The first thing I remember is waking up in the back of a warm taxi cab, speeding through the driving rain. The driver, a frog, introduces himself as the Kapp'n, and asks me a variety of questions to find out who I am - secretly it helps me ascertain that very thing myself. It turns out my name is Mathew. I'm heading to the town of NewGenki, a small town populated by animals, and I have no money to pay the fare. Despite that fact, he drops me off cheerfully.
I have strange vague memories of another place, another time, when the Kapp'n would take me across to a beautiful island, and sing sea shanties while he did so.
The girl behind the counter in the Town Hall, Pelly, is very helpful. She let me know Tom Nook had prepared a home for me. I found it using my map. It's little more than a shack, and Nook, an entirely too-friendly raccoon, is forcing me to pay off my mortgage, an astounding 19,800 bells, by working for him in his shop. They are mostly menial tasks, allowing me to get used to my surroundings, helping me get to know my animal friends. I'm particularly taken with a burly penguin called Roald - he's always so... "Pumped". In the end the work raises a mere 1,400 bells, and Nook has already tired of me.
With the deepest, strangest feeling that I've done this all before, I roll into my bed, close my eyes, and wait for the next day.
Of course, they're not just vague memories. I really have done all of this before, in Animal Crossing on the GameCube. Don't kid yourself - this isn't, by any means, Animal Crossing 2. This is Animal Crossing: Wild World, and the clue is in the title - the most major change to this game is the addition of Wi-Fi capabilities, allowing you to visit your other Animal Crossing owning chums in their towns, or allow them to visit your town - with up to three visitors in a town at once.
Let me scale backwards for the uninitiated:
Animal Crossing is a simulator of life. That is, if our lives were the kind of odd children's program you might find lost somewhere in the schedules of CBeebies. You find yourself in a town populated with animals, and live among them. The town has features like a museum and town hall, and plenty of opportunities for archeology, star gazing, fishing and bug catching. Life in Animal Crossing is what you make it, and somehow, this can lead to a fierce loyalty to your carefree life in NewGenki, Stinktown, Hyrule or whatever you choose to name your little borough. It's not so much what the game does that makes you want to play it. It's the style and charm the game does it with.
I awake late to find a new bed sitting next to mine in my dirty, boring, unchangeable loft bedroom - a girl called Kate. She sleeps softly and sweetly. I don't have the heart, nor the ability to disturb her from her slumber. It's a bit rich for Nook to have started subletting already! There's room for two whole more beds here, and I hope to goodness no one fills the spaces. The place is cramped enough as it is!
I have strange memories of another town, where each human was allowed their own home.
Traipsing downstairs, I observe a living space now cramped with items that aren't mine (who has use for a cow skull? I mean, really) and some horrible wallpaper. I rip the paper off the wall and take the skull, which ought to turn into a tidy little profit to help me pay off this damned mortgage. On the way out I check my mailbox. No mail for her. Thankfully at least, that is kept separate. I sell the items to Nook and heading to the town hall to make another payment.
There's only 14,000 left to be paid of the mortgage. Kate has been paying it off.
I'd better send her a gift through the post to say sorry for what I've done.
While the Wi-Fi aspect of the game, quite naturally, opens up the possibilities for interaction within the game quite extensively, what appears quite a surprise is to what extent the game has been scaled back from the GameCube iteration. The NES games have been dropped, as has the calendar and events such as Christmas and Halloween. Also, while up to four players can still all share the same cart, they now share the same home, and all that lies within. Depending on who you share the cart with this could be either an incredible annoyance - this is not a game that is likely to bring brothers and sisters together - or a better chance to exploit team work to complete the most 'game' like aspects, the beautification of the town, the expansion and furnishing of your home, and the patronage of the museum.
Using the axe, shovel and watering can (a new addition to the game's roster of tools) you can care for the town by cutting trees and planting anew, and watering flowers or red turnips. Sold by the old sow Joan, these new but difficult to care for investments are a far more risky proposition than her traditional wares, white turnips, which wildly fluctuate in value at Tom Nook's store.
Through the joys of a consumerist lifestyle, you can furnish your home with hundreds of items and expand it to mansion size. This part of the game is the most 'Sims' like, but perhaps more gleefully satirical as a bigger and better home is judged by a obscure and mystical society known as the 'Happy Room Academy', whose utterly insane demands for a perfect home will probably leave you with something you're not happy with. You're better off just decorating it the way you like, trust me.
Using the fishing rod, bug net or shovel, you can dig up fossils, catch fish or net bugs for the museum, curated by the utterly adorable fuddy-duddy owl Blathers. This version of the game also makes your life a heck of a lot easier as Blathers can now examine and determine the make up of fossils without them having to be sent off to an institute.
On a frosty Monday night I watch the snow fall softly across the sky and think about how much I've grown to like living with Kate. We've made our home beautiful, with some of our own creations adorning the room in the form of the carpet and wallpaper. The animals regale us each with tales of how much they like the other "That Kate has such a storm chaser vibe!" the otherwise utterly bitchy elephant Opal recounts - and Blathers is so grateful for everything we've brought him so far. But still no paintings for the art wing of his museum.
