Published on June 27th, 2013 | by Cliff Bakehorn III, Contributor
Animal Crossing: New Leaf Review
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: June 9, 2013
MSRP: $39.99, $34.99 (via Nintendo eShop)
The Animal Crossing series returns on the Nintendo 3DS with Animal Crossing: New Leaf, bringing all the life-simulating fun of the franchise to a handheld that comes loaded with more online/social connections than any Nintendo console before it.
The result is largely the same Animal Crossing experience, enhanced a great deal by the accessibility of all the social/sharing options in the game.
I’ll be honest, before I actually downloaded my own copy of New Leaf, I wasn’t thrilled about the game or its release. I was particularly annoyed with Nintendo’s highly suggestive attitude toward downloading the game versus buying a hard copy — this almost completely turned me away from picking it up at all. The last time I really played anything from the franchise was Animal Crossing: Wild World, which failed to capture my day-to-day attention in the same way that the original GameCube release did.
I felt like the only issues I ever really had with Animal Crossing was the lack of accessibility when concerning the multiplayer components. But with New Leaf, these problems have been all but eliminated.
In fact, after all the fuss about downloading the game, it ended up being this very decision — going with the digital version versus the retail copy — that made the process of playing daily so much easier. On the other hand, the game definitely still demands a certain level of commitment, and those who aren’t familiar with the Animal Crossing series might find it to be as bizarre of a concept as when it originally launched on the GameCube.
However, those who do end up getting into it might find themselves sucked in pretty quickly, as the game is definitely addictive and highly entertaining.
The gameplay in New Leaf remains largely the same as previous Animal Crossing games, but this time you immediately assume the role of the mayor when you move into town. From the get-go you have a lot of control over the development of your town, and it’s as simple as visiting the town hall and sitting in your mayor chair. You don’t even have to waste a bunch of time doing pesky part-time jobs for Tom Nook — though you’ll still ultimately owe him a load of money for anything you happen to do to your house.
Many of the hobbies and collection mini-games return, such as fishing for different kinds of fish and sea life, digging for fossils, searching for sea shells down by the sea shore, catching bugs and more. You can donate a lot of your loot to the local museum, which players visiting from other towns can observe. You an also sell most of your loot to one of the stores located in town.
Of course there is still a large focus on customizing your house with various objects that can be purchased, found or obtained from residents around town. It’s a lot of fun to collect all the different items, especially the ones based on classic Nintendo games — such as the Virtual Boy console, the Piranha Plant Pipe, the Blue Falcon replica and the swirling fire bar. I even bought a phonograph one afternoon that could play songs obtained from other players.
You can change your clothes, accessories and even pants, socks and shoes, and, as always, you can visit the Able Sisters’ shop to purchase your own custom patterns, which can be easily created on the touch screen. I made a shirt that looks like Gengar’s face, and ended up setting it as the town flag as well.
Moving on, you can customize a lot more than just the objects and arrangement of your house. As you build up more money and take on bigger home development projects, you can also choose new doors, fences, roof textures and more. There is a great deal of personalizing that fans of games like The Sims should immediately enjoy. The idea goes further still, allowing you to fund projects for the town, such as new fountains, bridges, benches and more.
As the mayor, you also have direct control over the town tune, which greets visiting friends and also plays as the hourly alarm tune in the background. The town eventually grows beyond its original size, with villagers moving in and out, special guests making an appearance (such as the dog that plays guitar on weekends and the psychic that visits weekly) and even renovation of the stores and shops in town.
I didn’t actually get a chance to check out all of the features and events within Animal Crossing: New Leaf, especially some of the multiplayer content, but I did explore a friend’s town and scour it for new items that I couldn’t access in my own town. For example, in my friend’s town, there were cherries growing in the trees. I had pears in my town, so cherries were more valuable to sell at the shop. Naturally, I stopped by to check out his house and all the goodies he had collected over the course of his experience.
That was just scratching the surface of what is offered in New Leaf, and, in general, I feel like this is how my current experience with the game has gone. There’s plenty more that I look forward to seeing, such as the tropical island that you can explore, with tropical fruits to collect, deep sea diving and catching salt water creatures … never mind all the daily/weekly/monthly events, many based around holidays and even birthday parties.
Generally speaking, there is definitely something cool about showing off the town that you’ve developed over time, sending messages to friends with ease, all the while sharing images of your experience with the Image Share feature. In fact, I feel like this feature alone makes New Leaf worth checking out for Animal Crossing fans. The feature allows you to immediately upload snapshots of your game to social networking sites like Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter. In fact, thanks to this nifty feature, all of the screenshots in this review were taken from my own personal game.
The game just doesn’t allow you to have the same experience unless your daily schedule permits a lot of playtime during the day. For example, the two major shops in town close pretty early, at least from the get-go, so if you happen to have a work schedule (such as mine) that doesn’t allow you to get around to playing games until later in the evening, it makes it difficult to participate in most of what the game has to offer.
The convenience store eventually expands and stays open for later hours, but it takes a while before that option is allowed. Daily events like the Bug Off competition were all but impossible for me to enjoy. Even the turnip-trading mini-game (the “Stalk Market”) can be difficult to experience, especially when you have to purchase the turnips from Joan the warthog on Sunday, and then try to re-sell them at the store for a profit at some point throughout the week. It can be tough (and potentially result in going bankrupt) if you miss a day with big profits simply because you didn’t have the time to take out of your real life.
Interestingly enough, I feel like this struggle to get back to playing New Leaf is what made my decision to download the digital version feel so much more satisfying. At the very least, the game is always available to boot right from the Home Menu, and playing it day in and day out is that much less of a hassle. Also, the fact that it feels like such an obligation to get back to your town and tend to its needs really speaks volumes about how great of a game New Leaf is, and how well it succeeds in doing exactly what it intends to do: pull you into a digital life simulator, and dig its hooks in deep.
Although Animal Crossing: New Leaf isn’t intended for everyone (particularly nocturnal people and those who feel the urge to shoot at something every few seconds), it definitely has an undeniable charm that seems to pull you in long before its life-sim gameplay sucks you in for the long term. I feel like I could easily spend a few minutes a day playing this one for a very long time.
As far as Nintendo 3DS games go, there haven’t been any with such an impressive ability to connect to other players. With the connection between your town and the towns of your friends being more seamless than ever before, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is truly the definitive installment of the franchise, and one hell of a 3DS game that you should seriously consider checking out.
It’s a casual player’s delight, with the easy-going gameplay involving a lot of collecting, selling items, and decorating everything to your own liking. Whether you’re looking for that relaxing experience or not, New Leaf also serves as the perfect “cool-down” game after a hectic session with an online shooter or tough action game.
Summary: Nintendo's virtual life simulator series returns to the Nintendo 3DS, connecting players and their customized towns more than ever before.