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Animal Crossing New Leaf Review

Cart: Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Cab: Nintendo 3DS
Coin: Nintendo EAD Grp 2/Monolith Soft

Animal Crossing is the social game that started it all, and it is still, arguably, the best game of its kind in the world, with this 3DS release the prime example of the series. However, this latest game is symptomatic of the recent output at Nintendo, where minor updates to existing franchises are the order of the day.

That isn’t to say New Leaf is not a good game, as it is fabulous in so many ways, but I can’t help thinking that it could have been so much more than a simple feature update.

Like in every Animal Crossing game, it all starts with you moving into a new village, populated with animals. You get to name the town and do pretty much everything you have been able to do in other games, with the big addition being that the first person to register and move in(which would be yourself if you are the only player in your household) gets to become the Mayor of the village.

A friend turning up in your town is still awkward to organise

A friend turning up in your town is still awkward to organise

This means you can start building projects and start new town rules which affect the way the game plays. These rules range from changing the average price you are paid for items, to affecting the times the town’s shops are open. A small point here: the game is entirely real-time, with all the shops shutting in the evening, meaning you can do little but gather and chat after dark, which means that players who only play at night are always going to be shorthanded in Animal Crossing. The rule change that allows you to keep the shops open a little later does help, but I have always felt that the main trading store in these games should be open 24hrs, and I know of people who have given up on the game in the past as they can only sell their items at the weekend.

New Leaf is all about money, or Bells. Everything you do in the game is based around earning and spending cash, be it upgrading your home or going on trips, it is all focused on finding items to sell, such as fish, insects and fossils. Many of the items can also be donated to a local museum, but you will sell 99% of everything you find. It is essentially a massive grind, but one that is, almost unexplainably, enjoyable.

Perhaps it is the range of activities you must complete, with fishing still enjoyable, despite hardly changing a bit in ten years, and despite being almost offensively simplistic. Bug hunting involves walking slowly with a net and simply catching insects with a tap of a button, and fossil-finding even easier. Chatting to the resident animals yields the occasional tiny quest, while exploring the expanded ‘main street’ offers extra shops, the museum and an eventual nightclub.

There is a tropical island to visit, which offers up some decent mini games and a different range of prey, as well as being the portal to playing online with strangers. You can also play online via the train station, which allows you to visit other towns, but only with your main 3DS friend list and locally. No download play, I’m afraid.

If someone has never played Animal Crossing before, then all the text above will seem anything but appealing. Yet, Animal Crossing isn’t really about gameplay in the normal sense. It has always been about fostering your own little, perfect community, shaping the tiny world to your own liking. In these days of breakthrough storytelling in games, Animal Crossing has let you write your own story of a town for years.

Some of the designs are legendary

Some of the designs are legendary

Listening to Kapp’N sing songs as he takes you to the island on his little boat, enjoying a cup of coffee for its own sake, fishing in the rain, and buying turnips on a Sunday morning; these are the things that keep Animal Crossing special, and my problem with New Leaf is that is doesn’t really add any truly special moments that we haven’t seen before.

New Leaf adds a load of new features that moderately expand the gameplay and online possibilities, but the silly little things that make you fall in love with the little world? All the old bits are present and correct, but there is precious little new ‘magic’ here.

That will only really affect those who have done all this before, and if that is you, then I would say to be prepared to do a lot of what you have done before, which may not bother you in the least, but you may feel a little less love for this one than you did with the other games in the series. Not because it is a poorer game, as it is superior in many ways, but rather because you will have fewer special, unique memories with this one.

However, If you have never tried an Animal Crossing game then this is absolutely the very best place to start, as it takes all the goodness already present in the series and just adds extra things to see and do, and there is more joy to be found here than in anything released recently, save Journey.

While lacking that elusive magic of past games, this latest title is still a beautiful waste of time.

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Editor and founder of VoxelArcade and The Smartphone App Review. Favourite games: Uridium 2, Frontier: Elite II, Sensible World of Soccer, Far Cry 3, Zelda: Ocarina, Metroid Prime, Solar Quest, F-Zero GX, Monkey Island 2 and Tetris.

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