I haven't met anyone unique yet, either. I remember a letter from Kate warning me to stay away from a shady weasel called Lyle that charged her, unavoidably, 3000 bells for insurance. The money she's been claiming for her frequent bee stings, 100 bells, is paltry.
And so, wandering through the snow, I find myself in front of a covered tent. I'm asked for a password - a response to the phrase 'Grass is greener.' Didn't I hear Deena whisper that she knew a trader was coming to town? Redd? And that the password was 'On my side?'
I whisper it back with trepidation. I find myself inside, staring with wide eyes at a solemn painting. I have to have it. Blathers will love it. I allow the fox to bamboozle me into paying for a 3000-bell club membership, and stump up the 4000 bells the painting cost.
It's a fake. Blathers won't accept it, Nook will only give me 10 bells. 7000 bells down the tubes. If only I'd had insurance. That money could have gone towards the mortgage.
There are more expansions to the single-player game than just the watering can and an updated range of characters, however.
The graphics may have taken a hit in the transition, but retain all the charm of the GameCube version when viewed on the crisp DS screens. Animal Crossing: Wild World has a truly lavish, or pointless, use of the second screen. Except when you are accessing menus, the game just shows acres of sky. Sometimes with little fluffy clouds.
However, using the new slingshot tool, you can shoot items which, quite randomly, though rarely, float across the sky on balloons. If you're mean, you can also shoot poor Pete the postman out of the sky. And though the make up of the otherwise randomly generated town is largely the same, certain features have changed. The museum has added both a basement café, featuring a small stage and a quiet, coffee making pigeon, and an observatory featuring Blathers' cute little sis, Celeste, that allows you to fill in her star chart with new constellations for the night sky, visible in the top screen at night. The post office has been expanded into a town hall, incorporating a recycling bin, and often featuring curmudgeonly town patriarch Tortimer in the back room, working on, I imagine, official papers. The Mabel store now sells accessories for your now hatless avatar to wear upon their noggin, along with unique clothes and umbrellas. The designs you can make, quite wonderfully, can be used to texture your home or even the entire town if you so wish.
The game's input method, depending on the player's choice, is either exactly familiar to the GameCube version, or dramatically different, with everything controlled through the stylus. Neither option is particularly preferable, but the stylus is certainly an easy, enjoyable way to control the game, though it does lack accuracy when creating designs, for players obsessed with creating pixel-perfect recreations of old NES characters.
But, of course, the biggest change has been to the police - they now stand stationed as guards in front of the town gate, the player's access to the titular wild world. Accessed easily through Nintendo's effortless Wi-Fi service, this section of the game is either the most frustrating part of it or the piece de resistance. With Nintendo's interest in player safety (you know, for kids) and undoubtedly your interest in your town's safety, you can only visit, or be visited, by pre-approved friends on your list. Finding all your trees chopped down and a giant dobber textured all over your town probably isn't high on your priorities.
If you find yourself with a packed friend list and with an easy way to arrange shared playing times, this can be an incredibly satisfying experience, picking up fruit in foreign towns, buying items from a foreign Nook, and chatting aimlessly with your friends using the chat system. But it doesn't add any more purpose to the proceedings, still remaining just the joyful little life of your character in a town full of animals (and access to a lot of other towns with animals).
If you can't easily arrange to be online with friends, this can be an utterly frustrating experience as your wish to visit other towns is scuppered by an empty list - often ending in you leaving your town gates open for as long as possible in the hope someone might stop by. Watch out, though, because some special events don't seem to happen when the gates are open - fan favourite and RIAA-baiting musician KK Slider won't come around if your gates are open. This begs the question as to how he gets in anyway. I imagine he ignores towns that just look 'too easy' to get into, or something.
For people with no Wi-Fi access at all, there remains a DS-to-DS mode, which is again, utterly effortless to set up, and can be just as good (if not better) a time.
This is, without a doubt, a difficult game to rate. If I'm honest, this is really just a repackaging of the original Animal Crossing, which turned up on N64 as Dobutsu no Mori as long ago as 2001, with some slight (oh so slight) differences in features. However, I was addicted to the GameCube iteration for nearly a year, playing every day, entirely alone, and this new game I can feel myself being sucked in, simply due to the charm that continues to be shown in every aspect. The animals do actually say new and interesting things, even if there is a lot of overlap - for some reason, everyone in my town is bloody obsessed with dung beetles.
I'm playing this version through with, if you can't tell, my girlfriend, and the aspect of simply playing the game with others, either on the same cart, of across Wi-Fi, is a whole new experience, one absolutely fraught with joy, laughter and loveliness. If you have never, ever played Animal Crossing in any form before, I can't hesitate to recommend it. 10 out of 10, all the platitudes possible. If however, you have, and you feel that you saw all it had to offer, I wouldn't give up on this game entirely. It's still worth a second look. 6 out of 10. Tell you what, let's split the difference.
In the middle of the night I awaken, and look over at her, sleeping peacefully in her little bed fit for one. Some nights I could just watch her sleep. I put on my goggles, an awesome purchase from the Mabel sisters that makes me look super cool, even with a bee sting, and walk out into the empty streets, heading for the museum's observatory. The lyrics of Aerogramme's 'In Gratitude' run through my head - "I wanted to show you the stars... I wanted to show you the stars."
I inscribe her name into the heavens and send her a letter, those lyrics the only content.