The Animal Crossing series isn’t about saving a princess, nor is it about defeating a villain. Instead, the series is about living a second life. Animal Crossing has the player residing in a new town, starting off as a poor fellow, repaying his or her debts, buying merchandise, donating items and developing relationships with friends and neighbors. Contrary to what skeptics say, there are numerous objectives in each Animal Crossing game, but it’s yours to decide how you approach your goals.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Animal Crossing series, in each installment, you start off as a newcomer to a humble town. On the first day you arrive, the notorious yet often misunderstood Tom Nook gives you a shack to reside in – but for a price, of course. You then live a great portion of your life repaying your loans to Nook, who seems to always care more about your hard-earned Bells – the currency used in Animal Crossing – than your well-being.
You need Bells more than ever in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, especially because you’re the mayor of the town. Other than constantly being in debt to Nook, you, as the mayor, are expected to develop the town. And this is done by working on public works projects – each of which requires a large amount of Bells to complete. When you take on a project, the town’s inhabitants are requested to donate toward its completion. But, because your neighbors are either poor or stingy with their Bells, you’ll find yourself paying for the majority of each project.
Fortunately, you don’t have a time limit to pay up. You decide when and how to spend your Bells. If you wish, you can donate and pay off your loans simultaneously. Or you can just focus on completing a single task. Or, if you’re feeling extra greedy, you can just spend your money to fulfill your desires.
Paying off your loan to Nook isn’t without its advantages. To award your commitment to paying him back, Nook expands your house after you complete payment of a portion of your debt. Because you start your life in a measly tent – yes, a tent – you desperately hunt for ways to make Bells so that you can live in an actual house… you know, one with walls and a door.
As in previous Animal Crossing games, the most effective way to make Bells is selling fish – not counting that infamous cheat code for 30,000 Bells in Nintendo GameCube’s Animal Crossing. Fishing gets repetitive after a while, and you occasionally wish for more ways to make money.
Not only can you donate toward public works projects, you can contribute a whole assortment of items to the local museum, which is located on Main Street – an area with shops and services that will increase as you make progress in the game.
The game isn’t all about donating and repaying your debt; you can also use Bells for yourself. There are multiple stores on Main Street, including a common goods store, a clothes and accessories shop, a gardening store and a gift shop. Bells can be spent on luxurious outfits, gifts, plants and furniture for your home.
When you start your life in a tent, you hardly have room to place furniture in your home, and this encourages you to pay off your debt as soon as possible. When your living space increases, you’ll have more room to place furniture and items. There are no guidelines to designing your house – it’s completely up to you. If you want, you can choose to only spread furniture with matching themes. Or you can choose to place any type of furniture wherever you want, even if your house ends up looking like a dump.
For the first time in the series, you can collect furniture that hangs on walls and customize the exterior of your house. Both are welcome additions, as you can now use the space on your bare walls to customize your home further to your liking, and you can make your house unique – even on the outside. There’s a countless amount of furniture items to collect. You can even find rare Nintendo-themed furniture and design your house as the “Nintendo Land” of your dreams. The possibilities are endless.
Using tools, players can capture bugs, hunt for fish, dig for fossils, and collect rare paintings. These collectables can be donated to the museum or sold to stores. It’s your decision to determine whether you want to donate or sell your possessions. If you find donating to the museum tedious, you can stop. If fact, you can completely ignore the museum – again, it’s up to you.
A huge part of the game deals with you communicating with your neighbors – all of which are anthropomorphic animals, meaning they behave as humans but are animals by appearance. Players spend a ton of time checking up on their neighbors, doing favors for them, visiting them, or just gossiping with them. Talking to neighbors is great fun, and some of them even give legitimate advice.
Unfortunately, however, they only have so much to say. Occasionally, you’re going to hear the same words come out of your neighbors’ mouths. When you talk too much to a neighbor, he or she will let you know that they need a break from speaking and want to be left alone for a while. I wish my animal neighbors would be willing talk to me all the time and frequently provide me with entertaining dialogue… but, that’s not even possible in real life, right?
You’ll spend most of your time in the town. In it, you do most of your fishing, bug catching and mingling with the townsfolk. You’ll often find your neighbors in stores or in the shopping area on Main Street – which, by the way, is comparable to the city in Animal Crossing: City Folk, but it’s also much better, as it’s placed in a convenient location and can be reached by foot, rather than bus.
If you ever need a break from your neighbors in town, you can visit a tropical island by boat. The trip to the island is a delightful experience. As you travel there, your driver sings while you’re afloat on the clear blue ocean and looking at the clear blue sky. Upon your arrival on the island, you’ll notice the different atmosphere, exotic bugs and varied plants. Other than sightseeing, there are a few mini-games that you can partake in on the island. While the mini-games can be played alone, they’re more fun when you play them with friends.
The game features robust multiplayer options. You can play with your friends via local play or via the Internet. Up to three people can visit your town, and you can do a number of things when you’re all together. For example, you all can go fishing and compete to see who caught the largest fish; play mini-games on the island; play hide-and-seek in your town; dance and chill at the local club; or you can have the ultimate relaxation session by walking barefoot on the beach and listening to the waves crash to the shore.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is arguably the best game in the Animal Crossing series to date. Compared to previous installments of the series, it doesn’t feel entirely new, but the player’s role as mayor and the addition of an expanding shopping area, new critters and brand-new features give the series a fresh coat of paint. The game is, without a doubt, best suited on a hand-held console. And because you have the option of owning an Animal Crossing game digitally for the first time, your town can always be on your Nintendo 3DS and in your pocket.