Animal Crossing: New Leaf Review: No Place Like Home

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Let me get a little personal before this review begins. My regular, full-time job is that of an automobile claims adjuster. My day consists of assisting people whose lives have been turned upside-down by getting into automobile accidents. People react to these situations very differently, and at times I have no choice but to be a punching bag for some. The job, as expected, gets stressful. Hell, even the great Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t handle what I do. A few times during the summer, I will take a Friday off and spend a long weekend at my parents’ lake house in Indiana. During those weekends, I fish, go on boat rides, watch a horror movie or two, and relax. Come Monday, my batteries are recharged and I’m ready to take on the claims.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is my video game lake house.

Platforms: 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Nerve-Calming Life Sim
Release Date: June 9, 2013
ESRB Rating: Everyone

I believe this to be a fairly accurate analogy. Think about it: how stressed out do you get playing Call of Duty multiplayer? After a session in the dark with Dead Space? What about playing Aliens: Colonial Marines for the first time after all the hype? Games (and, in the case of multiplayer, enraged gamers) can get under your skin pretty quickly. That’s why Animal Crossing: New Leaf is such a refreshing breath of fresh air. It takes all that pent-up hostility and just washes it away, leaving you unwound and in a state of pure euphoria. Yeah, I know – this sounds more like an infomercial than a review. So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we?

If you’ve played any other Animal Crossing game, you know exactly what to expect in this outing, as the formula hasn’t deviated much since its debut: as the newest resident of , you spend your days fishing, digging up fossils, catching bugs, designing clothes, and building relationships with your anthropomorphic neighbors. There really is no point to the game. There is no main quest, no final boss, no dungeon crawling. Animal Crossing is a life sim. Granted, it’s a bizarre and otherworldly life sim, but a life sim nonetheless.

While it does retain the main elements from prior Animal Crossing games, Nintendo added some new, much-appreciated features to New Leaf. I loved Animal Crossing: Wild World, but I loathed the Wii outing, Animal Crossing: City Folk. I don’t know if it was the lack of portability of the game, or that it offered almost nothing new over the prior DS version, but I got bored of it very quickly. Tending to my town seemed more like a chore than an adventure, and I ended up selling the game a few months after purchase. Thankfully, New Leaf brings the series back to its former glory, and I am once again hooked.

While much of the gameplay has remained from prior Animal Crossing titles, New Leaf adds one major change: you are now in control of your own town. The old mayor, Tortimer, has since retired from his position, and you now take over this most prestigious of positions. Want to build a new bridge? No problem. How about adding a campfire to an otherwise desolate corner of your town? Done. Is there a resident causing problems? Report ‘em! Be advised, though – these projects are not free. You are required to raise bells (the game’s currency) to fund said projects. I am currently working on a cobblestone bridge to provide quicker traversal across Persei 8 (my town’s name), and it ain’t cheap. After about two weeks, I’m still trying to gather the necessary bells to pay for the work! That’s just fine with me though. Having these responsibilities in addition to your own daily chores amps up the replay factor considerably. There is so much to Animal Crossing: New Leaf, that if I were to explain everything that you can do, this review would turn into a strategy guide.

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The graphics in Animal Crossing: New Leaf aren’t the best the system has to offer, but it doesn’t need to be a Resident Evil: Revelations graphical powerhouse in order to be fun. The cartoony style may be a turn-off to some so-called hardcore gamers, but if you refuse to play this game purely based on how it looks, I feel bad for you. The 3D effects work perfectly with the semi-birds-eye view of the world, and feel natural, not forced. The sound effects also fit well in the game, and give off a very relaxing vibe. Oftentimes I will take off my character’s shoes and socks before going to the beach just to hear the sand shifting and splashing sounds under my feet. The music is so soothing and relaxing that Nintendo should market the soundtrack as a cure for anxiety attacks. Depending on what hour your 3DS clock is at, different songs will play throughout the day (and night). Upbeat and happy songs in the afternoon slowly transform to tranquil and peaceful songs at night, and have a drastically calming effect on the player.

