Animal Crossing Turns a New Leaf

From the gloomy, perpetual limbo of Don’t Starve, I moved into the severely optimistic town of Maple (or whatever you have christened with). This town is populated with cutesy, plushie humanoid animals (or animalistic humans?) who love to do nothing more than drown you with their worries, caring very little about your first English essay. It’s almost heavenly. Yet, according to my dictionary, Heaven is a place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own. By this definition, I’m in cutesy Hell.

To be fair, the town of Animal Crossing isn’t boring. It is slow, but most definitely not boring. The fun here is in the charm and the tranquillity it exudes, a bit like the vibe you get from watching Lucky Star or K-On. The characters, the graphic style, the music and the game pace are all centred to the gameplay element – a real-time pet town simulation game where you have to tend this cute, little creature town, clean up its poop weeds and watch it evolve. To enhance your AC:NL experience, you are subtly obliged to collect assorted … things. Things such as fish, insects or paintings that are seasonally distributed. The amount of fun you would gain from this enslavement is comparative to your OCD level.

The quirky yet serene atmosphere in AC:NL is akin to other Japanese media: a world so optimistic that I want to squeeze lemon into my eyes. This displaced environment can lead to disjoined dystopia. It’s a bit like boarding a luxurious, professional airliner, alone, when all the staff haven’t slept for 48 hours. They smile and serve you tea but in actuality, they just want you to spend as much money as possible and then leave. However you don’t want to leave because you paid good money for this experience and their service is excellent. Such awkwardness resounds in AC:NL , the game being all about engrossing you into this new world, puppying you with how wonderful this virtual life is, begging that you’d stay (not play). Yet the amount of things you can do in one day is quite limited. This isn’t a game where you spend hours on a single session; it’s a game where you spend a bit of time everyday. A life within a life, Lifeception. Or a joyful Skinner Box.

AC:NL, however, brings a new, major gameplay feature to the series. It is the ability to establish buildings, projects and the alike to give your town more of a personal flair. But this dictatorship has its limits, namely it takes about three real-time days to be granted of such holy powers and that your dictatorial powers are actually constitutional. You see, no matter how much I whack this clown-sheep-man(?) with my bug net, or corner him with pot holes, or push him into an obvious pitfall trap, he won’t bloody leave! I even complained this to my lovely assistant Isabelle. These complaints ranged from his “vulgar” language to his “vulgar” clothing but he still remains, greeting me everyday with a perpetual smile. Both RSPCA and Left-Wing Humanitarians would hang me for cruelty if this weren’t a video game. Whether a new person moves in or not, and more importantly, where he moves, is also not within your jurisdiction but in Tom Nook’s. So the dastardly bastard who has settled his home in your industrious orchard is inexpellable. Thus the ‘power’ you’ve been granted of is actually deceptive. But I digress; ignoring those limitations, the ability to decorate your town with various doodads is a welcome addition.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is an interesting wart to the 3DS library, but it aims for a specific type of audience. Thus your enjoyment of this blemish will depend on your level of OCD or your cultic love for cutesy-stuff. But since there aren’t any new, worthwhile games other than Pikmin 3 coming up until September (I’m looking at you, Atlus), all we have is AC:NL to chew to take the edge off our gaming hunger. However like a gum, the taste will soon wear off.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Nintendo/Monolith Soft

Platform: 3DS