This is a review of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I feel I need to state this explicitly, as the lion’s share of my writing here at GeekDad over the past month has concerned the title. I guess I’m simply trying to convince you (as well as myself) that I’m treading on different ground.
As a participant in Nintendo’s special Mayor Program, I was afforded much earlier access to the title than I would my normal review fare, but, with nearly five weeks of play behind me in this charming life sim’s 3DS debut, I know I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what New Leaf has to offer.
Those already familiar with the series likely know the drill – they can appreciate nods like the game’s opening train ride to an uncertain destination – but even diehard ‘Crossers will likely be pleasantly surprised as the loose narrative unfolds. A case of mistaken identity leads the citizens of your new town, chief among them canine admin assistant Isabelle, to name your player character as mayor. From that point on, the charming world-building of Animal Crossing: New Leaf takes center stage as you literally construct the town in which you want to live and play.
Not only do you have the ability to customize your own wardrobe, transform your humble hovel into an imposing mansion (with the requisite financial shakedown by construction magnate Tom Nook) and plant trees and flowers to beautify your environment, you are similarly free to shape the growth of your town’s residential district, and eventually even its main street retail area, via special ordinances and public works projects.
These can be as simple as a park bench or later store hours or as ambitious and Bell-consuming as an addition to the local museum. As your town takes shape, more animal neighbors move in – there can be nine inhabited houses, in addition to your own – and, as your bond with these anthropomorphic critters grows, they begin making their own requests for beautification projects. Whereas in previous titles you spent much of your time running fetch quests for fellow citizens, this time they seem much more interested in helping you make your town the absolute best it can be. Perhaps an eccentric sheep wants a model of Stonehenge added to the coastline, or maybe the cow next door demands a lighted archway. Yes, there are still requests for exotic fruit and pleas to deliver borrowed goods back to their original owners, but somehow this handheld version of Animal Crossing manages to feel bigger than even its previous home console iterations.
Part of this is due to the functional stratification of your town itself. While the bulk of its land is occupied by pleasant homes and your on-site second-hand shop, Re-Tail, you can literally cross the tracks to donate bugs, fish, artwork and fossils to the museum, purchase brand new furniture from the Nooklings, request home renovations from Tom and check your abode’s score with the Happy Home Academy’s Lyle the otter or buy new threads from the Able Sisters. Shortly your town expands to include amenities such as a garden shop, a new shoe store, the infectious nightlife of Club LOL (featuring DJ K.K. on the ones and twos) and even the Shampoodle salon, where 3000 Bells can garner a new hairstyle or a Mii makeover.
This northland also allows for additional interactivity via the StreetPass-powered Happy Home Showcase, a growing selection of other players homes that you can mine for decorating ideas or even use to buy hard-to-find furniture. Similarly, the Dream Suite both allows gamers to capture “dreams” of their towns, virtual snapshots that can be updated daily to reflect the constant changes taking place, and visit others’ dream states. These dream visits let New Leaf players safely allow strangers in to check out their handiwork without fear of them damaging it, as any changes made by outsiders within dreams has no effect on the true town.
The familiar coastline makes a return in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, but, though you can fish from the shore and collect shells in traditional Animal Crossing style, it also features a throwback to the property’s humble GameCube beginnings. Kapp’n the turtle will, for the reasonable price of 1000 Bells, ferry you to the exotic island home of former mayor Tortimer. Here you can catch valuable fish and bugs, learn to dive for sea life and take part in activities that award players with medals. These work like a secondary currency that can only be exchanged on the island itself for special clothing, furniture and plants.
While visitors can hop a ride with you to the island and participate in these skill-based minigames, you can also cash in your medals to gain membership to Club Tortimer, another version of the island that allows for online multiplayer with gamers from your own region or around the world. For those already familiar with the standard day-to-day AC activities like shaking trees to find spare Bells, looking for magical, money-producing rocks and the ability to throw open the gates and welcome in those on your Friend List, these new additions add even more depth to the persistent world of Animal Crossing.
Whether you’re a series regular or a new convert, New Leaf is a stunning 3DS achievement. The game that offers a little something different, a little something unexpected, every time you play truly comes alive in three dimensions. From the changing sounds of your footfalls as you run from the sandy beach, across the lush grass and onto the thick stones of the train station, to the slow transition of light, wildlife and ambient background music as day turns to night and winter to spring, your town is a living, breathing thing that you just can’t help but appreciate on the hardware.
Sharing pattern designs via QR codes, quick-switching from your shovel to trusty slingshot via the d-pad after effortlessly dodging obstacles with the circle pad and snapping the occasional humorous screen cap by depressing the left and right triggers help make this the most exquisitely designed Animal Crossing yet. Still, more importantly, putting your character truly at the heart of the town’s unique trajectory makes it all the more enjoyable.
I’ve rattled on now for over a thousand words, and I reckon I could write a thousand more; instead, however, I’ll simply suggest that 3DS owners snatch up the game immediately upon its June 9th release. And non-3DS owners? Become 3DS owners.
I’ve long joked with fellow fans that Animal Crossing is not a game, it’s a religion. And to that end I also add that New Leaf isn’t simply the series’ best entry, it’s the 3DS’s most engaging experience.
Review and promotional materials provided by: Nintendo of America