“If all jobs were as entertaining as the one you’re given in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Monday mornings would be a cause for celebration.
Strangely, it’s not even a role you get to choose. As you step off the train, ready to start a new life, a misunderstanding sees you appointed mayor of the small rural settlement you’ve just arrived at. You needn’t worry too much, mind you: this is one of the most enjoyable virtual vocations you’ll ever have. Not to mention that the hours are entirely flexible.
The position of mayor is new to Animal Crossing, and it helps give the latest entry in the series a little more purpose than past editions. While you’re still pretty much left to your own devices, to set your own objectives in your own time, it generates just enough of a sense of duty to ensure that your daily routine doesn’t feel quite as aimless as before.
As before you’ll hunt bugs, catch fish, dig up fossils, collect furniture, decorate your house and plant flowers and trees, but those are just the beginning of the activities you’ll find in New Leaf, almost all of which offer a tangible reward.
Take a swim in the ocean, for example, and you might bump into a beaver, who’ll offer pearls of existential wisdom (and a piece of nautical-themed décor) in exchange for a scallop you’ve dredged up from the depths.
Rouse a shipwrecked gull, and he’ll give you clues to his intended destination; guess correctly and he’ll send you an appropriate prize when he finally gets there.
A hop across the railway track, there’s a main street that steadily develops as the days go by and you spend more time and money there, until it’s a bustling network of shops and attractions. The public works projects you begin as mayor, meanwhile, make your village a more attractive place to live, in turn inviting more animals to make their homes there.
And the more neighbours your village has, the more you’ll grow attached to the place and to every new resident. Each has their own characteristics and through their habits and routines, and through the many incidental interactions you witness or conversations you share with them they’ll develop a personality that your own projections add nuance to.
At one stage, I began to suspect an unlikely affair between my snooty ostrich neighbour and that sporty squirrel living on the east side of town.
All the while, New Leaf gently cajoles you into being more sociable. It’s not just about expanding your village’s population but in getting together with real world friends, visiting each others’ settlements to compare houses for exterior and interior design tips, to swap fruit – each town has a native type that sells cheaply, but other varieties are much more valuable – or even to check the local turnip prices if you’ve dabbled in the stalk market.
I’ve had friends over admiring my collection of hybrid flowers, while I’ve cast envious glances at their windmills and climbing frames. It might sound surreal to newcomers, but there’s an internal consistency that lends it a convincing logic, while its residents possess the kind of character traits everyone will recognise. It’s a wild world grounded in reality.
It’s a game that rewards you in the best possible way. It subtly encourages generosity and altruism: part of the fun is in collecting items and upgrading your residence to turn your house into a palatial mansion with all mod cons, but your mayoral duties are more about creating a liveable place for others.
And trading rare items with friends (and indeed strangers, for the first time in an Animal Crossing game) or co-operating in friendly minigames on a tropical island, provokes a genuine sense of camaraderie – a rare feeling when so many online games are predicated on conflict.
On the face of things, Nintendo has simply added more things to do, but that in itself is no bad thing in a game where you’re repaid so handsomely for everything you put in: the more time you spend, the more you’re likely to see, and the sooner you’re likely to see it. Not that those with busy lifestyles are punished beyond having to wait a little longer to unlock a new shop or to afford that basement extension.
Besides, the portable format is ideal for squeezing in five minutes here and there, and the ability as mayor to decree that shops will open late at night or earlier in the morning, or that townsfolk will do their bit to water flowers and pull weeds – thus saving you valuable maintenance time – makes it all the more convenient.
And rest assured, if you start playing for just a few minutes, the wide array of activities, that constant sense that something new is happening almost every day, will see you finding more time to spend in this delightful, charming world.
There’s something here for players of all ages. It’s the kind of game as a parent you’d really want your kids to play, not just because it offers an unthreatening, safe environment when venturing online, or that its museum exhibits educate about fossils, fish and minibeasts, but because it’s a game that encourages kindness, tolerance and generosity.
Adults, meanwhile, will appreciate the humour in the script and the maturity inherent in its freeform structure: you can play the game how you want to, and you won’t ever be judged. Unless, that is, you’re taking part in a fishing tournament, and you find your competitive streak taking over as your prize catch is unexpectedly usurped by a cat in a wrestling mask.
It’s a combination of all these things that makes it so special, but it can all be boiled down to something much simpler. Put it this way: every time you open your 3DS to play New Leaf, you know you’re almost certain to experience something new or surprising. And how many games can you say that about?”
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Taken from The Telegraph – written by James Hyde.