Friday, August 9, 2013

I think it’s no doubt to many that this year has been an amazing year for video games so far, and with the advent of two new consoles along the way to fully complete the shift to a new generation, it’s easy to expect that the next four months of this year will be just as filled with quality titles, if not be even more enjoyable. I’ve played plenty of different video games this year, and a lot of them I’ve enjoyed immensely; I’m not even sure what I would consider my Game of the Year thus far, even though it’s still a long way off, but that’s just because, at the least, I’ve played five different games that I feel could all be my Game of the Year. Even last year I could definitively say that Dragon’s Dogma was my Game of the Year, and everything tended to trail rather far behind, and the year before that, I had the exact same feeling about Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

But despite all of the incredible titles I’ve played so far, there’s one game that I’ve kept on coming back to, day after day after day without fail: Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

For anyone reading this that hasn’t played a past Animal Crossing game, I’ll explain the premise of it. Your character moves into a town inhabited by a myriad of different animal villagers.  You essentially get shaken down by the town’s shop owner, Tom Nook, and have to proceed with upgrading your tiny home into a glorious mansion by paying off debt you’re constantly straddled with—which is the main objective of the game, if there would be considered one. But gameplay is rather simple: you can plant flowers, work on the d├ęcor of your house, fish, catch bugs, help villagers, in a way, there’s almost an endless amount of things to do in Animal Crossing, or at least near endless.

Since the GameCube version (which was an expansion/revamp of the original Nintendo 64 version released in Japan), the series has faced a lot of stagnation through later endeavors. Wild World for the Nintendo DS was plagued rather clunky touch screen controls and poor frame rate, while City Folk for the Nintendo Wii did nothing to really expand the series in any meaningful way aside from the town, which most people, from what I gathered (since I have not personally played City Folk), were not big fans of. However, it seems like New Leaf broke the fog over the Animal Crossing series and really transformed it into something so much more than its previous incarnations.

The additions to New Leaf, while a bit small, seem to have such a large impact on the whole game that, at least to me, give it the longevity that I never had with the GameCube Animal Crossing or with Wild World. The foremost addition is that the character you play (assuming you’re the first villager in the town) is the mayor of your town, so you get to make all sorts of decisions. Ordinances to specialize your town and public works projects to give your town a specific look or theme are the two main things to come out of this, and they both work really well. Just the customizability that comes from it is great. I’m able to have a wind turbine on a bluff overlooking my beach, a street lamp near the train station, and a yellow bench in front of my river. While placing some of these items is a bit finicky, just having that addition is a great step up from the previous Animal Crossing games. And as well as that, there are even more bugs and even more fish to catch (72 of each, in fact), as well as more furniture sets and items than in the previous games.

The sheer number of everything to collect is something I really feel like I appreciate about New Leaf now more than I did about previous incarnations, and while I have no interest in maxing out my Happy Home Academy score (the score given to your house that depends on what furniture items you have and how they’re placed), I feel very invested in catching every bug, every fish, every deep sea creature (another addition to New Leaf), collecting every piece of art, and every fossil. It’s a large undertaking that I don’t think I’ll even be finished with until next May at the earliest, but it’s something I finally want to complete.

But New Leaf also isn’t a game you’d want to play for half of a day every day, at least not to me. I’ll pick it up in the morning, do my town chores of watering flowers, hitting the money rock, getting fossils, and all of those basics, and then put it down for a while, pick it up later, play for a bit, and repeat for a few times each day. It’s a well-crafted game that’s managed to keep me playing a few times a day for about two months now, and will more than likely keep me playing for a long time, something I can’t say as easily about Animal Crossing or Wild World.

Another thing about New Leaf is just how… simple, yet joyful of an experience it is. Maybe it’s just the magic of playing a Nintendo franchise I haven’t played in a long time, but something about New Leaf just fills me with a strange sense of joy, seeing my village develop and flourish as I watch the museum fill up, shops expand, and my town getting new additions to become a more unique place.
It’s an experience that I feel can’t easily be described. After all, talking about Animal Crossing, it may not sound that great to just say you collect fish and talk to people in your village all day, but something about it is just a simple and pleasant experience, and at the moment, one of my, if not my favorite game on the 3DS right now. Whether or not you’ve played a former Animal Crossing game, it’s easily one of the must own titles on the 3DS in my opinion. It captures the simple ideals of playing a game to pass the time and just enjoying it. No real competition, no epic story, nothing too taxing, really. 

That’s all there is to it. Just good fun is all New Leaf is, and it is an amazing game for it.

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