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Animal Crossing: City Folk Review

windy By:
GENRE Virtual Life 
E Contains Comic Mischief

What do these ratings mean?

Soothes the savage beast.

The most immediate thing you will notice about Animal Crossing: City Folk is how relaxing it is. The first two or three times I tried to play it, I fell asleep. I was thinking how great a gift this would be for a child with a severe behavior disorder or an adult that is high-strung or has problems sleeping. I was thinking how no one else in their right mind should own or play it.

click to enlargeRelaxing video games have their place in the world, just like everything does, I suppose. I just didn't get the concept of these life-sim games. I didn't understand why anyone would want to spend their time walking around in a virtual world doing mundane things like meeting neighbors or planting flowers when something perfectly fine called real life is going on for them just this side of the screen. I didn't understand it at first.

But then while I was away from home, I remembered the Harvest Festival. I had to get back to the game as fast as I could. Without hesitation, I got in my car and broke real traffic laws just to make it home in time for the festival, and it was then I realized that I had changed. I had been hooked somewhere along the way, and I hadn't even known.

Like a snake in the grass, this insidious little game slithered up and bit me on the ankle. The only salve for the venom is "more play". I cannot stop. I no longer dream in English, but in a hybrid Animalese. I see emotion symbols atop the heads of people on the street. I want to go to auctions. I have an insatiable desire to deliver things.

The basic premise of City Folk is simple: You’ve moved to a new town and are eager to establish yourself there. In a world where time flows in real time, you work to acquire ever nicer things with which to decorate your home. You start with a tiny shack and work to pay off the mortgage, only to add on to your property so that it can hold more stuff. Trips to the city are primarily for furniture and accessory shopping as well. Yes, very materialistic, but somehow the execution makes it a benign backdrop for all the other things going on in the town you’ve created. While stockpiling material possessions, you can collect bugs and fish, dig up fossils, get in on the local gossip... the list is endless. I think T. I. said it best: You can do whatever you like.

click to enlargeIn addition to having shops for furniture, the City is where you’ll go to purchase new emotions (that is, expressions), such as confusion and disappointment. They’re not that useful, but they are really fun to have. You can also visit a shoeshine stoop, have your fortune told, and get new hairstyles, although you have little control over the outcome (kind of too real for my taste). Other surprises await, from the innocent to the shady; if you look hard enough and visit often enough, you can probably find it in the city.

In truth, Animal Crossing: City Folk is not much different in looks than the original 2002 GameCube release. What City Folk offers above and beyond that title, obviously, is the ability to travel to the City where everything is just a little bit bigger. The museum has more exhibits. The Town Hall offers more services. Clothing design is less constrained. If you've played the GameCube version, there will be few surprises, but all of them will be pleasant ones. All the charm we have come to expect from Nintendo over the years is here. I don’t know what the dickens are, but City Folk is probably cuter than all of them.

Even though us "mortals" have called these types of games as life or social sims since its inception, Nintendo has dubbed the series “communication games”. Well, Nintendo gets this year’s Horton Award for having done what it said and having said what it meant, because this title actually lives up to that moniker. The number of ways to simply get into this game is dizzying. What you can do to communicate with a few accessory add-ons is just excessive. It’s the kind of excess that would make a 32 oz. small coke at the AM/PM blush.

Probably a tree chart would describe this better, but here’s an attempt at explaining the multitude of City Folk connectivity options. Owners of the DS title Animal Crossing: Wild World can transfer their characters to this game. Bells (currency in the Animal Crossing universe) don’t transfer, only looks, but you can continue the DS game without interruption. With a DS you can also load your City Folk character in a ‘suitcase’, drop it in your pocket, take it to your buddy’s house, and load it into their town for a proper visit. You can do the same without leaving home if you exchange friend codes.

click to enlargeMost people find friend codes to be a pain. They are located in different places in different games. You have to complete a series of tasks for Tom Nook, then go visit Copper to get your friend code in City Folk. With the Nintendo Wii, you cannot visit just anyone. You must have their friend code. Don’t expect to make any new friends with just the Wii and this game. You’ll have to get creative: meet in an online social network, generously buy a whole game as a gift for an existing friend, stand on a street corner with a sandwich board, you get the gist. None of these options is attractive; all of them make you feel a bit like a friendless loser, and some options could get really expensive. Although this is more a fault of the system than the game, it really puts a damper on the whole social aspect of things.

And then there’s Wii Speak and WiiConnect24. If this starts to sound a little bit like a chapter in George Orwell’s classic (no, not Animal Farm, the other one) don’t blame me. I did not choose these names. Wii Speak is a hands-free microphone. It enables you with talk to up to three friends while playing, provided you all have a Wii Speak and a broadband connection. The Animal Crossing commercials show two women going to watch fireworks using Wii Speak. If that’s the experience you’re looking for, be ready to shell out an extra $29.99 each. WiiConnect24 allows you to download content when the console is turned off. Now you won’t miss any auctions while you’re at work, and supposedly more downloadable content is coming.

All these connectivity options start to make City Folk feel like a prostitute to the add-on pimps. What better vehicle for these new accessories than a game that rewards acquisition of needless things? The Wii Speak Channel rolls out in full some time this month, so we’ll have to wait and see if it catches on. You don’t really need this stuff to enjoy yourself with the game, but it may make the experience more rich. Hey, if it cuts down on my long distance phone bill or improves my German by playing with a friend in a far-off country, it may be worth it, but in general I try to limit the lumps of plastic I place in my living room.

I am shocked at how much I have grown to like this game. It is a well-executed little piece of software that a wide range of people of different ages and tastes will enjoy. While it may not offer enough new things for GameCube owners, everything that is new is charming and pleasant. Avid fans and first time buyers will want this in their collection. Although it offers a plethora of ways to interact, it is ultimately limited by the friend codes feature. Luckily, you can have fun all by yourself with this one.
B+ Revolution report card
  • Charm
  • Variety of activities
  • Real-time experience
  • Surprises in the City
  • Teaches Preaches mindless consumerism
  • Bah!! Friend codes!!!

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