhere.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Animal Crossing: New Leaf (US, 06/09/13)

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