Feature: The Neutered Malevolence of Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Jon tries to drop the hammer but settles for waving a foam finger

This is the second part of our man Jon's personal Animal Crossing: New Leaf diary, which is part of a Nintendo-organised "Mayor Program". You can read all about how we came to be involved in this article, where we also explain our reasoning for participating. With that out of the way, let's see just why Jon can't have nice things.

Having ruled as mayor of my aptly named town of Trash for about two weeks now, I hoped to have achieved more. I’ve been unable to erect a statue of myself (yet), haven’t quite raked in the millions (yet), nor really made life for my animal citizens all that miserable (yet). Animal Crossing: New Leaf doesn’t allow me to abuse my power, reigning in my malevolent tendencies to mostly harmless shenanigans.

Sure, I’m probably a horrible mayor and one I still wouldn't recommend voting for: I don’t own shoes, an inordinate amount of my time is spent running away from bees and I’ve trapped every citizen at least once by digging them into a corner. That doesn’t stop them from smiling, and through cheerful attrition I’ve wanted to stop whacking them over the head with the butterfly catcher. For the most part. That’s still kind of fun.

My citizens all have wonderful character, and as someone new to Animal Crossing I’m impressed by their diversity and personality. Gabi is terribly neurotic and fears having fallen into a time loop when I talk to them too much, which always makes me chuckle. Fauna is a deer who pulls me aside between talk of apples and delivery requests to say our secret greeting (“blood”). I found a paper bag that belonged to Beardo, the hipster bear with a beard, and when I asked what was inside it he became skittish and refused to answer. Later on he asked me to stop digging up all the plants because he has come to love some of them. Sure he has. Suuure he has.

Being mayor grants you certain privileges, like being able to set town ordinances and set up collections for public works projects, which take forever to complete. Funding is limited at first, and between paying down my home loan to Tom Nook and purchasing a vast array of fancy hats it can take a while to get a project going. Nothing is cheap, either: an ordinance runs you a flat 20,000 bells to implement, and the least expensive public works project is double that. I managed to get a yellow bench built outside of my home. It took, like, a week.

Money has been so tight in these first couple of weeks that I finally set my first town ordinance — today, actually. I decreed that the town be a wealthy one so that we all will just be rolling in bells. (If only real life worked that way.) I could have chosen to make the town full of night owls (I presume not literally), early birds (sans worms) or spiffy clean. I chose not to make it clean as tidying up gives me something to do besides shake trees and solve high school drama-level disputes between the townsfolk, and also oh yeah I AM SUPER POOR.

Just getting my house built took a few days to scrounge up enough cash. The welcome party that greets you when you first arrive in town doesn't seem to care that their new leader is homeless, so there's no mayoral mansion fully furnished and waiting for you or anything. In fact, it takes a while for your trusty assistant Isabelle to even inform you that you need a house, and off you're sent to Tom Nook. This guy's reputation precedes him: I've not played another Animal Crossing but I am aware that he's supposed to be kind of a jerk, but here he's probably the only one willing to help you out. For a price, of course, and until you've paid the downpayment you will sleep in a tent and you will like it. Dozens of tree shakes, rock slams and bee attacks later, I scrounged up enough bells to not live like a hobo and had a place to put all my stuff. I've since upgraded my home, but the downpayment is close to 100,000 bells now and that'll take forever to repay.

Funnily enough, for a game so upbeat and harmless, being mayor of this quaint little critter town is probably one of the most stressful times I’ve ever had with a video game. A lot of that comes down to my own personality quirks and life experiences: I get antsy when not able to clear a bottleneck and am otherwise riddled with student loans, so the slow-paced debt simulator parts of New Leaf have a nasty habit of feeling a little too real sometimes.

The town is sprawling and I’m not crazy about how spread-out everything is. My home is near the beach and the orchard I planted but Re-Tail, one of the shops where I can unload my haul, is all the way on the other side of the map — to get money I need to make a lot of long trips that feel like a waste of time — and the town’s shopping district is in another direction entirely. There are three clusters where my citizens have set up homes, all far apart, and the beaches desperately need a connecting bridge. The government of Trash is currently collecting donations to help build a new bridge but citizens are super cheap about it. I guess that’s what you get with an apple-based economy.

New Leaf is slowly blossoming, though, and the more days I spend with it the more lively my town becomes. My population size has doubled, as has the size of my house, and there’s a little tropical island to the south to which I can hitch a ride and collect weird bugs. The island is where I got my first taste of swimming, which is an activity new to Animal Crossing. I don’t much care for being in the water; splashing about feels slow and clunky, and while it’s nice to not be totally landlocked I’m struggling to see why I would bother diving in. Perhaps with more time a reason will present itself and the jelly fish will stop attacking me.

Perhaps I can eventually throw someone else in the water? I'll break you yet, citizens.