Saturday, January 3, 2009
Being a 24 year-old male gamer, this game probably shouldn't appeal to me. It's incredibly cutesy, features no boss fights, objectives, weapons, epic cinematics, or final objective. Torn down to its absolute basics, this is a game about shaking trees and selling fruit so you can pay off your mortgage to a raccoon. It's not even much different than its previous incarnations on the DS and Gamecube, but for some reason I just can't get enough of this series.
Let me describe my average day in Animal Crossing for those that aren't familiar with the game. I boot up my Wii, load my town, and immediately check my mail. I get letters from my mom, who oftentimes sends me bells (Animal Crossing's currency). Occasionally the homes association will send me a letter letting me know how stylish my house is, and animals from my town will thank me if I've sent them furniture or clothing. After reading and responding to my mail, I immediately run around town looking for trees with non-native fruits. My town grows cherry trees, but the fruits brought in from other towns will net me 500 bells instead of the standard 100. As I'm running around, I'll stop to check for dig spots which may contain fossils that I can donate to the museum. Talking to my neighbors, I'll check to see if they want me to deliver any carpeting or other decorations to their friends. I also make sure to hit every rock with a shovel in hopes of finding the day's "magic rock" which spits out money.
Reading back over that last paragraph, I realize that this sounds like the least appealing gaming experience imaginable. Gamers hate fetch quests, and they hate mindlessly trying to raise the amount of virtual money in their pockets. However, there's something intangible about Animal Crossing that makes it inexplicably charming and addictive. There really is no objective to the game outside of earning money to pay off your loan to Tom Nook (the town shop owner/mortgage broker/raccoon). As your house gets bigger, you can add more furniture and various gadgets to your house. None of these gadgets are very interactive outside of pressing A to hit your speed bag, play a basic guitar riff, or activate your NES Mario star that sits on your floor.
Part of the appeal is the sheer variety of items you can decorate your house with. My Mario vs. Luigi arcade machine is not interactive in the slightest, but it's still a neat, unique addition to my living room. The rest is an odd variety - a piano, bathtub, "robo-dresser", Starfox Arwing, and cowhide rug. As I continue to play and earn money, I'll build up an arsenal of goofy and pointless items to fill my house with. In this respect, it's a lot like my actual life.
Those familiar with the series will feel right at home, which I'd have to imagine is kind of the point. There is nothing that will tremendously shake up what you know of Animal Crossing, but there is the occasional addition. The most noteworthy is the titular city. Near your city's gate will be a bus stop which you can use to start your trip. Once in the city, you'll encounter a variety of stores to explore. You can get a haircut or apply a Mii mask at Shampoodle, learn some new emotions at the marquee, browse high-end furniture, and attempt to get into Redd's secret club. It's not a revolutionary upgrade, but it works as a basic change of scenery.
Like the previous Animal Crossing titles, this one is built around the system's internal clock. Play the game at three in the morning, and it's three in the morning in the game. Play it in winter and it'll snow, play it in the spring and you'll have a larger variety of bugs to catch, play it on New Years Eve and watch the countdown clock. There's a huge variety of time and date-specific activities, and this ensures massive amounts of replay value. Go a couple of months without playing and you'll be greeted with a town full of weeds and neglected neighbors the next time you visit.
While the Wii is still sorely lacking in online features and ease of use, Animal Crossing can be a lot of fun when playing with friends online. Unfortunately, this means you'll have to exchange your name, town name, and friend code (which is different than the Wii friend code) for everyone that lives in your and your friend's towns. I really wish it could just connect you with people you're already Wii friends with instead of requiring all of this additional information, but Nintendo seems hellbent against online convenience.
Thankfully, it's a one-time input, as it's as simple as opening your town gates after that. Once they're open, your friends can come in and exchange gifts, talk with your neighbors, fish, and play hide-and-seek all they want. With the WiiSpeak peripheral, you can bypass the annoying "point and type" interface and simply talk from your couch, headset-free. With a little creativity, you can make visiting friend's towns more than simple fruit collection. I'm currently attempting to woo my friend's two penguins into leaving his town for mine. He's retaliated by sending threatening letters as well as sending the penguins "loyalty money" to stay. It's ridiculous, sure, but Animal Crossing isn't the game for you if you're looking for anything even close to serious.
Animal Crossing: City Folk is the definition of a "love it or hate it" game. Those who love it will play it for months on end, upgrading their houses, greeting new neighbors, and building their museum collections. At the same time, there's sure to be a large amount of gamers who take one look and just don't understand the appeal. Regardless of which camp you belong to, there's no denying that Animal Crossing is a completely unique title, and it's good to see a huge publisher like Nintendo take the risk of bringing something this different to the States. It doesn't follow a single standard video game convention, but it makes the game all the more enjoyable.
First Play: 7.5
Replay Value: 10.0