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In Animal Crossing, trust is a feeling rather than a commodity

That's a turnip for the books.

This week we have seen what happens when our trust is stretched beyond breaking point. I've been pondering that, same as you, but I've spent the rest of my time playing a game from a company where trust is everything.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is as wonderful and mesmerising as Animal Crossing always has been. As Chris Donlan wrote in our review, despite it being released in a day and age when games are more likely to charge you money to do things quickly than they are to let you set the pace, a lot of its charm resides in the way you can't do things immediately.

Animal Crossing takes place over real days and weeks, months and years, and certain experiences only occur on specific dates or at specific times, while the rewards you receive and items that can be traded are not the same in your village as they will be in your friend's - or more likely your friends'. But this isn't a game where there is a 'perfect' way to play it in order to maximise your experience; this is simply the nature of Animal Crossing.

For me, the reason that works so well is down to something I always find in Nintendo's best creations - a unique bond of trust that develops between the player and the game.

Funnily enough, it was thinking back to Yoshi's Island DS that brought me to this train of thought. I didn't really like that game. It was fine in many respects, but as soon as I realised that it was using the physical gap between what you saw on the top and bottom screens as a hiding place for items, I felt betrayed by it and never trusted it again.

Super Mario Bros. had previously given us the classic moment that you went off the top of the screen and discovered secrets, repeated in Super Mario World and many others, but this was different. I didn't feel as though there was suddenly new potential in the same environments; I felt as though the game was flaunting its deception, cheating rather than opening a door.

Yoshi's Island DS then became the exception that proved the rule, because Nintendo has rarely made this mistake since then.

For the longest time, it has produced games like The Legend of Zelda, where the designers will tease you with things you can't have yet while also subtly conditioning you to know you will receive them eventually. You never worry about it. It's true of the smallest dungeon, where the puzzle solutions route you through every nook and cranny, and the broadest horizon, where you might see a ghost ship and just know that time will bring you to its bow.

We often salute games where failure feels like a fair outcome as trustworthy, but what I'm talking about goes deeper. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, it's in things like the turnip economy, where you know that prices will go up at some point in the week, even though the investment you make in turnips is framed as a gamble. You also know that you will catch a shark before too long if you persist with your fishing.

However, Animal Crossing is unique among Nintendo's most trustworthy games, because it allows you to miss out on something more or less permanently, and yet you still wake up every morning secure in the knowledge that the game will make that day special. It's not knowledge that provides that security, as a matter of fact, which is why this particular trick of Nintendo's is impressive even for a magician of its calibre - it's a feeling.

Nintendo is often criticised for its slow adoption of internet technology (which seems almost comical in this of all weeks) and its inability to deliver high-quality third-party games consistently on its platforms, and they are fair criticisms. The company repeatedly promises change in these areas with each new device and then fails to deliver. It seems that the patience and pragmatism that are so valuable to the creative side of the company are not always a perfect fit in its business dealings and public communications, and worse still sometimes they go missing, leading to rushed launches that leave everyone suffering.

But if you accept the company's weakness in wheeling and dealing - which, if you've been bitten as many times by the same promises as I have, you probably do - then playing a game like Animal Crossing is a welcome reminder of where you always can place your trust in Nintendo: in its ability to create places where even loss ceases to be disappointing. In a week of subtle distinctions, I hold that feeling closer than ever.

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About the Author
Tom Bramwell avatar

Tom Bramwell


Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.

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