-The new graphics finally bring Animal Crossing into the modern day.
-Being the mayor injects a much needed feeling of freshness into the Animal Crossing formula.
-Multiplayer features are vastly improved, resulting in one of Nintendo's strongest online experiences yet.
-Customization, customization, customization. Nearly everything in the game can be changed to suit your needs.
-The tropical island's diversions are an excellent way to break the monotony of Animal Crossing's every day tasks.
-The Dream Suite finally allows you to visit other people's towns without needing their presence.
-Two new villager types, Smug and Uchi, help add even more variety to the expanded list of animal villagers.
-Villagers are slightly more dynamic now, and can interact with the town the same way the player does by shaking trees, fishing and visiting shops.
-The soundtrack is fantastic.
-For better or for worse, this is still pretty much the same Animal Crossing that we're accustomed to.
-Villager interaction is still extremely simplistic, to say the least.
Out of all of Nintendo's franchises, Animal Crossing has always been one of their most ambitious. Underneath the simple Nintendo 64 graphics of the original laid an astonishingly deep and complex game; one that aimed to suck you in not for just hundreds of hours, but forever. The game shouted its mantra of complete freedom-- you, the player, were completely free to do with your rural town as you pleased. If you wanted to cultivate it, you could make the greatest town around, or you could let it fall into ruin and let it get covered with weeds. Yet, it was still an oddly rigid and structured experience. There were rules you had to live by, and you could even say there was a right and a wrong way to play the game. But still, the potential shone through brilliantly, and it was fulfilled with its DS successor, Wild World.
Wild World was pretty much the same game downsized for everybody's favorite portable system. However, it did a brilliant job of reasserting the original's claim: this is your town, you can make it into whatever you want. You could lay patterns on the ground to create roads, and you could now customize your character with hats and accessories. It became a much more personal experience, made even more compelling by being one of Nintendo's first online offerings. Despite its numerous limitations, and the unwieldy Friend Code system, it was still a blast to play Wild World online.
The series then went straight into a ditch with the third title, City Folk. The series' Wii offering reprised some of the content that was unfortunately cut from Wild World, but it was so shockingly similar to its predecessor that it led to accusations of it being a mere port, and if you have played this game, you know these are not unfounded claims. Now on the Wii, the identical graphics were officially two whole console generations behind, the online multiplayer featured no improvements and it even featured much of the same music as Wild World. The titular addition to the game, the city, was such a spectacularly bland addition that it was shocking that they thought to base the whole game around it-- all it did was take the previous games' special visitors and consolidate them into one always accesible zone. At the time, it seemed like Nintendo had run out of ideas for the series, but little did we know, they would bounce back and give us something greater than ever before.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a life sim game where you do things you would do in real life, such as pay your mortgage, make money and furnish your house. On paper, that sounds ridiculously stupid, but Animal Crossing suckers you in with its insanely charming style and before you know it, your first thought of the day every morning when you wake up is "I better check my Animal Crossing town!" Furthermore, New Leaf is not a "game" you "play," it is an experience-- it is somewhere you go to hang out and relax. Such a concept is regrettably rare, and New Leaf does it brilliantly.
Returning fans will find New Leaf very familiar to the previous games. When you start it up, you are in a train, and in a conversation with Rover the Cat, you get to decide your appearance and name. Once you get off the train, however, you are met with something a little different. Your eager villagers mistake you for their new mayor, who is replacing the retiring Tortimer. Unable to convince them otherwise, you reluctantly take the position, and your new life begins with an unexpected set of responsibilities.
Being the mayor brings a completely new dimension to Animal Crossing. In the past games, you had the ability to nourish your town until it became the best it could be. However, because you were but a mere villager, this element fell to the backburner, and your own personal gain--things like expanding your house and getting rare clothes and furniture--became the clear, obvious goal of the game. Being the mayor not only gives you more incentive to take care of your town--it gives you a host of new options to help you fulfil this goal too. You can now build "Public Works Projects" with the goal of changing your town from a small rural boondock into a proper, bustling metropolis. Your options are pleasantly vast; projects range from benches and street lamps to bigger projects, such as a coffee shop and a police station. Additionally, you can also enact "Ordinances," of which there are four. These allow you to better adjust your town to your own personal play style, from making the shops open earlier or later, to making your villagers water plants for you. You can only have one Ordinance at a time, but it is a fantastic feature that makes the game much more accessible.
While being the mayor has vastly expanded your options when it comes to customizing your town, they have also given an overhaul to the amount of character customization that you can do. While it is initially limited to the small selection of faces at the beginning of the game, as you progress, you'll find that you can now change almost all articles of clothing, down to your socks. However, for a game that lets you change something as simple as your socks, it's silly that they still make you jump through an hours-long hoop in order to change your skin color. You'd think a game centered around customizing things to your liking would give you an easier way to do that? It's a minor detail, but when you're changing every aspect of your character to be more like yourself, it's weird not to be able to change one of the biggest things about your appearance (Having to sit in the beach for 5 hours is a surprising hurdle to playing the game). Hey, you can change your eye color!
If the game's clothes don't suit your fancy, I'm glad to say the vastly improved options when it comes to the Able Sisters' tailor shop are a blast. You can now change the front, back and sleeves of a shirt to your liking, and even adjust the length of the sleeves on your user-created shirt. Additionally, you can make hats and umbrellas, but sadly you can't make pants. Sharing your custom clothes is quick and painless with the addition of the QR reader, which makes sharing your patterns extremely easy. It doesn't stop there, however. In the new Re-Tail shop, you can even customize furniture. This ranges from a simple change of colors to applying user-created patterns to your furniture. Patterns can even be used in Public Works Projects, and you can make custom signs and face cut-out boards. Also new to the series is the ability to customize the appearance of your house. You can change almost every detail about it, including the roof, fence, mailbox and door. As always, you can make your home bigger by paying your debt to Tom Nook, who has now gone full-time into the real estate business, leaving his old shop to his nephews, Timmy and Tommy.
