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.