Tag Archives: Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp REVIEW

Mobile games annoy me constantly.  I’ve been burned by them repeatedly, particularly by the way they create a ceiling for their players that can only be broken with constant attention or with real money.  I shouldn’t be so put off by this, because they are generally available for free download.  The consistent problem is that without spending money, progression in most mobile games requires so much time and repetition that they cease to be enjoyable.

Nintendo is particularly fair about its design and business practices, but I was nevertheless worried about Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.  Fire Emblem Heroes was a great game, but it eventually got too big for its britches in by opinion.  The meta game grew so expansive and leveling so time-consuming that I couldn’t stick with it.  That’s the danger of creating a mobile game, and it’s a slippery slope to walk on.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp came out in late November, and having spent more than 300 hours in New Leaf I knew I had to try it out.

Nintendo has executed the mobile formula more elegantly than ever with Pocket Camp.  The secret is that they chose the perfect gameplay style in Animal Crossing.   I wrote once before about how the games’ strength is escapism, and somehow they managed to preserve that in mobile.

Pocket Camp is new, and designed for smartphones, so I expected the experience to be streamlined.  Thankfully, it’s streamlined without removing the most pleasant moments.  As a campsite manager, the player’s minute-to-minute tasks include crafting new furniture for the campsite, exploring small areas around the campsite to gather fruit, fish, bugs, and other items, and talk to other campers.  These campers will give you advice and make requests in exchange for giving you resources or Bells.  You can also invite them back to your campsite, and they’ll visit once you decorate with certain items of furniture.

Befriending other villagers will contribute to your overall level.  Level increases let you craft new items of furniture or amenities for your campsite.  You can also increase your friendship level with each villager.  Eventually they will also give you specific rewards like clothing or pictures after you spend a long time interacting with them.  New villagers will show up all the time with new requests.  Meeting up with them and socializing doesn’t just level you up, it also makes room for new regulars around your campsite.  This entire system feels like a huge step forward for the series.  You could argue that having “levels” in Animal Crossing is counter to the point of these games, but having trackable gains in your relationship with each villager is strangely rewarding.

The crafting and material system is also gracefully done.  I like the fact that you don’t have to play the waiting game to get furniture for your house.  There is still a marketplace where you can purchase furniture with Bells alone, but being able to make it yourself is quicker and more enjoyable.  Some of it takes hours or even days to build, but the beauty of Animal Crossing is that you’re probably only going to play it for about an hour each day regardless, so waiting doesn’t feel like a big deal.  It’s completely different from other mobile games like Pokemon Shuffle with point systems that force you to wait a certain amount of time before you can play anymore.  When your items are ready to place, the game also makes it easy to arrange furniture.  It uses a drag-and-drop grid system from Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer that’s quick and easy to use, another great evolution for the series.

In my experience so far, the game is paced in a way that makes it feel just like normal Animal Crossing.  Microtransactions also play a reasonable role.  The player can purchase Leaf Tickets to accelerate crafting, buy crafting spaces, or buy access to Shovelstrike Quarry, where the player can go mining for rare jewelry to sell.  But Leaf Tickets aren’t necessary.  Time, patience, and playing  the game to its fullest can give the player a satisfying experience.  Leaf Tickets are more like a cosmetic plus, an accelerant.  There’s no such thing as “having an edge” in Animal Crossing, so paying to win isn’t an issue.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a great mobile game so far.  I think Nintendo may have found its perfect franchise for mobile.  It may prove too much of a battery hog, or it could create an artificial paywall given the time, but I think it’s a fundamentally good game.  It cuts out a lot of the fluff and restraints that I’ve run into with every other mobile game.  I recommend everybody check it out for now on iOS and Android.

Animal Crossing is Life Done Better

I play video games a lot.  I love games that are complex and compelling.  The Legend of ZeldaSkyrim, and Super Smash Bros. rank among my favorite games ever.  Anything that has action, rich worlds, and intriguing mechanics usually wins my heart.  But the one game I’ve played more than any other game, for over 330 hours, is Animal Crossing.  Specifically, New Leaf for Nintendo 3DS.

