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Animal Crossing: New Leaf - 3DS Review

Game Info
Animal Crossing: New Leaf

3DS | Nintendo | 1-4 Players (local multiplayer/online co-operative play) | Out Now | Play Coin / StreetPass / SpotPass Support
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5th July 2013; By KnucklesSonic8

After an excruciating day, the last thing you'd use to relax is something mentally draining. As a go-to escape, you would, in all likelihood, instead gravitate to something mindless or otherwise less involving, purely as a distraction. This is one reason why a series like Animal Crossing may be dismissed, for being just on the verge of demanding too much commitment. Another is that its vibe may be perceived as childish, seemingly alienating more mature crowds in its animal-driven society. But if you seek a measure of ease from real-life experiences or just a shift from labour-intensive exercises, Animal Crossing isn't something to scoff it. No, it should be readily embraced.

    Wrapped in a state of perpetual bliss, the series has rather brilliantly sectioned-off a corner for itself, one that happens to hold out rich dividends in the field of mood-settling experiences. It's unmistakable when you think about the effect it has in immersing individuals in a world where ties can be forged on their own terms; a world where aimlessness isn't actively discouraged, and new activities and events are always on the horizon by means of an in-game calendar system. Each iteration has contributed to a consistent standard, ensuring that the relaxing atmosphere is kept in full force. Now with Animal Crossing: New Leaf, we see this simulation formula taking a more managerial spin, in some ways reshaping the endearing habitat, while not so dramatic that it crushes the game's level ground. 

    In principal terms, how New Leaf expands its task list is through mayoral duties. With players assuming a role of, shall we say, presidency over simple residency, an entire pool of resources become available that weren't previously, and by the game handing control over in this bid for town development, this quickly proves to conquer weaknesses that have spilled over with each entry. Ordinances, for one, shape the life of your town, whether that be having a well-to-do or well-kept environment. Those whose personal schedules dictate when they play will jump at the chance to enact the Night Owl ordinance, which eliminates the long-felt feeling of deprivation over stores and other key elements being offered at their peak during the day. Work projects, the second main privilege, involve players in an exciting process of not just witnessing but really instigating their town's growth. In line with the community-centered direction, donations must be gathered from, if not your own pockets, then those of visitors. It's a shame this isn't taken one step further in getting town citizens to commit to these building projects, through rallying or some such initiative.

    Much of the selection is ruled by requests made by town residents, but because these are submitted with no consistent pattern, it's frustrating to realize you're not in full control. I was so thrilled to learn that a Police Station with a purpose similar to the one in the original Animal Crossing could be unlocked, as I was when I heard that art installations and even a jungle gym could be added to your list. But here I am, stuck in a town where the most adrenalin my comrades can muster up is over a yield sign. I can understand this might've been done to encourage long-term commitment, but it's still troubling, with limitations over location and position only amplifying the issue.

    Normally you'd discover familiar landmarks around town, but to give you the most freedom over how you use your available space, New Leaf borrows from Animal Crossing: City Folk's ideas and has all major institutions and vendors housed in one central location. It is here on Main Street that you'll discover Nookling Junction, your one-stop depot for all your shopping needs; Nook's Homes, your destination for furnishings and home renovations; the Able Sisters, wherein tailors Mable and Sable are now joined by their trendy sister Labelle, who managed the ritzy GracieGrace in the last game; as well as the cultural Museum, still manned by the ever-competent Blathers. Some brand-new attractions include a photo booth for updating your assigned Town Pass Card, a small hut for footwear to accommodate the game's wardrobe expansion, a lively hangout spot known as Club 101 where K.K Slider is known to frequent, and the rather unusual Dream Suite. A considerable number of these must be unlocked or are renovated over time, but that's part of the joy of seeing this gradual expansion.

The one landmark that excludes itself from the rest is Re-Tail, and because it'll be your most returned-to location, it's appropriate that it's the only one that makes its way into your town alongside Town Hall. It is as if City Folk's Auction House elements have been consolidated and redefined, with Re-Tail allowing you to host up to eight slots for custom sales. Best thing is, citizens will partake in these on a regular basis. The shop also takes over the purpose of the recycling bin once kept in the Post Office for disposing boots and other useless junk, and allows you to refurbish used goods, tweaking furniture colours and other features with some very neat results.

