Fancy some experience in politics without getting into the backstabbing, juvenile thick of it? Then the latest Animal Crossing title, New Leaf, could be just what you’re looking for. The game marks the series’ first foray on the current generation of consoles and while it’s been a long time since City Folk (aka Let’s Go to the City), New Leaf is well worth the wait and an excellent addition to any 3DS owner’s library.
The key difference in New Leaf is that this time around, you’re no longer a mere villager – you’re the mayor! However, there’s no puffing of cigars or taking bribes from mobsters; in Nintendo’s typical family-friendly style, your powers are to be used for good. Backed by your secretary, a dog named Isabelle, your mayoral duties include constructing public works and enacting ordinances to shape the town as you see fit. Public works range from aesthetic additions such as signs and fountains, to utilities such as trash cans and bridges, to buildings such as a police station, museum shop or cafe. Ordinances, on the other hand, affect how the town operates. For example, the Beautiful Town ordinance will decrease the number of weeds that will appear in your village and will cause your villagers to plant or water flowers more often. While there’s only so much you do with the limited amount of town space you have and the small number of ordinances, adding public works and enacting ordinances give a definite sense that your town is growing according to your wishes. Compared to the previous games in the series, it leads to much more customisation and as a result, more longevity.
The town will also evolve in other ways, with shops on your town’s Main Street expanding and merging with other businesses as you frequent and make purchases. There’s much more to spend your hard-earned bells on this time, from fashion accessories such as shoes and pants, to gardening tools and seedlings. Weekly guests are also back with their offerings in tow, including the infamous forger Crazy Redd, whose inventory now includes sculptures as well. Art from Redd can also be donated to the local museum, along with the standard fossils, bugs and fish, opening up a new collection category for hardcore completists. But of course, if you’re sick of your town, you can always make an escape.
First of all, there is the ability to hop on a train and visit a friend’s town whether via local wireless or the internet. Secondly, there is the Dream Suite (which is unlocked once you build the relevant public work), which allows you to visit ‘emulated’ versions of other people’s towns, which you can then vandali- ahem, change to your heart’s content. Finally, there is Tortimer Island, a tiny tropical paradise, which is accessible by boat. Here you can catch many rare bugs, fish and sea creatures as well as play a number of minigames, run by Tortimer himself, for medals. The minigames are based around fossil digging and fish and insect catching and the spoils can be used to purchase items found exclusively on the island. The idea of minigames is a nice touch, and as up to four players can visit the island together, it also brings a more competitive edge to multiplayer interaction. What the island has to offer does feel quite limited after a while, though.
Indeed, such is the danger of New Leaf; just like its predecessors, there is always the danger of getting too absorbed in your first few days with the game and then burning out too quickly. Luckily, if there’s one thing that is guaranteed to keep you coming back, it’s the villagers. You can have up to ten villagers of different animal species in your town, which the game randomly chooses for you. Just like in real life, the villagers have different personality types, making conversation with them varied. It is possible to befriend them by running errands, sending them letters and giving them gifts. The villagers are truly what make Animal Crossing a delight to play and it’s very difficult not to get emotionally attached to them (or harbour intense feelings of dislike for others). But no matter how close you get, ignoring the game for too long results in the characters moving out of town. And trust me, there is something genuinely upsetting about seeing a letter from your favourite villager telling you that they’ve moved out.
Animal Crossing as a whole gives something to players that very few titles have succeeded at pulling off: a home away from home. But by allowing players to take a more authoritative role on, New Leaf greatly expands on this appeal, giving more options to shape a town that in turn truly becomes theirs. The move back to a handheld console is welcome too, with quick sessions easily accessible and portable to boot. All these make New Leaf the definitive Animal Crossingexperience and not one to be missed – after all, who knows how long it will be before the next game is out?
Customisation potential | A true home away from home
You could burn out quickly | Some very annoying neighbours