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Talking Point: The Effortless Social Charm of Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

A perfect storm of platform and software?

Something peculiar is happening on social networks at the moment; lots of people are talking about a Nintendo game. We see bursts of activity on sites such as Twitter when a Nintendo Direct is taking place, of course, but there's a sustained focus on this particular title among various gamers. Whether it can quite be described as "viral" is another point, but a search of #acnl on Twitter returns a lot of results, and that only shows those that have bothered to use the hashtag. Many with various chums on their 3DS Friend List may also notice the orange light at the top right of the handheld flashing more and more, too, as various systems boot up and launch Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

A sales phenomenon in Japan, early suggestions are that the title has started strongly in the West. Nintendo has referred to an impressive start in North America, while the UK launch saw it chart second in its debut week, only falling behind PS3 blockbuster The Last of Us. It's been critically acclaimed, too, with high scores across the media spectrum of Nintendo sites, multi-platform equivalents and national newspapers. It seems that whatever the game touches turns to gold, or perhaps we should say bells.

But how is Animal Crossing having such an impact? Perhaps it's all about the portable platform, with DS predecessor Animal Crossing: Wild World outperforming its GameCube and Wii equivalents in sales. As a title that demands regular, short visits, a portable system is perfect for jumping in for a quick visit or two, or even just to shake down some trees and catch some bugs; With New Leaf Nintendo has also added StreetPass, SpotPass and QR code functionality to gradually be discovered.

And yet it's a tough title to pin down and describe, with plenty of reviews dishing out high scores and then grappling with the question of how to explain why it deserves such a glowing recommendation. Great credit for this much surely go to the original designers, on one score, but then Nintendo's localisation team. For example, your town is populated with varied, quirky and in some cases neurotic animal characters, and that population only grows with time; it's a peculiar game to experience when an exercise-obsessed hamster asked for an opinion on his fashion sense, but that's exactly what happens.

The in-game economy is also cleverly judged to appeal to obsessives and casual Mayors alike, while discovering the various tricks to accumulate wealth quickly drives many to guides or asking for help online. By operating in real time, too, it's a title that is perfect for contextual chat with other gamers, around topics such as the best times to indulge in certain activities, visit particular spots and more.

While at its core a single player experience, New Leaf is perhaps the first in the series to become a social force externally — we can't even imagine how a New Leaf Miiverse community would have gone down if the 3DS version of the platform had been ready. We've already mentioned Twitter, but even here on Nintendo Life it's a phenomenon on the forums. At the time of writing the 3DS forum has multiple posts for trading items and QR codes, and a large long-running thread that appeared when the title was announced in 2010. It's also a game that, pre-release, was consistently top of the list in terms of most visited game pages on the site.

For those that take the plunge, the intricacies and variations between towns is enough to prompt lengthy chats about what fruit is available on the trees, what awesome ornament you picked up or even how you're getting on in a contest. The past weekend's bug hunt filled many Twitter timelines with ongoing commentaries on the latest critter caught, and a high number of celebratory pictures of Villagers celebrating first place.

The great social aspect is in the online play, however, which first featured in Wild World on the DS. Visiting friends' towns is an obvious highlight, and though voice chat is absent — which could be for the best — the use of text chat in the form of speech bubbles is quick and easy. Charm is once again the word, and when the gates are opened visitors are trusted to behave and show care for the host's town. Assuming those on your Friend List have the right spirit — though the "Best Friend" option allows you to shortlist those you trust — it can be an endearing exchange where you trade items and explore each other's creations.

And then there's the island, where you can collect goodies, of course, but also borrow and buy items and take part in mini-games. You could go to the island alone, but hopping in the boat with ditty singing Kapp'n is most enjoyable in the company of others, while the "tours" are a lot of fun with four charging around popping balloons, finding animals and so on.

New Leaf's social aspect goes further, of course, with the LOL night club, Happy Home Showcase and DreamSuite all enhancing the ability to see what others have been doing and share items. Throw in the ability to share screenshots by visiting i.nintendo.net on your 3DS browser — screens are taken by holding L and R — and, once again, it becomes a game that can be shared perhaps unlike any other Nintendo title.

