Animal Crossing: City Folk

December 5, 2008

It is actually somewhat surprising that it has taken this long for Nintendo’s Animal Crossing franchise to appear on the Wii, given the console’s focus on “non-gamers” and family interaction, but Animal Crossing: City Folk has finally arrived. Additions to the largely-unchanged gameplay aren’t as blatant as they were when the series moved from the GameCube to the DS, but what is perhaps more important is that almost nothing was removed. Just about everything you liked about Animal Crossing: Wild World is still here, minus the obvious touch-based and two-screen innovations, and even more has been added on top of that winning formula, including the return of familiar holidays like Halloween and “Toy Day,” which are now regional-specific. Aside from the additional fish, bugs, and other collectibles, there are four major innovations that will serve as this edition’s hallmarks:

1) “The City”. As the game’s subtitle suggests, there is a city element added to the familiar town experience. The unnamed City gives a permanent home to many of the series’s long-time guest visitors, such as Redd, Katrina, Gracie (her outrageously-expensive store is actually run by the third Able sister, Labelle, with the owner making only occasional appearances), and Dr. Shrunk, as well as Harriet’s Shampoodle hair salon (now no longer attached to Nook’s store), an auction house, a shoeshine b– er… skunk, and an actual physical location for the Happy Room Academy — with AC:WW insurance weasel Lyle as its rep in a career change highly reminiscent of Gil from The Simpsons. You can visit the city any time your town’s gate isn’t open for wi-fi play, but many of the locations close shop at around 9pm; unlike its real-world analogues, this City clearly sleeps, and is actually rather static.

2) Wii Speak. AC:CF is the first Wii title to allow voice chat with friends, via the Wii Speak peripheral (either purchased separately or bundled with the game). The general Wii Speak Channel will go live on December 5th (and you need to have Wii Speak in order to even download it), but voice chatting works just fine in the game. If you and (at least) one of your friends has Mic Chat turned on while visiting each other’s towns, the blue light on the speaker will light up and you can chat away without needing to type, freeing up your hands for catching fish or whatever else you might be doing — even typing, if you like. Since it’s a room mic and not a personal headset it’s not a perfect system by any means; echo and some other artifacts are common, especially since the “outgoing” chat is broadcast through your TV/surround system’s speakers. Still, it is an interesting move on Nintendo’s part, and the continued Friend Code restriction of online play should help to keep anonymous idiots from ruining the experience. Just be aware that it will pick up everyone in and broadcast to the entire room, so little kids still might be exposed to language their parents might not approve of; there’s also a bit of a sensitivity threshold that can result in louder-than-normal “inside voices”. I’m curious to see how the Wii Speak gets integrated into other online-capable games, and in particular if it will be backwards-compatible with Super Smash Brothers Brawl or Mario Kart Wii (which could bring a whole new meaning to my pet name for the Wii Wheel as “the swearing wheel”).

3) “Pro” custom designs. You can now edit your basic patterns for free whenever you wish. Paying some bells to the Able Sisters instead allows you to create “Pro” designs, which include different patterns for the front, back, and sleeves in one slot. You’re still limited to the usual 16-color palette 32×32 pixel grid for each section, but the possibilities for personalization have definitely increased. My wife is currently rocking a custom Harley Quinn outfit that would not have been possible on previous versions.

4) USB Keyboard support. Tapping keys on the DS’s touch pad was the height of efficiency; using the Wii Remote’s pointer is noticeably less precise, and several of the “shortcuts” implemented for the GCN version (like B for Backspace or a shoulder button for Shift) did not survive the transition. While not strictly necessary, the option of being able to use an actual keyboard was long-awaited. Too bad the letter-writing system is still prone to inconvenient line breaks and other outdated quirks…

There are a few minor improvements as well, such as importing a character and (most of) its catalog from AC:WW, widescreen support, being able to send letters to friends in other towns, or posting pictures to your Wii Message Board, but those are the big four. On the surface, nothing much has changed from the 2002 GameCube release, and some people will undoubtedly complain about this. While there indeed is still room for improvement (I would have liked to have seen more interaction between City Folk and Wild World, for example), the rest of us will quickly find ourselves once again caught in the strangely-compelling grip of “virtual yard work” and the Zen-like bliss of a game with no actual goal. Animal Crossing was a title that appealed to all ages and almost every type of gamer, and City Folk continues that tradition on the console that is widening those categories every month.

ESRB: E for comic mischief. Of course, the usual “Online content may change gameplay experience” disclaimer is in full effect here
Pros: More of the same pointless Animal Crossing gameplay if you were into it the first two times, plus the usual array of new additions; Wii Speak works well
Cons: Not quite the MMO-ish game some of us were expecting; more of the same pointless Animal Crossing gameplay if you weren’t into it the first two times
Plays like: Anything else with “Animal Crossing” in the title.

Score: 5/5

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