Animal Crossing Reader Review
When one EG reader not a million miles away from this review launched an Animal Crossing thread in the forum back in February 2003, no-one could have predicted the response it would get. For a couple of months, discussion of this game dominated the EG community. Two and a half years later, the monster thread in question is still twitching away, refusing to die. Not bad for a cutesy niche title, until recently available on import only. So what's all the fuss about?
You, the chief protagonist, find yourself on a train leaving home to start a new life in a new town. Upon arrival, the local hustler (name of Nook) bundles you into a jerrybuilt hovel, hands you some overalls, and sets you to work to pay off your new mortgage. Indentured labourer you may be, but you do get time off to wander around your new neighbourhood and meet your fellow citizens. Before long you'll be doing odd jobs for them too. From these inauspicious beginnings the game gently takes your hand, jabs it full of local anaesthetic, and crams hook after hook after little barbed hook into your pasty gamer flesh.
The basic premise couldn't be simpler: pay off your mortgage, and beautify your home and town (now there are some game objectives with which we can all identify). Not up there with "rescue the princess, kill all the nazis and save the planet," true, but then this game doesn't feature a single crate*, nor a single lava flow. Oh no. It's a massive breath of fresh air for long-suffering veterans of the polygon wars. You need to pay off your mortgage? There are dozens of ways of making money, discovering them is only part of the fun. Lots of clever little mini-games are seamlessly woven into the overall fabric of Animal Crossing, making it a real challenge to get bored. Add to this the compulsive "gotta collect 'em all" brand of gameplay and you're already halfway to the Priory. Throw into the mix some (gasp) social interaction and, hey, it's goodbye life.
Yes, that's right, social interaction. This is a game to play with friends. Sure, chatting to your virtual in-game neighbours can be a good laugh, not to mention educational, but swapping stories, tips, letters and goodies with real-life people is what makes Animal Crossing uniquely entertaining. If you don't believe me, spend a few minutes browsing that behemoth of a forum thread I mentioned, you'll quickly see what I mean.
One last ingredient in this heady console cocktail is the clock. The world of Animal Crossing exists in real time, and you'll find different things to see and do at different times of the day or the year. A blindingly simple concept, yet beautifully executed, it will keep pulling you back to your town week after week, month after month.
Before we get too carried away, it should also be said that the passage of time affects your Animal Crossing experience in diverse ways. While your virtual town will change with the seasons, you the protagonist will also change. After an initial frenzy of activity, where you'll put a lot of effort into paying off your debts and turning your hovel into Hugh Hefner's mansion, things will calm down and you'll probably settle into a far more sedate pattern of play.
Animal Crossing does offer unparalleled longevity, of a sort, but a few months down the line you'll probably be content with a spot of weeding, perhaps a bit of fishing, now and then redecorating your upstairs bedroom. Look on it as a kind of marriage (bear with me on this). After the first throes of passion burn themselves out, you settle into domestic intimacy, firing up the GC for a quick bout of Animal Crossing every Saturday night, going through the motions… Even after all this time, though, that old chemistry is still there. Sure you flirt with other games, maybe you lavish more attention on them, but when all's said and done, coming back to Animal Crossing is like coming home.
(* Well, OK, one orange box.)
10 / 10