Review: Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS)

Return of the thieving raccoon

It’s likely that before the archaic and newly-retired Mayor Tortimer sailed off into the sunset he turned to the fresh-faced Mayor-to-be beside him and whispered, “Remember, you’re only a Mayor, not a King, and this is a democracy, not a dictatorship.” And with that, he turned, winked, donned his Hawaiian shirt and embarked for the nearby tropical island. This is the true motto of Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

If you were hoping, like our malevolent Mayor Jon to enforce crazy and slightly questionable laws into your town, build a 50 foot statute of yourself and initiate a full-on reign of terror to send your animal neighbours shaking in their boots, or even simply take complete personal control of the festival scheduling duties, then you may be disappointed to know that sadly there is a limit to your mayoral prowess. However, this slight set-back is only a minor blemish on an otherwise perfectly peaceful gaming experience.

New Leaf is unlike any of the other Animal Crossing games you may have played, finally putting an end to the whines of previous critics who complained that Animal Crossing ‘has no point’ and there isn’t much to physically do. By putting you in Tortimer’s tiny tortoise-shaped shoes and providing you with the daunting task of revitalizing and urbanising the town, Nintendo finally provides the player with a reason to keep coming back, other than to rid the land of all of those blasted weeds.

As Mayor you will be spending the majority of your time making money, lots and lots of money. You'll need it in order to build a new public work project, such as a bridge that'll cost you 128,000 Bells, or to establish a new ordinance there is a processing fee of 20,000 Bells. Along with paying off your debt to the infamous loan-shark Tom Nook, filling your house with pretty things and lavishing yourself with new getups, the continuously burning hole in your wallet can feel pretty menacing. However, there are many secret ways of making money very quickly in New Leaf, most of which have something to do with that tropical island that Tortimer has moved to. Hmm…

When you’re not busy collecting signatures from townsfolk in order to build clubs and other facilities, the gameplay reverts back to the familiar slow-paced grounds of Animal Crossing: Let’s Go to the City and Animal Crossing: Wild World, allowing you to spend your in-game minutes however you choose, from promenading barefoot along the moonlit sandy shores, to catching bugs, fishing for sharks, diving into the deep blue or even dancing to DJ K.K.’s electro beats.

There are a few new additions to New Leaf to look forward to, such as brand new characters and animal species (hamsters and deer) and new types of fruit such as lemons, bananas and durians. The Main Street and town also accommodate new buildings, such as a Gardening Shop run by the adorable sloth Leif, Club LOL which is a new theatre-come-nightclub hosted by Dr Shrunk and DJ K.K., Brewster’s Café which replaces the Roost from previous games, Tom Nook’s new business endeavour Nook’s Homes — which works as a housing remodelling shop — and a Campsite for travelling animals to stay at, to name a few. Most establishments can be upgraded by spending a certain amount of Bells, such as the Museum which now expands onto two floors, with an additional gift shop and personal display section.

Visually Animal Crossing has always been a treat to look at – bright colourful sceneries, cheery cartoonish characters, vibrant colours and rounded child-like designs — and New Leaf is no exception. The implementation of 3D adds a lovely amount of depth to the on-screen images, allowing you to easily discern nearby objects from those further away, and works brilliantly with the revolving globe landscape design. New Leaf has also amended character designs by altering the heights of certain animals, so that elephants are no longer the same size as squirrels; it’s not a huge improvement, but certainly makes a town populated by bickering animals look as realistic as it possibly can.

The music and sound effects of New Leaf are also on par with the serenely orchestrated melodies of its DS, Wii, Gamecube and N64 cousins, providing the perfect soothing background to the relaxing world of Animal Crossing. Once again, players can also obtain recordings of K.K. Slider’s songs to play at their leisure in their own in-game houses, as well as the bonus option of album posters to adorn every wall. Subtle sound effects are also of a high quality, from the bubbling of water beneath the waterfall, to the cooing of the owl which watches over the town’s notice board at night, everything helps to create a convincing real-life town setting full of energy and life.

It can be argued that the Animal Crossing franchise is best suited to Nintendo’s portable systems, as there is no greater feeling of satisfaction than taking your town with you to your best friend’s house, linking up and then axing dozens of their trees, stealing their fruit, and sitting back to watch their helpless expressions. New Leaf allows players to hook up either locally or far away via online access, meaning that a European gamer can happily run amuck in their American friend’s town if they have an invitation to do so. However, if you want to cause total chaos and destruction in neighbouring towns without losing all your friends, you can use the facilities of the all-new Dream Suite, which for the small sum of 500 Bells allows you to visit other towns in dream-mode; anything you do will not affect the real state of the town – which is pretty much an open invitation to go mental with the shovel and axe.

StreetPass is also available to use in New Leaf, collecting data from passing players and allowing you to access their homes and mail-order their furniture from the boulevard on the Main Street. Finally, any custom clothing designs created at the Able Sisters’ shop can also be saved as QR codes and scanned in by friends, giving players an easy way to share their favourite creations, while in-game screenshots that are exported to the SD card are a fun extra.

Conclusion

New Leaf is designed to be played in small chunks, every day, over a very long period of time, and stresses this fact by slowly unwinding events in real-time. Yet it is apparent from only a comparably short time — as opposed to months and years — spent with the game that Nintendo has done a great deal to address the complaints of its Wii predecessor, and provided plenty of exciting new features and buildings to enjoy. Taking on the role of Mayor is a great innovation to the series, finally giving the player a real reason to keep coming back time and time again.

It's a shame that powers of the Mayor are slightly limited to installing benches, instating pre-designated laws and occasionally building bigger venues, however the vibrant visuals and delightful gameplay of New Leaf stop this from ever becoming too much of a problem, making New Leaf the latest essential member of your 3DS collection.

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