The system calendar also plays a big role in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. The seasons change depending on your 3DS’s internal clock. Right now it’s hot and muggy and I’m getting bit by mosquitoes. Next month isn’t going to look much better, either. But come August or September, as winter approaches, the leaves will start to change color and fall off the trees. It’s really quite fascinating, and does a lot to draw you into the title. Furthermore, the changing of the seasons brings different opportunities for you to collect different fish and bugs, all of which can be sold or donated to your town museum. I would also like to angrily shake my finger at those of you who change your 3DS’s date in order to collect everything right away. Shame on you!

The time of year does not just have an effect on the species you catch, though. Real-world holidays have video game counterparts. For example, last week was the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year). In New Leaf, it was sunshine all day long. On Halloween, you go door-to-door collecting candy. On the Fourth of July, you can go out at night to view a fireworks show. There are also competitions; a couple weeks ago I had to excuse myself from a birthday party to make sure I was still in first place during Persei 8’s bug-catching contest. Not to worry: I brought home first place and a gold trophy, which is now displayed proudly in my house – right next to my urinal.

The level of customization in this game is amazing. Every day, the local general store has different items to furnish your house – from chairs, beds, and tables to lamps and items based on Nintendo franchises. The flooring and wallpaper in your house can also be changed. You can even use your own custom designs – as evidenced by my WWE carpet and Minecraft-inspired Creeper shirt. An in-game screenshot-taking feature allows you to share your designs with the world.

And as you pay off your house, you can increase its size, adding more rooms and floors to customize. You are truly only limited by your imagination.

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And you can go beyond your town’s borders in Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s four-player multiplayer mode. You can open your town’s gates and invite others over to hang out, both locally and online over Wi-Fi. Playing with others is highly recommended, as you’ll want to trade your town’s native fruit with the fruit of their town. I’ve got about five different types of fruit trees growing in Persei 8 thanks to meeting people. You can also take a boat ride either alone or with your friends to a desert island, where you can collect more items, and play several minigames hosted by now-retired Mayor Tortimer.

Please be advised, though – you need to have people already on your 3DS Friends List in order to visit their town. That can cause some problems, especially with younger players. My 6-year-old son also has a copy of the game for his 3DS, and he is relegated to visiting either my town or my close friend’s town. Another disappointing aspect of Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s multiplayer mode is that the chat is only via text. Yes, you can still chat, but having voice chat would have been so much nicer. Heroes of Ruin pulled off voice chat quite nicely, and if N-Space can pull it off, it shouldn’t have been a problem for Nintendo to do the same. Also, when playing with others, their character doesn’t show up on the map located on the lower screen of your 3DS. You are forced to follow their voice bubble (provided they are talking) until it gets large enough that they are actually on screen. That can be a bit frustrating as, when someone visits your town, you’ll spend your first moments just running around looking for them.

Minor objections aside, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is not only an amazing game, but an amazing experience. You develop emotional connections with your town folk (a shoutout to my duck buddy Scoot, by the way), and as your town grows, so do you. Your town almost becomes your second family, and you honestly care about its well-being. The game is perfectly suited for the 3DS, where you can feel like you accomplished something, whether it’s during a ten-or-twenty-minute mini-session, or a three-hour marathon. What’s more, the game is ideal for gamers of any age. I can proudly say that this is the first video game I have ever, in my 30+ years of being a gamer, owned two copies of. I get such enjoyment when my son comes running up to me, yelling that he shot down a balloon and got a balloon bed, and that I just have to visit his house to check it out. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, home is truly where your heart is.

Review Disclosure: A review copy of Animal Crossing: New Leaf was provided by Nintendo for the purposes of this review.

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Mike Ryan is a Staff Writer who has been playing video games ever since the Atari 2600. He loves fighting games, survival horror, and he sure plays a mean pinball.

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