As for the animals that inhabit your town, New Leaf now features over 200 potential neighbors, and the two new personality types, Smug and Uchi, add more variety to that pot. As in the past games, you can trade with your villagers, visit their homes and play games with them. They also have more power to interact with your town now-- they can shake trees, visit shops, plant and water flowers, et cetera. But this leads me to one of the game's weakest aspects. For a game that is so deep when it comes to content, your interactions with your villagers are still surprisingly shallow. Your "relationships" are still limited to doing them favors and sitting through their rambling thoughts. You can't build any real friendships in this game-- the animals are really only walking bags of text whose only purpose is to be a mere accessory to your town. Villagers should remember every nice and mean thing you've done to them. They should be able to make friends and rivals based on their interactions with each other and require more effort to gain your way into their little fake hearts. Sadly, as you'll find when you're re-reading much of the same dialogue for the upteenth time, any sort of relationship building aspect the game may have is but a mere illusion.
But the game makes up for much potential disappointments in the form of online multiplayer. Having players visit your town is now much less restrictive, although you still have the understandable four-player-at-a-time restriction. With other people, you can now do almost as much as you would be able to do by yourself, be it shopping, fishing, visiting the local dance club or going to the tropical island, which I will get to in a second. Not having game-specific friend codes works wonders for the game, and it makes it much easier to play with your friends. You can now also designate someone as a "Best Friend," which allows you to chat with them no matter where you are in the game. One big dream that I've personally had since the first Animal Crossing (pun intended) is finally fulfilled by the Dream Suite. This new facility allows you to visit other people's towns while they aren't there--sort of. Actually, you're visiting a "dream" of the other player's town, which thankfully stops people from doing mischievous things like cutting down all their trees, but still allows you to pick up their custom patterns.
The last, and certainly not least, is the crown jewel of the game's online options: the tropical island. Online, the island finally fulfils a role that was sorely missing from City Folk: a hub for random players to meet. You can meet strangers from around the world and catch bugs and fish with them, or play mini games as well. Of course, if you don't want to experience the island with random strangers, you can bring your friends along, and you can even visit it by yourself.
To sum up, I have to get something out of the way: this is not an entirely new experience. You will still be doing much of the same tasks that you did in past Animal Crossing games. If you're looking for a completely game-changing twist to the formula, you won't find it here. However, New Leaf adds a plethora of new content, which is more than enough to keep both returning fans and newcomers satisfied.
--GRAPHICS AND SOUND--
Graphics have always been Animal Crossing's weakest aspect. The series' first appearance in the west was an enhanced port of the series' original entry in Japan, which came out on the Nintendo 64. Because of that, it was a graphically unappealing game--I'd go the full step and say it was downright ugly. It had charm bursting out of the seams, and that was enough to propel you through the first two titles in the series, but with City Folk, it was becoming more of a problem and a huge damper on the experience. New Leaf finally brings the series' visuals up to par with current hardware. The visuals won't win any awards--they aren't as stunning as titles like Super Mario 3D Land or Resident Evil: Revelations--but they are pretty and vibrant. The models are all now nice and rounded, and the textures have this beautiful pastel look that makes it pleasantly stylish. The new lighting effects make the environments pop, and all the fishes and bugs look fantastic. Heck, even the water effects are visually pleasing, and make some Wii games look like utter crap.
The 3D effect works spectacularly well with the rolling pin-style world and camera angle. They are nice and subtle, but do offer a particular advantage: being able to measure distance accurately makes it easier and more enjoyable to hunt for bugs and fish. I am still in love with the system's 3D effect, and in a game like Animal Crossing, it makes the experience all that more engrossing.
The music is, thankfully, all new. The songs range from playful, to ambient, to downright awe-inspiring and beautiful. There's this feeling of anticipation in the music, like you're waiting for something to happen (Listen to the 7PM Theme to see what I mean). The evening tunes in particular are really, really good. Your local singer-dogwriter KK Slider is back, and he'll be playing some old favorites, as well as some dance remixes of his songs as DJ KK in the local club. The soundtrack is as fantastic as ever, and a huge highlight of the game.
New Leaf is easily the best Animal Crossing game yet. It is packed to the brim with enough content to keep you entertained for years. There is so much stuff that there are tons of features I didn't even get to mention in this review! Yet this is still a familiar experience. This is still very much the same Animal Crossing, for better or for worse. However, returning fans will find plenty of new things to keep them entertained in this new instalment. You can enjoy the unprecedented amount of customization and the wealth of online options, which are exemplar, even for Nintendo.
I asked myself a lot, "When is it right to write about my opinion of Animal Crossing: New Leaf?" The game potentially offers endless playtime, and I can't "beat" it. 150 hours into this game, I couldn't hold it in anymore, I had to write about how great it is. Of course, it isn't perfect--there is ample room for improvement. I could rave on about things like the fact that you can swim now, or about the wonderfully improved flower breeding system, but most of the joy that I personally get from New Leaf is in experiencing it, and not worrying about the little things. This isn't a game. This is an escape from the troubles of your daily life; a place where you can feel at rest even if you're "working." New Leaf is something you have to be completely immersed in to be able to fully enjoy it. Don't play Animal Crossing: New Leaf--live it.