The newest title in Nintendo’s daily village simulation series is here in the form of Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS. The game, while similar to its predecessors introduces a lot of new features to give the series a much needed shot in the arm, even though its’ not quite as strong a dose as it needs to be to completely modernize the franchise. But through and through, New Leaf offers something old and new players alike to enjoy.
The main difference between this and previous entries is that the first player to start a game in a town is the new mayor for your town. This allows you to customize your town with various projects such as where bridges are built, what to build/upgrade, and giving Mr. Resetti his job back. You’re also allowed to change how you play the game, like if your town is up late at night, wealthy or beautiful. It’s a much welcome change of pace, especially to those of us who would like to play Animal Crossing after a long day of work, but can’t do anything because shops are closed and neighbors are asleep. Giving the player control of what to build livens up the pace of the game to make it feel more alive. While it can get frustrating sometimes to wait for new projects to arise, when they do, it’s exciting to have something new to look forward to in the game, and makes you want to earn bells faster to accommodate those new arrivals.
Speaking of bells, you’ll need a lot of them to complete these projects in a timely manner, but the game accommodates this by providing you even more ways to earn bells. The famous money rock now produces an extra bag for you to earn, a second shop allows you to sell various items to your neighbors more easily, you can earn 5,000 bells a day by updating your town through the dream suite, and last but not least, is the return of the island, which can earn you upwards of 100,000 bells per visit. Keep in mind that you will have to unlock this privilege however. In addition to spending bells on projects for your town, in tradition you can upgrade your house beyond what is necessary. You can build up to a total of six rooms and expand each room three times. This will be very time consuming since you can only do a single house upgrade per day and the maximum upgrades will cost nearly 600,000 bells a piece. Another new feature here is being able to upgrade the outside of your house, including your fence, mailbox, door, roof, siding, etc. These also count as house upgrades so they do get in the way of your standard upgrades on a day to day basis, but cost significantly less to do.
Another significant change here is special visitors, whereas in games prior you could have up to two special visitors per day, one in the morning and one in the evening. This has changed to a meager one per day, but in addition to that, they no longer appear in a set order with the exception of Joan, who still appears only on Sunday mornings. This gives players more time to talk to a special visitor, but it does slow the game down a bit, which is a theme for this game. A problem that arises from this is that while a visitor may only appear once per week as always, they are less likely to appear since only one of them can appear per day. In order to remedy most of these situations is the ability to visit other players’ towns, either locally or via the internet. This can help you get a fortune read from Katrina or a piece of artwork from Redd’s Gallery, or help you sell turnips at Re-Tail, a new shop, for ridiculous profit. While you don’t have an in-game friend code like previous iterations, you can register a few best friends via your in-game menu to see when they come online, which helps you coordinate playing with friends.
You can also play with random players online on the Island, which features several island tours for you to play. They take no more than 10 minutes each, in which you earn medals, which you can trade in for various goods at the island shop. This is a good way to play with people on the island so your personal island isn’t messed with by people you don’t know. Unfortunately, that’s where the changes to online end. The process is still painstakingly slow, taking up to a minute to enter and leave a town once it tells you that you’re connected. It’s frustrating that Nintendo can’t speed up this process after three iterations having online connectivity.
There is a more passive way to visit peoples’ towns this time in the form of the Dream Suite, an unlockable shop that allows players to enter the dream versions of towns. Unfortunately you can’t bring back any items with you, nor does anything you do affect the town you visit. It’s ultimately a nice way to get ideas about your own town and potentially get new designs, if the town owner allows it. By uploading your own town, you get bells daily as well. Along your every day chores is your inventory system, which, while being slightly revamped, is still the weakest part of the game and the most damaging. While you can now stack fruit, it doesn’t do so automatically. This goes the same for money, which isn’t automatically put into your Bells pocket. In addition to this, the game has more equipment items in the form of a megaphone, which allows you to call out for villagers walking around, and a wetsuit, which allows you to swim in the ocean and dive for sea creatures. While these are nice features, they complicate the problem with item management. Each piece of equipment takes up an inventory slot, and you will constantly have to juggle your inventory to make space for the items you want or need to carry. It’s tedious and honestly shocking that this hasn’t been remedied in some way over the course of the series’ history.
Animal Crossing New Leaf feels like the first true sequel in the series’ history. While previous entries have added new elements, they never really felt engaging enough to say ‘this is brand new’ to anyone. It’s definitely a lot more enjoyable than previous games, and at the time of this review being written, there’s still a handful of things I haven’t gotten to try out, including the game’s Street Pass functionality, as well a couple of the game’s stores, which will surely add more time to any players’ 3DS. While it may not be the end all be all the series needed, it’s definitely a much needed shot in the arm to get people excited about it again.
+ Lots of new things to do this time around
+ There are a lot more ways to earn money
+ A lot of nice, notable little touches that give this a bit of extra charm
- Inventory Management is an even bigger problem this time around
- Getting Project Recommendations is random and a chore
- Visiting/Inviting people is still a tedious process