Animal Crossing: New Leaf doesn’t live up to it’s ‘New’-branded name but it does make a compelling argument for fans of the series to return. Like many Nintendo franchises, this latest installment isn’t going to mixing things up but it will still deliver a great deal of fun. New Leaf retains the slow pacing that the series is known for while adding some interesting and welcomed additions. This is the best looking and playing Animal Crossing to date, but if you’ve spent a good deal of time with the series then you might find it a little shallow.
The core gameplay to Animal Crossing has always been about managing a small town while you work off your debt and live amongst the other animal citizens. You’re able to go catch bugs, fishing, gardening and much more. The most interesting aspect is that Animal Crossing works on a real time clock. Stores don’t open until 9 AM and will close at 8 PM (just like they would in the real world). If you’re wanting to achieve something at a certain time, you better plan your calendar around this game. This allows for the management simulation to take on a more realistic vibe.
It’s this focus on a real clock that causes the game to have a very deliberate and intentionally slow pace to it. You aren’t meant to play for a long chunk of time because there aren’t enough different activities to take part in at once. New Leaf changes this pacing a bit by slowing it down even further. At the beginning earning money is slower than in past games and some basic shops aren’t open until a few weeks after first starting out. However, New Leaf adds an unlock that lets you set whether your town rises early or closes down late, a great addition for anyone who might not be able to play during certain time frames. This irregular pacing isn’t a bad feature, it just makes for a different playstyle than what you might be used to, and that you’ll have to be very aware of - for a long time.
But this focus on the real world is what makes Animal Crossing quite special. The game almost becomes a welcomed chore in the sense that it integrates into your life. Characters will acknowledge when it’s your birthday and holiday ceremonies will even take place year round. For example, a Christmas themed character will come to down on December 25th and Halloween will have your townsfolk dressing up and giving out candy. The game also advertises special events that will take place in the weeks to come so you will always have something to look forward to on your calendar. This, along with the 3DS being an easy pick up and play device, allow for New Leaf to easily become a fun reminder for as long as you own the game. In fact, it’s for this exact reason that I chose to get a digital copy; it will always be on my system and ready to go.
New Leaf changes up your purpose in the town by putting you in the role of the new mayor. From the start you get to choose between a number of different town layouts and even where you want your house to be built (a fantastic feature for any Animal Crossing veterans). Being the mayor also allows for you to choose what structures get built, where objects are placed and even if you want to kick a citizen out of your town. You don’t have many different abilities as the mayor but the addition of a little more control over your town is greatly appreciated. Apart from this, you’re going to be spending your time playing just like you did in each proceeding game. You will collect and trade fruit, donate items to the museum, decorate your house, etc. It’s about 90% of the formula you would come to expect. I haven’t seriously played an Animal Crossing game in a while so I’m having a lot of fun, but just don’t go into New Leaf expecting something new.
Being on the 3DS allows for New Leaf to have access to some multiplayer features that none of the past Animal Crossings had. Like with City Folk (the Wii Animal Crossing game) you can visit other players’ town online and have up to four players in one place at a time. New Leaf expands on this by adding a much easier messaging and item transferring system. You can also register other players as “best friends” in order to send notes to each other when not connected online. The island getaway also returns and has been completely revamped as more of a multiplayer minigame hub world to play around in. And StreetPassing with other people gives you the option to purchase furniture from their homes. New Leaf’s multiplayer adds some new options to what is arguably the most enticing part of this game.
The downside however is that you can only meet people that you have exchanged friend codes with. This greatly lowers the number of people you can play with since meeting up online requires some footwork. It’s a shame that this game mode is saddled with such an annoyance since Animal Crossing has always been more fun with your friends.
If you’ve played an Animal Crossing game then there really isn’t that much to New Leaf that will make you go “wow!” The few additions are definitely welcomed and the added multiplayer options are a lot of fun. It would have been nice to see something really different but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy my time with the game. The slow pacing is something special that you don’t see anywhere else and it’s this real world attachment that has me excited to turn on New Leaf each day. There’s a lot of things to love about this game, but just don’t be expecting something new. With that said, if this is your first time with the series or you haven’t played an installment in a good length of time, there is a lot of fun to be had.