Animal Crossing: City Folk
Leaving home for the first time and to pastures new; the chance to meet new people, experience new cultures and ways of life, work in unfamiliar territory and have a good time. Animal Crossing has been telling the tale of a lost and lonely bachelor, looking to rise from rags to riches, for quite some time now. The premise was repeated from the GameCube outing onto the DS for Wild World, in that your character arrives in a small village and slowly make themselves at home, acquiring furniture and friends amongst the neighbours and gaining a small, non-taxable income through resource gathering. Now into its 3rd instalment, many would feel that Animal Crossing is about to introduce something big to the formula, to spruce it up for the new generation of hardware, but sadly it never arrives.
For those new to the series, Animal Crossing is a 24-hour simulation. Events take place in real-time, so if someone in the game lets slip that the fishing tournament finishes at 8pm, turning up an hour later means you miss out on the action. This gameplay element means the village is always changing, sometimes due to the seasons, others thanks to events and new inhabitants. The problem is, if you have a job then you’re most likely not going to get the best out of Animal Crossing unless you work from home.
The stumbling block is a feeling of deja-vu; Tom Nook, the resident shop keeper, still comes out with the exact same phrases, upgrades his store to the exact same model and sends you on the same menial tasks at the beginning of the game. Income is still provided through gathering fruit, catching fish and running from the beach with seashells – and fossils are still dug up and examined by Blathers, who still says the same phrases from the past two games.
The big new addition to City Folk is a city, reachable only by bus, thus replacing the train from the original title. A plaza teeming with animal folk and services is initially a breathe of fresh air; a barber shop, shoe shiner, theatre, furniture store and auction house. Soon though their limitations begin to show. The theatre is an awful mix of not-so-funny cabaret with dancing to the equally awful clunky music that has become a feature of Animal Crossing, and the barber shop is an incredibly expensive way of redesigning your character. Perhaps the only places of interest are the furniture store which, whilst pricey, offers full catalogues of items which would often takes many months to acquire through Tom Nook and being friendly with neighbours. Redd, the shady racoon that sells expensive stolen goods, has a hideout around the corner from the posh establishments but requires a password that can take forever to find from residents.
Another notable new feature is a telescope that can be found in the museum, along with the cafe and exhibits that you wish to donate. Run by the wife of Blathers, there’s an interesting, if short, story to hear and you can gaze at the stars at night and draw constellations with the Wii Remote. It’s an interesting inclusion that fits in well with the village. Online play is fully implemented once more and it’s now possible to talk to other players through a speaker box that comes with the more expensive edition of the game, though the age gap between myself and other players meant there wasn’t much to talk about besides bartering for rare items.
Rather than add a stream of extras to the solid gameplay we’ve all come to love, basic gameplay elements appear to have been complicated somewhat to try and slow down the pace of the game, which is incredibly frustrating. For instance, tools can’t be ordered from your catalogue at Nook’s store, and instead you have to visit each day hoping he has the apparatus you require. Further more, to get Redd’s password to enter his safehouse, players are forced to converse with the other animals in town, hoping that eventually one day it will be revealed. It’s a cruel way to pro-long access to arguably one of the better characters in Animal Crossing, and if anything symbolises this lazy sequel.
The Nintendo Wii is often criticised for having a catalogue of games that fail to innovate a genre, or disappoint with lacklustre progression over previous instalments. Animal Crossing: City Folk falls squarely into that category, with its 7-year old gameplay that has barely been altered and so asks gamers to complete the same menial tasks of resource gathering, furniture trading and the god-awful crazy conversations with other residents. There simply isn’t enough of anything new and revolutionary to warrant years of dedicated play filling the same catalogues of collectables and earning awards that no-one except yourself will ever care about.
Animal Crossing became a title that players would visit two or three times a day just to see what was happening in their village; were there any new residents, did a travelling salesman wander into the district, did Wonda reply to that letter I sent? Instead I’m not quite sure those who have done that sort of thing for the best part of a decade could carry on and still find the excitement that could be had in the days gone by.