Jul 15, 2013

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Animal Crossing: New Leaf Review

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Animal Crossing is one of those Nintendo franchises that was, in some ways, always ahead of its time. Debuting on the Gamecube, its concept seems silly: maintain a town where you are the sole human among a hoard of animals. Running in real-time, and punishing you for trying to manipulate the system, the game focuses on planting flowers, trees, fishing, and decorating your home with furniture. Sounds stupid at best, or maybe like one of those Facebook or freemium iOS games your cousin is always trying to get you to play?

Still, Animal Crossing has always had a certain appeal, and the 3DS iteration, New Leaf, was highly anticipated by many gamers, selling out of its first shipment rapidly. In some ways, the franchise is best served on a portable system, and New Leaf brings a lot of new features to the table that will keep you playing daily for hours at a time.

The premise of New Leaf has you arriving in your town as its new mayor (Tortimer, whom you may remember from previous games, has retired). As mayor, you have unique opportunities to grow your town, including building new structures, growing the shopping district, and more. This immediately gives New Leaf an expansive quality (in both senses of the word) as opposed to some of the earlier games (especially the DS version). You have the opportunity to watch your town grow over time, cultivating new businesses and other public works to beautify it. For example, when you begin the game, main street will have only a few basic businesses, but the more money you spend there, the more you will see them expand and new ones open. Likewise, you’ll get the opportunity to make expansions or open new venues such as adding another floor to the museum, opening a nightclub or cafe, and more. Add to the fact that the game also includes a tropical island that you can visit whenever you want (as long as you have the 1000 bells for the trip) and you’ll find yourself sinking hours and hours every day into ACNL.

Along with these opportunities for growth, the overall formula of the game has been streamlined. While some complain that it’s made “too” easy or casual, the reality is that these changes make the game more fun to play. In previous games, earning bells (the in-game currency) was a tedious and laborious process, and you needed to dutifully check in daily or your town would rapidly become overgrown with weeds and dead flowers. As a result, the game could get boring and old quickly, not to mention be frustrating if you didn’t have the time to play regularly. New Leaf changes that. For one, earning bells is much easier than in previous games.

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As always, you can shake non-fruit trees for bells, but every day you will also find several beehives (which sell for 500 bells each, though be careful about being stung!) and two pieces of furniture. In addition to this, you’ll also find four fossils a day, one pitfall seed, and, if it’s rained in previous days, three gyroids. That alone can be profitable, but your town is also full of bugs and fish, some of which can sell for thousands of bells each, especially rare beetles and sharks. Visiting the island also gives you more opportunities to catch these rare creatures, so a single trip could net you hundreds of thousands of bells. New Leaf also introduces a pawn shop called Re-Tail where you can sell items for a higher price than what the Nooklings will pay, plus you can put up any of your items for sale at the price of your choosing. So long as you don’t get too outrageous, you can easily convince your neighbors to buy your unwanted items, further padding your pocket. Add to the fact that you can enact an ordinance to keep shops open late (or have them open early), and you’ll have even more of an excuse to rack up bells by harvesting creatures in your town.

In addition, loans from Nook are a little less steep than they were in previous games, so you’ll find yourself able to pay him off faster and see your house expand and grow along with your town. However, you may find yourself caught between paying off your house loan and chipping into one of your projects around town. One of the cool things about New Leaf are those public works projects I mentioned earlier. Certain works will be available from the start, while others will only unlock after you’ve met certain requirements or they’ve been suggested by one of your neighbors. These projects each cost a certain amount of money, and while your neighbors will chip in, it’s up to you to contribute the majority of the dough.

In addition to your home and town expansions, there’s also plenty of shopping to be done in New Leaf, and is probably one of my absolute favorite aspects of the game. Tom Nook runs a real estate office on main street where you can buy modifications of your home to customize its look. Pick different pavements, fences, roofs, facades, and even, once you’ve expanded it enough, an entirely new exterior. Want to live in a castle? A modern villa? No problem, as long as you have the bells. This feature means that it’s almost impossible for any one house to look exactly like another, and even your neighbors’ homes will each have their own unique style. And, of course, you have the Nooklings’ shop, which sells furniture, wallpaper, carpets, and more to decorate your house (including the ability to use play coins to buy fortune cookies you redeem for special Nintendo-themed items). Later, a gardening shop will also open in town.

You can also dress up your avatar, which you could always do, but New Leaf has hundreds of options to doll up your character from head to toe. The Able Sisters main-street shop sells clothes (including shirts, skirts, shorts, pants, and dresses), plus accessories such as umbrellas, glasses, hats, and more. You can even create and share your own custom designs, and later, you can unlock the ability to turn your design into a QR code that lets anyone access your design–even if they’ve never visited your town. Eventually, a shoe store will open in your town to sell all manner of socks, tights, and shoes, and later still, a hair salon that will let you customize your avatar’s hairstyle and color.

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About Rebecca Quintana

Currently playing SMT Nocturne and working through my backlog. I've fallen in love with twitter; follow me if you're interested in some good game-, writing-, or book-related conversation: @rrquinta.