Yet none of this is particularly revolutionary, and social games have become particularly popular on Facebook in recent years. Pinpointing exact reasons for the enthusiasm around New Leaf is difficult — everyone has their own reasons — but we can guess at some. It could be the polish of the experience, as Nintendo has clearly developed and evolved the AC eco-system and structure over the years. There's the presentation and character portrayal, with it being entirely possible to become emotionally attached to NPCs, while the customisation and outfits to players and their houses are a lot of fun to see in action. Perhaps it's the fact that it offers up some aspects of what's made online social games boom in recent years, but with the player having greater control and not being spammed by extra charges. Animal Crossing: New Leaf dictates the tempo of progress by following real time, but this is a design choice rather than a way to make you pay up for extra accessories. Once you buy the game, the expenditure is over, with a huge amount of content to discover in your own time.

Maybe Animal Crossing has always had this affect on players, in fact we don't doubt that, but this entry now arrives with social networking at a peak. It's a brilliant game, in a much-loved genre and on an increasingly popular portable system. Judging by the waves it's making in online communities, there are millions of diverse, delightful villages being lovingly created, and it's arguably unlike anything else on the market.

But we want to know what you think about the social aspect of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Is it an important part of your enjoyment, or do you prefer to play solo? Let us know in the poll and comments below.

How social are you in Animal Crossing: New Leaf? (207 votes)

I'm constantly visiting and hosting friends

22%

I like playing it with friends and want to do it more

45%

I haven't tried the online features yet, but I'm keen to give them a whirl

16%

I've been chatting about it on social networks mostly, rather than in the game

  3%

I'm yet to try the online functions, but have been tweeting etc about the game

  2%

I'm not really interested in being "social", I just want to play on my own

8%

None of the above

  4%

Please login to vote in this poll.

What's your favourite multiplayer / social feature? (169 votes)

Visiting and exploring friends' towns

49%

Playing island tours and challenges in a group

23%

Visiting other homes through the StreetPass/SpotPass showcase

  4%

Exploring towns through the DreamSuite

  4%

Sharing images with the i.nintendo browser site

6%

I'm not sure

11%

None of the above

  4%

Please login to vote in this poll.

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User Comments (60)

Squashie

#1

Squashie said:

New Leaf is more fantastic than I ever imagined and the online works much better than I ever imagined, I've never played this much online on my 3DS before.

Kamek-Koopa

#3

Kamek-Koopa said:

I'm having a blast with this game. New Leaf is definitely my favorite animal crossing so far.

Marakuto

#5

Marakuto said:

I have completely destroyed my sleeping pattern and played this for extended night hours. I constantly keep going around my town to see if I need to improve this or that so people could enjoy the things I've done with my town. Animal Crossing is simply one of the best video game experiences that almost anyone can try!

NintendoGirl

#6

NintendoGirl said:

I haven't got to visit other towns yet. It never gives me a list of towns to go to, and nobody I know have Animal Crossing (they don't even have 3DSs!). I hope I get to use the online features soon.

tchaten

#8

tchaten said:

ACNL is my first Animal Crossing. What has me hooked is that it feels like I'm retreating into a parallel universe that is nothing but delight. I retreat into this warm and bubbly world and leave the game feeling refreshed and like I just went on vacation. ACNL is my 30 minute retreat that I can take everyday.

The social aspects are rather fun and charming - seeing that train drive by gives you a hint that someone's gates are open. I've met Twitter followers that I had no idea owned 3DSs that are tweeting back at me about how much they are into ACNL. It really is a special game that I will book hundreds of hours into it by the end. I could see myself playing this until the 3DS successor comes out many years from now.

Zodiak13

#9

Zodiak13 said:

I'm that 5% that says I'm not social. I am in real life, but I no longer really play online because I lost my wife and son due to my inability to control my online gaming. So solitude or playing local with my son/wife will have to do.

Dr_42o

#11

Dr_42o said:

This article makes me feel the pain of not having a 3DS.. As if the LttP sequel wasn't enough.. cries

FernandoMachado

#13

FernandoMachado said:

I have to say the online features were such an UNEXPECTED but absolutely PLEASANT feature for me. I didn't expect this game to be SO immersive.

Burning_Spear

#15

Burning_Spear said:

This game is a mile deeper than City Folk or Wild World. I'm looking forward to years of fun with this.