    Although you take command of the town's organizational affairs, it doesn't relinquish you of the need to engage in the same money-making process established since series inception. Animal Crossing: New Leaf continues the hobbyist dream in having you scour town for buried treasure, collect both natural and foreign fruit imported from other towns, shake trees for hidden furniture and single-pack Bells, and go on hunts for bugs, fish and other large creatures. New Leaf adds to these staples by improve their scope, offering new types of fruit, as well as new specimens. But it also does so through new provisions -- those being wet suits, which allow you to dive into the sea in search of underwater life and treasures, and furniture-enhancing Ore obtained though the same means as the returning Golden Rock.

ou do feel limited in what can be accomplished at the start, not only because of the central role Bells (game currency) play in town development as well as your personal finances, but even when it comes to things like having tools necessary to perform some of these tasks. As well, because these methods are so core, the game is inherently repetitive to some degree. Yet, these do not numb or overly subdue the excitement that is to be had as surprises come your way -- like, say, lethal scorpions and tarantulas. And because of how well-organized the inventory is, the controls and really your entire way of going about things is highly intuitive and second nature.

    Closely related to this are the finer touches that have gone into the process, often done in the interest of a more streamlined, less laborious experience. A few examples include lockers strategically positioned to offer quick access to storage when out and about; the ability to assess multiple fossils simultaneously rather than having to go one by one as you've had to do in the past; bunching same types of fruit together as fruit stacks; and flowers now sparkling once they've been watered. A big chunk has been taken out of how much time is spent performing menial yet essential tasks, and in so doing, you can get to the game's other key component a lot faster -- that of forming relationships.

While New Leaf shifts your attention over interaction to the works projects and how they are used by the citizens (when applicable), communication once again remains the area where some of your fondest memories will spring from. Around eight animals are chosen from a long list to reside in your town by default, but who you find yourself bunking next to may well change by the following month if they decide to move out. Each character abides by a set personality -- some grumpy and standoffish, others carefree, while a whole other group displays a more egotistical attitude. Getting to know them better, you do come to learn about their aspirations, hobbies and background, and normally this wouldn't mean much if it didn't play into how they speak and behave, how they sign their letters, and how they are ultimately remembered. Newcomers shouldn't expect a complex relationship tree, but these are casual friendships with budding signs of growth.

    Some conversation topics may be familiar to longtime Animal Crossing fans, which is part of the beauty of having a system that generates villagers from a varied roster. The same can be said when you're expressly asked to make or entertain a house call, whether spur of the moment or at an appointed time. But New Leaf's greatest strengths in this area are still seen in the ability to clarify requests, the variety in said requests (delivering a forgotten article, fetching a creature as reference for a shirt design), the added presence of citizen-orchestrated events (e.g., Power Hide-and-Seek), and a less predictable loop of set phrases and expressions.

    More active intelligence is something I really longed for over the extended period that I played City Folk, and I'm really pleased New Leaf has made some positive strides in this area. On one occasion, I was not only caught in the act of snooping through someone's belongings, but also rewarded for it with an item the resident, unbeknownst to me, wanted to get rid of. Elsewhere, I continuously hounded someone I was growing tired of, and before long, they needed to be left to their thoughts. The following day, they delivered fresh lines. Because the game is a long-term commitment, you really savour moments when conversations take a different direction, when house guests clap as you toy with trinkets, when citizens ask for feedback on their homes, and when you can help justify an "impulse buy" at Re-Tail after a sudden jolt of interest.

    At times, residents chime in with their own stories and suggestions in response to a lack of town events, and some of them are actually quite tempting! Merry, one of the residents in my town, offered to go "secret agent" on a neighbour and spy on them. I wanted so much to take her up on that! It's too bad some of the jokes, suggestions and hypothetical stunts can't actually be executed, as they'd surely liven up the atmosphere in the absence of cultural celebrations and the like. But I suppose having custom events is secondary to the advancement of work projects.

