Animal Crossing is now more than 10 years old. During these 10 years, the franchise has never really had a true evolution. Animal Crossing: Wild World on the DS brought a few new ideas to the DS, but it felt too familiar to the Gamecube classic. When Animal Crossing showed up on the Wii in the form of City Folk, it only recycled those idea that Wild World brought, truly making the franchise feel stagnant. Announced well before the 3DS launched, Animal Crossing: New Leaf promised to reinvigorate a tired franchise. Was waiting over two years for this title well worth the wait?
For the past three Animal Crossing games, you began the game as a traveler moving into a quaint little town. In New Leaf, you arrive to your surprise as the town’s new mayor, unanimously elected by the townspeople. After finally agreeing to take on the duties of mayor, you’re still left with the first task any new resident has to tackle: finding a house. For first time in the franchise, however, you can claim just about any spot to lay down your foundation. Also, you’re now given several different town layouts to choose from before you even move in. Now, you don’t have to be stuck with a river you don’t like.
If you’re familiar with the franchise, you’ll notice a lot of other changes. Tom Nook has moved out of his shack of a store, turning it over to his sons Tommy and Timmy. Nook now heads up a home improvement store where you’ll be going to acquire home loans for house expansions. New Leaf is greatly improved in this area, letting you add up to three new rooms on your ground floor while still expanding your basement and second floors. You now have the ability to order custom exteriors as well, changing everything from your roof, fence, mailbox and even front door.
With all these new expansion options, it means you’re going to need to earn far more bells (the game’s currency) than before to get every single loan paid off. Unfortunately, the ways to earn money haven’t changed. You’ll still plant foreign fruit you get from friends and harvest them for 500 a pop. You’ll continue to walk up and down the river banks and ocean shores fishing until your pockets are full. You’ll wake up and dig for fossils, hit rocks and shake trees for coins, etc. The only new way to earn money is finding ore by hitting breakable rocks.
Since you are the mayor, you do have more to do than just take care of your house, shop and plant flowers everywhere. You’ll need to talk to your neighbors and see what new public works projects they want. You have a secretary that works for you at the town hall, and it’s through her that you can order such projects as benches, fountains, street lights, park clocks, police stations, camp sights and even put in new shops and upgrade existing ones. Once you have a public work underway, a gyroid (weird little noisemaker no one’s ever been able to truly explain) will be placed to take donations for the project, but neighbors will very rarely donate leaving the bulk of the remainder to you. You can also set town ordinances that control such things as store hours, accumulation of weeds and trash and store prices. Aside from these projects and ordinances, you don’t feel anymore powerful as a mayor than you would be in any other Animal Crossing.
Once you have a few bells left over from paying off your home loans and funding projects, you can hit the shops on Main Street. You may be dismayed to find out that the gardening items from Nook’s shop have been relegated to a gardening store that opens up several days later. The museum has also been tucked away to the far end of Main Street, but it does have a cool expansion that lets you buy silver tools and rent out exhibit rooms for extra displays and storage. There’s a picture booth for your ID card, a new shoe store called Kicks that also sells socks and leggings which sits right next to the clothing emporium Abel Sisters, and a new shop called the Dream Suite. In the suite, you can visit someone’s town by exchanging dream codes and you can explore their town safe from doing it any harm.
Shrunk the comedian from City Folk’s threatre has returned to Main Street where he opens up a club later on called Club LOL. You’ll be learning cute little emotions once again by listening to Shrunk tell his unique brand of humor. Club LOL will also be a nightly hang out spot where you can dance and on Saturdays, you can listen to K.K. Slider play an original piece while also giving you a copy to play at home. There’s also the HHA Showcase, which lets you access model homes of people you meet via Streetpass. Once you obtain a model home, you can order just about anything you see for your own collection.
The biggest addition New Leaf brings to the series is the tropical island. Although you could go on an island in the Game Cube version via linking to a Game Boy Advance, the island in New Leaf offers a lot more to do. The old mayor Tortimer has taken up a permanent vacation on this island, and conducts special activities called tours. These tours let you do a variety of things, such as fish, catch bugs, whack machines with toy hammers, find fruit in hedge mazes, pop balloons, scavenge hunt, digs for fossils and more. If you do well in a tour, you can earn a gold, silver or bronze trophies. The better the trophy, the more medals you win. Tours also come in different levels of difficulty, but some of the harder games suffer from poor distribution of spawn points making them out to be too frustrating for what they’re worth. The island has its own shop with exclusives furniture and items, and they only accept medals, so you’ll want to take part in tours whenever you can. You can also join Club Tortimer for 50 medals, which lets you play on the island with players from across the world. It’s also through the island that you’re introduced to Animal Crossing’s newest activity, swimming.