Dodger

#16

Dodger said:

The online features are great except with one thing. The only good thing added in City Folk was the ability to send wii connect 24 letters to your friends. With spotpass being better then wii connect 24, it surprises me that they took that out. That would be my only complaint about the game and the online features. The best friend feature is great once you manage to actually schedule the first visit with a friend. :/

Reggaetony

#17

Reggaetony said:

I haven't been able to do anything online yet (because I'm not ready to show my town ;_;) but I love the idea of playing with friends and other random internet strangers. My town will be ready soon!

belmont

#19

belmont said:

May I ask something, can someone who has bought the game tell me if you can you mute the annoying mbibmbib in the "speech" that was so annoying in the DS version?

JQuest

#20

JQuest said:

Thanks for the write up! I've heard a lot about AC over the years and never have experienced it (let alone anyone explaining it very well). This has genuinely made me interested in picking it up.

oldaq

#21

oldaq said:

Personally I'd love to try out the social features, but I don't have any 3DS friends :(
If someone wants to add me: 1676-4939-4405

(This comment sounds like it belongs on a dating website. Sorry about that)

DerpSandwich

#22

DerpSandwich said:

I still feel like the social aspects could have been done a bit better. I think the little messages are a pretty terrible way to communicate. You can only fit a few words per line, and each message disappears almost immediately. Why can't we voice chat, at least with our "best friends?" And every time someone enters or leaves your town everybody's got to wait through like a forty five second cutscene and a save. What's with that? The whole thing is just not very smooth, and it sort of discourages me from regularly visiting other towns.

I feel like this game has so much potential that could be tapped if Nintendo just opened up the online aspect a bit more. It's close now, it just needs one more little shove.

gavn64

#23

gavn64 said:

Only NINTENDO could make this work it's so quirky yet it feels so right i admit i haven't purchased it yet(no money) but i will cant wait.

Jellitoe

#24

Jellitoe said:

Just need apples and coconuts, then I will probably close my town to strangers.

Backwardsonapig

#25

Backwardsonapig said:

Animal Crossing articles depress me. It was my first AC game and I was loving it, but I lost it at the movie theater last Saturday :'(... Whyyyy?!?!?!?!?!?!?

mrkuribo

#26

mrkuribo said:

Good article. I haven't done much online play in AC yet. I did met some Japanese people on the island but couldn't communicate with them well. I like to take lots of photos and post some of them to twitter - it's a really good feature that I hope will be in all Nintendo-games from now on.

Midnight3DS

#27

Midnight3DS said:

Because it's not a game. It's an alternate life. How many 'games' do you look forward to checking in on every single day? There's stuff to get done, and new surprises constantly.

PinkSpider

#28

PinkSpider said:

At first I was like this game is no different but how wrong I was this game is much richer and deeper than the Wii game.
I think this will be the only game I actually play for an entire year maybe more

Tindre

#30

Tindre said:

I have tweeted about it some as well as visited a friends town a couple of times- we visit each other at 11pm because of the music and we just derp around

I love animal crossing X3

rmeyer

#31

rmeyer said:

Am I a nerd driving to different coffee shops to fill up my hh showcase?

Zombie_Barioth

#33

Zombie_Barioth said:

Animal Crossing really is one of those games you have not clue as to why you like it, you just do. I actually thought about it the other day while wandering around chasing bugs and fish. Theres no actual challenge to be had yet its absolutely addictive.

I thing it comes down to the satisfaction of building something up from nothing, everything you do is progress in some way. Being able to share it all with friends makes it even more rewarding.

puddinggirl

#34

puddinggirl said:

I'm loving all the social aspects of this game. They are all implemented really really well and I totally agree with @Zombie_Barioth, I find it hard to explain to other friends how FUN and addictive the game is. All I can come with is... just play it and you will get it. (It's what happened to me)

Dogpigfish

#35

Dogpigfish said:

I couldn't figure out why my brother was so obsessed with such a boring looking game. I tried it out and 'bam' I can't stop playing it. I thought the GameCube version was dreadful, but strangely can't get enough of this portable version. It keeps expanding everyday. It's pretty terrific.

FadedSun

#36

FadedSun said:

Best Animal Crossing game. I even got my GF hooked. She didn't like it at first, but now she loves it and doesn't want to stop playing. She's in Taiwan right now so we often visit each other's towns. Works flawlessly.

KiwiPanda

#38

KiwiPanda said:

@Marakuto (Post #3) - This pretty much sums up my thoughts. The customizational aspect really provides more and more to do- with so many options, there's, quite literally, always something to do at any time of the day.
And yeah, I really need to get some more sleep ._____.
@Belmont - I'm still exploring the options, and that's something that has been escaping my mind. But couldn't you change what the animals' speech sounded like in Wild World?