In the way of online capabilities, New Leaf allows players to meet up with other mayors in their immediate vicinity or those on their Friend List by opening their gates, and in that provision, Nintendo has sought to establish a more complete link between towns, carrying money over, having a portable locker tied to your possessions back at home, as well as a best buddy system that allows text-based communication to continue between individuals while in their respective towns.

    StreetPass functionality makes it so that Re-Tail specials, a daily feature whereby more Bells are awarded on specified items, increase in quantity. You can also take advantage of the Happy Home Showcase, showing off your home or viewing the decorating ideas of other players, with the added provision of purchasing items you may not yet have at a higher cost. Between all this and the use of Play Coins to win Nintendo prizes, New Leaf's use of the handheld's built-in features isn't at all forced and often helps drive home the community aspect that much more.

Next to the increased focus in town development, New Leaf's greatest accomplishment is its diversionary fun in the way of Island Tours, accessible by a trip to Tortimer Island. You can either go it alone or have up to three other players join you in games associated with the normal cycle of tasks but in a more competitive frame, such as catching enough fish to meet a set Bell condition. And once you unlock the application for Club Tortimer, worldwide participation becomes an option. Admittedly, I'm not sure how I feel about the back area of the island exposing players to a get-rich-quick scheme, as the relatively easy money takes away from the satisfaction of watching your town expand, working "long hours" for that desired, luxurious abode.

    In all respects, New Leaf's presentation certainly does much to project a welcome, homely atmosphere. Looking closely at the faces of the folks you interact with, animals often have a smooth, clay-like texture, while the creatures you catch often glisten and have a glossy appearance when held up during daylight. 3D may not assist much in perspective aside from giving objects a smidge more top-side dimension, but it does aid in the brightness effect maintained through the look of the game world at large, also proving helpful at night when sharper visuals dominate. Really where the game does its best work, though, is in the soundtrack.

    Seamlessly setting the background with a serene coating, the music is weaved into the experience in such a way that it never disrupts, comforting you during lulls and having a broader softening effect in causing players to feel mellow and at peace. There's no shortage of range or animation, or limit to how the compositions explore this idea of a trouble-free paradise, yet it's all incredibly cohesive, with well-placed sound effects cementing an outdoorsy setting. Tracks are soft, with high-pitch piano keys creating calming effects; a few could serve as their own shop or mischievous character themes; while others perfectly capture the idea of a neighbourhood stroll. It's insane how fresh the cheery, whistle-filled, piano-heavy soundtrack is. Understandably, some of the more jumpy themes aren't as good as those from past games, but on the overall level, Animal Crossing: New Leaf's soundtrack is stunning when you really take the time to absorb all its parts, and it proves to be a key means by which the game mesmerizes those who engage with it.
    You may be inclined to cite the many hours that players will surely devote as being the biggest proof of how exceptional New Leaf is, but the enduring effect of its delivery lies not in its extended time commitment. It's not a game where sheer bustle infuses you with an energetic disposition, nor is it din that keeps the world turning. More aptly, the game world behaves like a gently-moving carousel, operating on warmth and offering delightful treats in measured helpings. It's a shame to see Nintendo come so close to perfecting their self-sustaining formula, but the improvements definitely make this the best entry yet, from superb audio design to motivating gameplay prospects and more fulfilling interaction. Not even its minor issues undermine its greatest asset -- that of being a one-of-a-kind creation that stands apart in its serenity.

28/30 - Excellent

Gameplay 9/10 - Worthwhile additions and tweaks on returning elements, better interaction, mayor role a positive spin, imperfect project execution
Presentation 9/10 - Welcoming atmosphere, strong model textures, crisp visuals furthered by 3D, fantastic soundtrack that both uplifts and relaxes
Enjoyment 5/5 - Offers something for all, loads of fine touches that make a big difference, cycle doesn't stop you from getting hooked
Extra Content 5/5 - Translates community vibe well, more customization, great use of 3DS features, plenty to discover, Island Tours a fun diversion

Equivalent to a score of 93% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Animal Crossing: New Leaf
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