PLAYING IN PARADISE
The fourth installment in the franchise, Animal Crossing: New Leaf innovates the series like never before with aspects that hopefully become standard for future Animal Crossing titles.
Animal Crossing’s main charm comes from the slow and methodical, yet incredibly rewarding sense of progression in an adorable package that boasts graphical prowess never seen in the series before. Like other Animal Crossing titles, New Leaf players start the game with a very humble abode (read: tent) and neighbors who are complete strangers, but as time progresses, the house expands and those anthropomorphic animals become friends. The overall experience starts by humbling players, making every discovery and success feel like a milestone, which adds up to a self-created narrative. Events I consider ‘major plot points’, like catching a scorpion or crafting a gold piece of furniture to complete the set, could be moments other players consider menial or even miss entirely, but the game is equally rewarding no matter how the player progresses.
One of New Leaf’s more interesting aspects is Main Street and developing the epicenter of goods and services. In the beginning, the number of closed and abandoned buildings closely equals the number of open, functioning shops, but after time and money investments, Main Street evolves into a bustling strip where players can encounter iconic characters running unique shops and visit with residents who have moved away, all in one place. There is very little more satisfying than a fully operational and populated Main Street made completely from hard work as Mayor.
Speaking of governing, New Leaf introduces a new feature where players become the Mayor of their village. In pre-release trailers, governing appeared to be more of an intrusive hassle then anything else, but thankfully governing can be done at the players discretion. Residents look up to players and will more regularly bring up their issues, offering more variety in the errands they ask for aid with. Furthermore, New Leaf adds two new aspects tied to being Mayor; Public Works Projects and Ordinances. Public Works Projects often come form residents but are placed, if at all, by the Mayor, giving players more reason to interact with residents, but at the end of the day, the choice falls to the player. Projects vary from famous monuments to more urban fixtures like solar panels and wind turbines, or even completely new buildings, like a cafe or police station. New shops on Main Street also come to players through Public Works Project.
The second side of the Mayoral coin, Ordinances, are similar to policies that change how villages flow, from changing store’s operating hours to adjusting prices. The new customization options New Leaf offers to players through being Mayor makes every village feel unique and personal, when visiting other towns, their personal mark is abundantly clear from the moment of arrival. The uniqueness is what keeps New Leaf fresh for years.
Of course, Public Works Projects and Ordinances don’t come cheap, and coupled with a steep mortgage, New Leaf saddles players with a lot of hefty charges. Thankfully, the game offers opportunities to earn big bucks in the form of Tortimer Island, a new, tropical location that not only offers fun minigames for solo fun and multiplayer hijinks, but at night there is an abundant amount of rare beetles and sharks. Players still have to go through the effort of catching them, which could take an hour or two to get a maximum haul. The payoff for a full load, though, makes the hours spent worthwhile. The home upgrades and monuments financed by money earned on island excursions feel incredibly well earned and the overall give and take of beetle farming for village progression makes for a wholesomely rewarding experience that can last for hundreds of hours.
Taking Animal Crossing online has never been better than with New Leaf. Along with the aforementioned island minigames that can be played with friends online and visiting other players’ towns like in previous entries, New Leaf adds a new service called the Dream Suite that allows you to visit villages of your friends and other random players in a frozen dream state, allowing for mayhem to ensue without consequences. Nifty for awhile, but boils down to a novelty after a few dream adventures. New Leaf truly breaks the mold, though, with Streetpass. Streetpass adds model homes that can be browsed and the furniture inside can be ordered quickly, but at a premium price (some exclusions apply). Streetpass especially, but the online connectivity in New Leaf fosters a positive, online community which continually proves to be a fun place to play.
After two years, Animal Crossing: New Leaf still amazes me with new experiences every time I boot it up. Although I’m an avid bug catcher and fisher, some bugs and fish have still eluded me after two years of playing. As the seasons change, so do the different events and activities, making for an ever evolving and exciting game. Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a 3DS must own, my favorite 3DS game, and one of my favorite games of all time.
- A self created narrative starts with a similar thematic base, but ends with uniquely personal experiences
- The balance of big money making coupled with expensive bills makes for a rewarding sense of progress
- Positive online community with a wide range of activties
- Flexing mayoral muscles in the name of customizing your village as you please
Score: 10/10 Masterpiece