Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
I haven't gone back to Animal Crossing since the DS got its own spin-off of Nintendo's friendly home-owning simulator, Wild World. Having my town and its residents in my pocket made daily play a cinch and I quickly grew addicted to the experience, but I always felt like new mechanics were missing. How was it any different from the GameCube version I had spent dozens of hours on? Falling out of the Wild World experience hurt. I slowly spent days away from my town, and the denizens within recognized my disinterest.
They started leaving in droves, slipping angry letters in my mailbox to let me know how upset they were with my absence. I only got these messages months later, when a holiday gave me cause to check on my town again. "Where did you go, buttface?" one note read. ("Buttface" was the slang I shared in my town like a virus). My love for my neighbors never waned, but the drudgery of paying a loan off made Tom Nook my mortal enemy, so I said goodbye to Wild World. Thankfully, a little time away has opened the door for the upcoming 3DSAnimal Crossing: New Leaf to renew my fondness for the franchise.
I made a beeline for the game at Nintendo's 3DS showcase yesterday. Despite their Nintendo Direct presentation announcing a new Zelda game, more Mario sports, and even Earthbound on the Wii U's virtual console, Mario and company couldn't keep me from first taking a train ride to a new town. A friendly face asked for my name, subtly poked at my personality to discover my gender and temperment, and then asked me to name my town. Players are presented with several different maps until they name their town and finally arrive.
There, you'll be greeted by your town's population and Isabelle, a poodle with a penchant for keeping the new mayor organized and directed. New mayor? Who's that? Why, you! Didn't you know you were the new mayor? I playfully denied any knowledge that I was supposed to sit behind the big desk and perform Tortimer's tasks, but Isabelle, the mayor's assistant in every player's game, leads you to the office and eventually instructs you on how to progress.
"Have you met Goldie?" Isabelle asked. "She loves receiving letters, so here's some stationary. You can buy more at…" Yeah, yeah, Isabelle, I got it. New Leaf still encourages players to grow their wealth by collecting fruit from trees or shells on the beach. With 500 Bells in my pocket, I headed to Nook's shop and bought a shovel, then noticed that Nook's Homes also had a shopfront of its own on Main Street. Instead of picking an empty house from the developments Nook has already built, he'll follow you to a location of your choice and then section off the land required for your house.
"You can use this tent for now. I still need a down payment," Nook explained after I had chosen where to break ground. 10,000 Bells needed to be accrued to make that down payment, and I wondered where the hell I was going to get the cash to see what happens next in the short preview time left. Familiar faces wait for players in shops and the museum on main street, and I opted for selling fossils over donating them to the museum to make my down payment quickly.
The whole process felt like riding a bike. Gather, sell, write a letter, talk to a neighbor, run around town, sell more junk, pay Nook. Lather, rinse, repeat. The beats for an average day in Animal Crossing flew by as I scurried around gathering cash. "Let me see… it's all here!" Nook exclaimed when I handed him the dough. However, a problem unique to the video game preview arose: "Your house will be built by tomorrow morning!"
One of the Nintendo reps at the showcase asked if I had fun with New Leaf so far. "I want to take this game home," I replied flatly. My neighbors had interesting furniture I wanted to collect myself. I wanted to grow my domicile and progress further to experience key mayoral duties, like rearranging the town or plopping bridges down in more convenient locations. New Leaf, like other AC games, blossoms slowly and creates a welcoming, nonthreatening environment for players hoping for a slightly more leisurely pace in gaming. No one is going to yell at you about aiming down the sights or try to baptize/drown you.
Nintendo's already sold this Animal Crossing to millions of Japanese gamers, and it didn't take long to sell it to me either. I already felt a connection with Pierce, a bald-"bro" eagle, and my assistant Isabelle and her reliable direction. Being mayor might seem like a stressful proposition, but this is Animal Crossing. How hard can it be?