Families come in all shapes and sizes, we say that often, but then we expect a handful of popular games to work with all of them. Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival breaks the mould in both its form and structure, in doing so it caters for a brand new type of audience and introduces them to the world of Animal Crossing.
The game begins with its central board game mechanic. Although this appears similar to Mario (and Wii U) Party, here the experience is substantially different. Rather than a way to join up different mini-games, amiibo Festival's board game instead focuses on a light touch journey where meeting characters, exploring the town and spending time together is central.
There really isn't a lot of skill required here, but that's kind of the point. Using the Animal Crossing amiibo to select a character and then roll the dice makes the experience accessible to players of all ages and abilities —again something we often say but isn't usually true for super young or novice players.
Playing through the board game actually felt like reading a story book together. Each session is built around a particular month that then themes the board with different special days, visitors as well as weather.
Settling down to play after school the family not only have a reason to spend time in the same room, but also end up chatting between goes or discussing which character will appear next or who is their favourite resident.
From here the game builds out a variety of related elements. A range of mini-games can be unlocked and utilise amiibo cards; variety is the name of the game here both in terms of scope and skills to play. This leads to a set of games that again work well with a range of ages.
- Desert Island Escape - This is the pick of the bunch in terms of in-depth gaming. It's a one-player challenge (although we played it with three people each looking after a character) where you control a team of three different characters. Each character has different powers based on the amiibo card you use and need to work together to gather materials and get off the island
- Acorn Chase - Here you aim to collect the acorns before being caught by Resetti. However, the twist is that you can only control the movement by placing different coloured amiibo cards on the Wii U GamePad. It turns into a challenge of memory, dexterity and fast reactions.
- Quiz Show - This one skews older and towards a more gaming crowd. The challenge is to answer questions in an Animal Crossing-themed quiz show. The amiibo cards are used a bit like the buzzer to jump in and answer questions.
- Balloon Island - This reminded me a lot of Monkey Target in Monkey Ball. However, it's controlled with amiibo cards rather than buttons. Placing the card on the GamePad controls the descent of your character that must be timed perfectly to land on the score multiplier.
- Mystery Campers - If you've played the Mastermind board game you will be familiar with this logic challenge. Here you try and guess which 4 amiibo are hiding in tents by trial and error. The amiibo cards select your set of 6 campers and are then placed on the GamePad in order to register each guess.
- Fruit Path - Players compete to beat each other by using the dice symbol on amiibo cards to advance their character, in an experience that's a little similar to Pontoon.
- amiibo Card Battle - Here you select six amiibo cards and take turns to draw one each. The aim is to match the different star signs on the cards with that which appear in the crystal ball.
- Resetti Bop - This is like "Whack a Mole" but with Animal Crossing characters. You must not only place the amiibo card of the right colour on the GamePad to trigger the corresponding hammer, but also be sure that you will win the Rock-Paper-Scissors challenge on the card you choose.
These different games work well to expand the laid back board game experience while at the same time attending to a wide range of potential players.
The board itself can also be customised as you earn more points. Taking play back in an Animal Crossing vein you can add civic works and move different characters into the village with your amiibo cards.
There will be many who bemoan this as a "dumbed down" experience that's not even a proper video game, never mind an Animal Crossing game. However that is to miss what the title offers a wider audience.
As a game for a wide audience, and a gentle introduction to the depth and characters of Animal Crossing, amibo Festival gets a lot right. Combine this with an amiibo card collection from Happy Home Designer and you have the makings of a great family Christmas and present combo.