Playing videogames is an anti-social hobby. I’m sure we’ve all lost girlfriends because of our ’sad’ interests, grown cold to friends thanks to a hyped up release, and skipped days off work so to finally reach level 42 in order to use the supa-dupa laser cannon in online quests. First-person shooters and racing games usually hold our attention for a few months, whereas the real heavyweights, such as Final Fantasy, can take up to a year. That’s all very well; it’s human to become addicted to things that we like; but how exactly do you handle games that require you to live the life of an onscreen character, in real time?
For those that still don’t know, Animal Crossing is unique. Your character moves to a town far away from his parents, rents a house and takes on a mortgage. If you play the game at 8 in the morning, it’ll be 8 there too, and you’ll see neighbours out for a morning stroll. In the afternoon, they’ll be running around together, sniffing flowers, or trudging about with an umbrella if it’s raining. In the evening the town will get darker, they’ll retreat to their houses and turn on the lights; and very late on, the town’s shop will close for the day. It’s like a parallel world, only with animals.
Didn’t you know? The town’s people are animals! Where have you been? Tom Nook runs the local shop, Pelly the pelican looks after the post office (and Pete the pelican is the postman) and Tortimer, the town’s mayor, is a tortoise. All the animals have their own personality and will react differently to situations, which makes each day just as exciting as the last.
Now when you first start, you meet KK Slider, the resident “Saturday night guitar playing dude”, who takes you through the game’s options. Upon completing that you are whisked to your train journey, on which you name yourself and the town you’ll soon be living in. On the train , you meet a cat with a terrible sense of humour who revels in laughing at your situation. Though irritating he may be, this little cat happens to know the local landlord, and gives him a call on the back of the carriage to arrange your arrival.
“Get away from me hippo, you’re bothering me.”
So you arrive, eager to explore this new town of yours, and meet Tom Nook, the aforementioned landlord. He also has a weird sense of humour, laughing at the fact that you have no money. But he’s kind at heart, and offers you a small house in exchange for a mortgage, part of which you’ll work off at his shop by running errands; in short, a tutorial, a crash course tutorial at that. The errands you run for Nook won’t require any degrees, you just simply learn how to write letters to town folk (which makes them like you, more on this later), give presents and generally get to know the ins and outs of the town.
There’s a good variety of services to found around the town, the locations of which change everytime to start afresh. Tom Nook is perhaps the person you will see the most of, especially early on, as it’s his stock that lets you hit the ground running. When you start out, selling fruit from the many tree’s around will be your only income, but soon after you can purchase a shovel, fishing rod, axe and a net to aid your quest for hard cash. There’s plenty of opportunities for this, too; fish in the river or sea; sell shells; dig for treasure or even run errands for villagers and sell the presents they award you. There’s also a police station, at which any lost items are gathered; the post office takes care of letter sending plus, if you have a card reader (not available in PAL territories, unfortunately) you can use it there; the Able Sisters design shop, where you can make your own patterns and use them as carpets or wallpaper in your house; and finally the museum, where you can donate archaeological finds, rare insects and paintings that you uncover.
The main premise behind Animal Crossing is to collect the many weird and wonderful items that the game possesses, and furnish your house with them. The game doesn’t simply end if you find them all, as there’s still the museum to complete and villagers to converse with. You can also visit a friends town on a separate memory card and speak to his or her villagers, buy stuff at their shop and, cunningly, take home a few samples of their fruit as to plant an orchard of your own back home. Non-local fruit sells for 3 times as much as normal, and this adds a sense of business to the game.
Always time to otake in a museum or two.
And it’s not finished there either. Go to Tom Nook with an item you want to send to a friend, and he’ll give you a special code. Give this code to your friend, he’ll visit Nook at his own town and will receive the item. Genius! There are also special characters who visit the town from time to time like Wendal the Walrus, the wallpaper salesman (that’s a lot of W’s) where you can purchase rare items. And because the game runs in real time, you’ll only meet Wendal about twice a month, which gives you plenty of time to get some cash together anticipating his visit. Nook also changes his stock everyday, so you are urged to play the game everyday to see what new stuff he has. When you buy something from him, he’ll add it to your personal catalogue, which is a collection of items that you have possessed during your time there; sell something by accident or to generate some quick cash, and you can order it back from him. Also, the more you spend at his shop, the more he’ll upgrade, so his store can hold many more items for you to buy. And after you’ve paid off your debt’s to Mr Nook, he’ll offer to upgrade your house for, for another mortgage. This means your house can become bigger, offering more room for storage meaning more things to buy!
It’s crazy stuff, this. And that’s not mentioning the wacky Animal Island you can visit when connecting up the GameBoy Advance (only the original and SP version though- the DS has a distinct lack of the port used for this), in which you keep your islander happy by feeding him, and he’ll reward you with items, sometimes rare and valueable.
So, that’s a run down of just some of the things that you can do and achieve within the world of Animal Crossing. But is it actually any fun? Hell yeah. You’ll spend a good couple of hours each day running around the town finding fruit to sell, treasure to dig up, weeds to get rid of and plenty of villagers to converse with before heading to Nook to sell your goods and then to the post office to send letters. Villagers seem to have different moods each day, and at first some might seem a bit arrogant, they’ll eventually warm to you. They even remember when they last saw you- I once went without playing for two weeks, and upon coming back, almost everyone stated how they hadn’t seen me for ages.
I guess that told him.
The villagers even get excited when you send them a letter- providing it’s written with punctuation and grammar. It is possible to send threats to them too, and eventually they’ll move away elsewhere. However, being nice to them reaps its rewards as they’ll often send you presents back through the post.
Visually, Animal Crossing seems to have taken Parappa the Rapper’s funky look and turned it into 3-D. The whole landscape is bright and colourful, and the trees’ blossom in spring and grass is covered by snow in winter, with bees travelling from flower to flower. Town folks’ faces have different expressions to react to situations, and whilst they speak in a weird animalese (you can make it silent) they really seem to get their points across. You generally know when an animal is happy to see you or is just plain annoyed.
Although Animal Crossing mimics real life, there is only so much that you can do when confined to the space in your town. It would have been nice to be able to purchase ‘holiday homes’ in other towns, but you seem limited to the original choice from four plots in the same acre. Even though new villagers move in, it can sometimes become tiresome to keep talking to them and sending out letters; a copy and paste feature for letters would have been an excellent addition so to stop taking ages to write 10 letters to every single villager.
5000 bells is pretty steep for a green and blue umbrella.
Luckily, on our Thunderbolt meet-up back in February, Sophie told me of a devious plan to play ‘dirty’ with the town. Basically, you do the exact opposite that you’re supposed to in regards to town folk. Leave rubbish lying around, send trash messages and death threats to sweet and innocent animals and respond sarcastically to questions. Eventually you can rid the entire town of villagers and it to yourself; it’s obvious that this wasn’t the way Nintendo wanted gamers to play, but the fact that you reverse the comings and goings of entire communities shows the diversity and depth of the Animal Crossing friendship scheme.
Playing Animal Crossing is just like an interactive Big Brother. you tune in each day to see what the town is up to, see what everyone’s feelings are and generally ‘evict’ those that you don’t like. It’s easy to see why everyone in Europe was importing this from the US; there is simply nothing else like it. And whilst unique doesn’t necessarily mean great, Nintendo have a real winner here, something that almost every gamer out there will want to show to their friends, who won’t stop bothering their parents until they have it too, and then they show it to their friends….
Nine out of ten