Hong

#40

Hong said:

Animal Crossing belongs on portable platforms, that's for sure. I usually play it on the go, like on the bus or before a meeting, and just half an hour to an hour a day is enough.

Lalivero

#43

Lalivero said:

Everyday since release it seems as if 85%+ of my friends list is playing this, myself included; It's incredibly addictive and I think will easily be my most played 3ds game in time, at least until Pokemon X. Some of us have even played several hours or more a day. It's like every time I want to play a game in some free time, this game pops in mind instantly.

Aside from the wait when people arrive in friend towns and needing some more room to chat(like a screen on bottom showing anything that's been said incasw you look away for a sec), my only gripe is how I can never seem to get a tan, even if I'm outside on Tortimer Island all day on a sunny day.

As far as I'm aware, since the island is Summer all the time you should be able get a tan anytime, although it isn't happening(I'd like to be my own skin color). I hope they make it easier to get our own correct skin tone in future installments.

Twilight_Crow

#44

Twilight_Crow said:

I am happy that this game has been such a big success for Nintendo. I however don't like this kind of games. I have played some free ones and building a town, pretending to live in it, collecting useless stuff, playing mini games only at certain dates, is just... Bleh.

But being honest, I specifically hate Animal Crossing. I discovered my distaste when I got AC for GC. Played it for a year until one day I realized that I hated playing it. I literally frowned each time I boot it up, and yet I had kept playing it as part of an OCD routine. I promised to never touch an AC again. It is not for me neither socially nor alone.

Supremeist

#45

Supremeist said:

I know Nintendo tries to make the online a bit watered down because of younger audiences; but they NAILED it for all age groups with New Leaf! It works so well and going to other peoples towns actually helps out your town as well.

TeeJay

#46

TeeJay said:

Every AC article makes me feel worse and worse for not having the game yet... :(

XFsWorld

#47

XFsWorld said:

I have spent over 200+ hours in Kid Icarus: Uprising[had it over a year]. Now I have had this game since release and already spent 50+ hours on it. This will beat my Kid Icarus record in about a month.

Lobster

#50

Lobster said:

I love having friends over, especially one of my best friends - I put her on speakerphone and we chat away while we play to get over the voice chat limitation. My town is a few days ahead of hers so she usually visits me.

This is a game with the ability to create and strengthen friendships, which is something really rare and that should be treasured. It's a powerful force already.

Plus it's a lot of fun to get my town all nice and perfect!

Lobster

#51

Lobster said:

I want to add that once we get to some holidays that are different around the world I expect the social media sites will just EXPLODE. I really can't think of a game that fosters more unity and friendliness than Animal Crossing and the festivals are going to be a big part of that. Everyone is going to want to see stuff that they can't see in their own version and maybe also learn about another culture in the process.

Kind of amazing when you think about it. I mean, when's the last time Call of Duty made you look up the meaning behind a Japanese cultural tradition?

Emaan

#52

Emaan said:

I'm so glad to see this game doing well commercially.

Also the reason: It's Animal Crossing ;)

GamerZack7

#53

GamerZack7 said:

I have yet to play online with friends, but I'm looking forward to it.

Which reminds me... @bezerker99, would you like to meet up sometime soon? B-)

RetroGBHippie92

#55

RetroGBHippie92 said:

I'm hooked on this game, I've been taking and playing it in the car, I played it late a few nights ago just to find as many different fish and bugs as I could, I've already got 50% of the fish, nearly got 50% of all bugs, but because I don't change my 3DS' internal clock, I'll have to wait and do it the proper way and not screw up my game file.

bezerker99

#56

bezerker99 said:

@GamerZack7 Hey dude!!! xD xD xD

We can catch up tonight on some Animal Crossing if you want. I will be home at some point later...going to cut some grass now. I'll tweet you later when I get home, bro.

Jeff_Steelflex

#58

Jeff_Steelflex said:

I've been kinda reconnecting with some of my friends that I moved away from last year through the game, and it's really fantastic. Nothing helps to strengthen friendships than trying to find sharks together, it seems.

suburban_sensei

#60

suburban_sensei said:

I have quite a few people from the AC:NL thread on my friends list, just never seem to be on at the same time to visit their town. I hate my weird work hours!

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