This should make no sense whatsoever.  I barely understand it.  How does an action nut with no nostalgia for Animal Crossing fall so head over heels for it?

Animal Crossing logo
The logo for the Animal Crossing series

The truth is, I didn’t fall for it right away.  It took some time.  Animal Crossing is actually a pretty tough nut to crack.  Every game in the series starts with you moving into a new town and buying a new house.  Actually, you basically start off with a tent.  Your mortgage is managed by Tom Nook, the enterprising capitalist Tanooki.  The only way to improve your house is by spending thousands of Bells (the game’s currency, kind of like yen) to pay off your debt.

Already this sounds like a drag, right?

The thing is, the world works differently in this game.  There’s no deadline to pay off your mortgage.  You do whatever you want to, for however long you want, and pay off your debt whenever you can.  So how do you make money?  You can sell furniture, bugs, and fish you catch.  Sometimes you just find money under rocks (wishful thinking).  Sometimes you get it for some other random reason.

On paper, this sounds easy, and maybe even boring.  The whole game consists of talking to your fellow villagers, doing odd jobs, planting trees, flowers, and structures in your town, decorating your house, and collecting things.  Isn’t there any challenge or spice to make this game more complicated?  Well…yes and no.

New Leaf gameplay
Animal Crossing: New Leaf gameplay.

Animal Crossing games are not hard.  Instead, they’re meant to keep you there for the long haul.  That’s where the magic happens.

There’s no time constraint on paying hundreds of thousands in debt, but it takes a while to make that much money.  This also means it takes a long time to get the biggest house and furnish the nerd paradise you always dreamed of.  Animal Crossing sucks you in and keep you coming back, day after day.

Interested in catching every fish, bug, and/or sea creature?  You’d better be prepared to stick around all four seasons of the year and keep coming back every day.  But don’t worry, it’ll give you the chance to celebrate Toy Day, Carnival, and the Harvest Festival with your animal friends.  (Yeah, this game has holidays, and they’re super fun.)

Like creating custom designs for your clothing and town flag?  You can become a pixel artist and create clothing from whatever video game, show, or crevice in the depths of your brain that you want.

Want to cultivate every color of flower in the game?  Well, to get the elusive blue rose, you’re going to have to buy daily fertilizer from the most upgraded convenience store and learn the genetic layout of red roses like Gregor Mendel is your damn patron saint.

Gregor Mendel
I just felt the need to include Gregor Mendel here. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Animal Crossing is only as hard and time-consuming as you want it to be, and at first glance, there’s no reason to do any of this stuff I’ve mentioned.  It all sounds humdrum and boring, like a poor recreation of real life.  But the whole reason this game was made was in order to serve as a second life, one that’s better than reality.

The series’ creator, Katsuya Eguchi, wanted to make the game because of a sense of loneliness he felt from being 300 miles away from his home in Chiba.  Therefore, he wanted to make a game that provided a sense of “family, friendship, and community” for all its players.

True to form, my perception of Animal Crossing is a simulation of the perfect life in a perfect town.  There are challenges, problems, and room for improvement in every town, but everybody trusts each other and wants everybody else to succeed.  Bad blood has no place in Animal Crossing world.  In a world that’s often stifling, cruel, and selfish, these games provide a true escape.  They are the ultimate source of “me” time.  It’s probably why I played New Leaf for an hour every day for almost a year.

Also, the music is just…sublime.

I should mention that these games are not perfect.  Eventually you start to run out of room to put things.  Having your villagers suggest nickname changes or say the same things gets old, and the illusion begins to wear thin as always.

But before that happens, you’re going to spend days’ worth of happy times doing…whatever you want, and that’s why Animal Crossing is different from any other game in the world.  It showed that escapism and fun in video games doesn’t need to be high fantasy or intense action.  It can just be a place where you feel like you belong.   Your very own utopia in a box.

Think I’ll pay mine a visit.