We all have a game or game series we go back to from time to time simply to play casually for relaxation purposes. Sometimes, after a hard day at work or a troubling study session, you need something simple to enjoy. For myself and many others, that series is Animal Crossing. It never demands a lot of your attention, and yet it somehow always manages to get as much of it as possible. The formula has never changed drastically from game to game, and yet each title adds something special to keep you coming back for more. Animal Crossing: New Leaf may not be the most innovative or groundbreaking game around, but sometimes playing it safe is all you need.
You begin your journey down the Animal Crossing rabbit hole as you always do: on your way to your new home. Rover, a curious cat seemingly desperate for someone to talk to, wanders over to you and asks you questions about who you are and about your destination. And then, after the pleasantries with the feline are over, you disembark and enter your town of choice. This time things are different; this time, the citizens of your new home think you are the new mayor.
This is where things get interesting.
Sail the high seas
Cross your animals properly and you’ll gain access to ‘The Island,’ a magical place where you can find rare bugs, fish, and other collectibles that will fill your museum and your bank account. You also get to hear Kapp’n sing, which is itself an experience. – Lucas White
You are forced into your new position, and given a few tasks to complete in order to officially become the new mayor of your town. These tasks include getting a house from Tom Nook and meeting your animal neighbors. After time has passed and your approval rating goes up (which seems to increase simply by you being in town), you will have mayoral powers, giving you a chance to pass ordinances in your town as well as build public work projects.
This is the biggest change from previous Animal Crossing games, as you actually have more control over the customization of your town versus just planting trees and flowers. You can build new bridges, street lamps and even more shops and other buildings that give you access to new stuff. While each public works project costs quite a lot of money to get fully funded, the more you fund, the nicer your town will look and the happier your animal neighbors will be. While this doesn’t fundamentally change the core of the Animal Crossing experience, it is nice to have some more control over your town. Plus: being mayor is undeniably cool.
Politics are hard
Not interested in being mayor? Have someone to share the game with? Let them do all the work while you reap the benefits! Additional players sharing the same town are mere residents, and can play the game without all the extra mayoral duties getting in the way of shark hunting. – Lucas White
The usual Animal Crossing standbys are here, including fishing, bug catching and a host of other fun activities. Any bugs or fish you catch can be sold or donated to the museum, as well as fossils that can be dug up from the ground using your handy shovel. Thanks to Tom Nook’s new job as a real estate agent, you not only can pay him to upgrade your house as usual, but you can also customize your house. You can change the design of your door, mailbox, fence or even the exterior of the house itself. These are small changes, but once again, more customization is always a good thing.
And once you’re in Tom Nook’s debt, you’ll most likely be spending the bulk of your time paying it off. After you get through the basics of being mayor and customizing your house, your time is yours to control. Do you focus on earning money as fast as possible to keep upgrading your house? Do you try to keep building public work projects to keep your town looking nice? The beauty of Animal Crossing is how you handle your time in the world. Me? I like to fish. There’s nothing more relaxing than that.
This time around, the D-pad allows you to cycle through your tools on the fly, keeping you out of the cumbersome menu a little longer. – Lucas White
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Animal Crossing game without the real-time factors. The game’s clock runs based on your 3DS’ clock, so if a neighbor asks you to meet them at a specific time, you need to be there at that real-world time. Animal Crossing is as much a time commitment as it is a casual play experience. You can have your fun playing 10 to 20 minutes a day, but if you’re as hopelessly addicted as I am, you’ll start planning your days around the various events in your town. None of this is new territory, and yet Animal Crossing manages to pull me back in every time.
Also returning in New Leaf is the online multiplayer. While it still feels a bit limited in comparison to other online games (even ones on Nintendo platforms), being able to visit friends’ towns or have them visit yours is always a blast. You can even mark people you visit as best friends, which allows you to send them messages, making it a little easier to meet up with them if you’re only communicating through the game itself.
Things like mayoral duties and museum donations are closed off if you play online, but the game functions just like Animal Crossing would otherwise, except your pals are there to fish with you. Unfortunately, I ran into a number of online issues that kept disconnecting me with friends. Hopefully this is just launch week woes and will be cleared up soon, but it’s a problem when you lose progress while playing with a friend due to a disconnection.
While not much has changed from previous games, this is also true of the game’s interface. Menus still seem rather clunky and limited and non-upgradable inventory space is a hassle at times. Plus, when controls need to be a little more precise, they never are. You don’t know how difficult it is for me to dig in a specific spot when I need to sometimes. Like the best Animal Crossing has to offer, these issues have been with the series from the start, and even with a touch interface, it seems like a lot of the design is ripped directly from the original release back in 2002.
Those problems aside, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a joyous and relaxing game that will keep any fans of the series hooked for quite some time. The new additions aren’t going to fundamentally change the way Animal Crossing is played, but they are interesting enough to keep you coming back for more. And if you’ve never played an Animal Crossing game before, there is no better place to start than with New Leaf. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to see a raccoon about a new mailbox.
Pros: Still as charming and addictive as ever, being mayor and having customization over your town is a cool addition
Cons: Some menu wonkiness, troublesome online issues