When you first arrive, you can borrow a wet suit, or you can buy one if you see it the shop. Swimming is a great new addition to the series, as it’s fun and very relaxing. You can also deep sea dive for new creatures, greatly expanding the game’s catalogue of animals. Like most critters, the shadows that you see in the water have their own sizes and behaviors, letting you guess what you might be catching before you snag it. Unfortunately, many of the deep sea creatures are worthless, making it a poor avenue for earning bells.
The island also introduces several new fruit to the game. Bananas, mangoes, lychees, durians and persimmons (although persimmons are introduced through a store upgrade) make up the new line of produce but sadly, they are only worth half of what the other foreign fruit are. If your main method of bell making from previous games was harvesting fruit, you won’t be inclined setting up any exotic fruit orchards. Even though the game also introduces deep sea creatures, you’ll still be left fishing up the same species of fish, catching the same types of bugs and breeding the same hybrids of flowers. It’s such a shame that with all the new improvements New Leaf makes, it doesn’t start fresh with a completely new encyclopedia of flora and fauna.
The furniture catalogue has improved a great deal. There are of course returning sets, but there are also new ones such as the Mermaid series that can only be collected from the island shops and the Balloon series which can be collected by shooting down passing balloons. Tommy and Timmy’s store sells fortune cookies for two play coins a piece, and each fortune has the possibility of winning you exclusive Nintendo-themed furniture and clothing. Holiday events have returned to provide great opportunities to earn exclusives furniture pieces. You can also hang pennants, clocks and radios from your walls, as well as have a few new camera angles to view your room from. Feng Shui returns to play a governing role in how well you lay out your floor plans if you want to continue earning high scores from the HHA. You can also take some furniture to New Leaf’s newest shop, Re-Tail, and have its upholstery changed.
You can play online with your friends by changing your system’s friend code. No longer do you have to exchange another unique game code, but you still need to trade dream codes to access each other’s towns via the Dream Suites. When a friend comes to down, you have the ability to add them as a best friend. Once you are best friends, you can chat with one another without being in each other’s town. It’s a good step forward, but whenever it comes to anything online, Nintendo shows that it also takes a step back. When you meet people via Club Tortimer. there are no options to befriend them. Since you’re unable to use the Home button while online, you can’t look up your friend code, so both of you will need to have it written down or stored elsewhere to exchange. It makes making new friends too frustrating and voice chat isn’t even supported. At least you had that option with City Folk.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the best looking installment in the series, although its simple artistic direction keeps it from being a visually impressive 3DS title. The river and oceans are much improved, looking a good deal more realistic. There also seems to be a bit more detail on the creatures that you catch. You’ll also notice subtle things, such as animal neighbors being smaller or taller depending on the type of animal they are, and some will leave behind specific footprints. Even little things like popping confetti poppers to celebrate completed public works projects and new dancing animations that will make you smile from the copious amounts of charm the game consistently produces.
Unfortunately, the game sounds almost as similar to the 2002 original. Every sound effect from picking up an item to setting it down, from falling in a pitfall to catching a bug or a fish, sound exactly the same. The game continues to use the indecipherable jibberish when the townsfolk are talking to you. It’s the game’s style but at this point in the franchise’s life, it’s redundant. There is, however, a new music score and like the previous Animal Crossings, it changes on the hour. There are also new pieces for the island as well for its tours. Had it not been for the new music, the audio wouldn’t have made the game feel any fresher.
It’s impossible to list every little change that’s taken place in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. There’s an immense number of them, as well as several major changes such as the tropical island and being the mayor. If you play the game for extended periods of time, however, you’ll begin to notice the novelty of these improvements start to wear off. The core mechanics of the game have stayed exactly the same and so much potential has still been left untapped. You’re still wondering why neighbors aren’t playing with your tennis tablet and why you have a perfectly good go-cart sitting inside your home instead of being able to take it outside and go for a ride. It’s still a very lovable game but in comparison to other Animal Crossings, it’s only returned the series to where it was instead of where it should be.
Swimming and diving for sea creatures is a fun new activity | Mayoral powers lets you customize the look of your town | Tropical island allows for cooperative and competitive online play
Catching the same bugs and fish as you did 10 years ago is disappointing | Still the same daily grind to make money | Difficult to make friends online and no voice chat support
Born and raised in Denver, CO in 1979, I've been playing games since I was old enough to hold a controller. I was weened on Atari, then Nintendo and Sega, and currently own just about every console and handheld made. I'm an avid hip hop fan and I love to read books. Favorite authors include Dean Koontz, Stephen Hunter, and Christopher Moore. I'm also an avid movie watcher and I try to collect as many Blu-Rays as I can.
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Animal Crossing is now more than 10 years old. During these 10 years, the franchise has never really had a true evolution. Animal Crossing: Wild World on the DS brought a few new ideas to the DS, but it felt too familiar to the Gamecube classic. When Animal Crossing showed up on the Wii in the form of City Folk, it only recycled those idea that Wil