Animal Crossing: New Leaf review: owing a debt

Animal Crossing: New Leaf attempts to mix up the formula by giving you mayoral power over your bustling town. Does it liven up the life simulator series? Our review.


More than most other series in Nintendo's library, Animal Crossing is iterative. Since its Gamecube debut, each installment has made very minor tweaks and improvements to the last, culminating (so far) in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. This one's twist on the familiar isn't quite enough to make the experience feel completely fresh, but the friendship simulator is still a welcoming place to while away some time.

Animal Crossing has always been, and remains, a game about tiny tasks. Getting a house, decorating, doing small favors for friends, filling the local museum with fossils and animal species, and pulling off odd jobs to pay the mortgage are all still present here. Even Tom Nook is back, and despite his diminished role he's still handing down exorbitant real estate rates.

The pace is uniquely peaceful, in stark contrast to the usual violent or brain-teasing tasks games put you through. You don't lose in Animal Crossing. The closest the game has to a fail state is becoming disliked in the community of anthropomorphized animal friends. Even then, writing a letter or two will turn around their spirits quickly enough.

New Leaf's most radical riff on the Animal Crossing formula is that it puts you in charge of the town. Upon arriving in your burg, the townsfolk mistake you for the new mayor and immediately hand you supreme power over them. The townsfolk are trusting to a fault, and more than willing to obey the whims of a total stranger. The Night Owl ordinance, for example, requires shops to remain open later and denizens to stay out longer. I appreciated the convenience, since I played mostly at nighttime, but I found some humor in an entire town staying up late merely based on my personal preference. Surely I was some kind of hyper-localized despot.

The mayor also has power to create public works, ranging from small token items like fire hydrants to much larger business-focused ventures. These can be expensive, but you don't take on the burden alone. Instead they're paid for by donations, a sort of voluntary taxing system. Of course, as mayor, you're expected to chip in some of your own wealth. Seeing a town littered with these projects adds a nice personalized touch.

This all plays like a logical extension of Animal Crossing, which has always been primarily centered around customization. Instead of merely tailoring your house, you now have a whole town as your canvas. The changes were somewhat superficial, though, and I found myself running out of things to do after a short bursts of play. These games are best experienced in regularized, tiny doses. Visiting every day for a half-hour will be infinitely more fulfilling than plowing through a three-hour session once a week. Changes take effect on a timer, and you can really only raise so much money in a single day for new clothes, furniture, or town projects.

Online functionality returns as well, but it's as limited as one might expect from Nintendo's safe network environment. Visiting friends' towns is tightly controlled by permission settings, integrated slyly in the game by opening a gate to let visitors in. I was disappointed by the inability to simply ride the rails to a stranger's town. I'm sure safety concerns are at play, but it discourages a level of exploration that the series sorely needs. Much as the game emphasizes the importance of friendships, it makes forging real ones tougher than it should be.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is doubtless the best yet of its kind, but its new additions don't stray too far from the formula. Even spaced as far apart as the games are -- the last one was City Folk in 2008 -- New Leaf felt over-familiar to me. It's an adorable game that has been polished and improved through the years. That makes it a perfect game for eager fans, and like Pokemon, any game is someone's first. Enjoyable as it was, though, it's my fourth time going through these motions. I'm pining for an Animal Crossing to hook me with innovation like the first one did more than ten years ago. That would truly be turning a new leaf. [7]

This Animal Crossing: New Leaf review was based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 4, 2013 10:00 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Animal Crossing: New Leaf review: owing a debt.

    Animal Crossing: New Leaf attempts to mix up the formula by giving you mayoral power over your bustling town. Does it liven up the life simulator series? Our review.

    • reply
      June 4, 2013 12:06 PM

      I'm torn on getting the $220 bundle as I don't have 3DS. On one hand, it's $220, but on the other hand I had a great time running around the original Animal Crossing.

      • reply
        June 4, 2013 12:53 PM

        I am extremely happy with my semi-recent 3ds purchase. Lots of good stuff.

        • reply
          June 4, 2013 1:39 PM

          Hmm! What else did you end up picking up for it?

          • reply
            June 4, 2013 2:29 PM

            Monster Hunter Ultimate 3
            Luigi's Mansion
            Mario Kart
            Super Mario, etc.

            • reply
              June 4, 2013 2:55 PM

              Has snaking and blue shells been removed from Mario Kart? I'd only play if snaking was removed at the very least, that ruined Mario Kart on the DS completely.

              • reply
                June 4, 2013 3:18 PM

                Snaking has been removed, but blue shells are still there and as bullshit as always.

            • reply
              June 4, 2013 3:44 PM

              I am really interested in Luigi's Mansion. I didn't really like the demo for MHU3 on the WiiU. Its a pretty game but it just wasn't fun for me.

              • reply
                June 4, 2013 3:53 PM

                Luigi's Mansion is awwwwwwesome.

                • reply
                  June 4, 2013 11:21 PM

                  I absolutely love the multiple environments and general play.

                  My only minor complaint, and my wordiness may exaggerate the sense that I am bothered, but... I actually wish it wasn't as tailored to 30 minute play sessions as it is.

                  I guess I dislike the "mission" structure, compared to being able to, if desired finish a structure in a fully coherent playthrough but giving the option to return to the bunker to save at any time.

                  Still, it works as it is, and is super enjoyable. It does make me want to break out the original, but that's because it's also fun and it's been a decade.

              • reply
                June 4, 2013 3:53 PM

                Yeah, I wouldn't blanket recommend MHU3. Luigi's I would.

          • reply
            June 4, 2013 3:56 PM

            Download HarmoKnight from the eShop.

    • reply
      June 4, 2013 12:23 PM

      Just anyone being able to stroll in your town would allow griefers to dig holes, plant pitfall seeds, chop down trees, and kick up all your flowers.

    • reply
      June 4, 2013 12:25 PM

      I hate Tom Nook

    • reply
      June 4, 2013 1:36 PM

      I have been waiting for this 3DS bundle since I heard that AC was coming out for it. I didn't know if they would have a bundle or not but I passed on getting a 3DSXL in February for my birthday just in case they had a bundle. It is too cute to pass up and I am seriously counting the minutes til I can get one.

      We are starting Course 2 of the Wilton cake decorating courses on Thursday, Friday I am going to see the Long Island Medium at the Arena here in town with front row seats. I am more excited about getting Animal Crossing on Sunday than any of that stuff!! :P

      • reply
        June 4, 2013 2:05 PM

        Did you find a pre-order?

        • reply
          June 4, 2013 2:21 PM

          not yet. I am going to call Target tomorrow to see if they know how many they will get Sunday. Everyone keeps telling me they wont know til the end of the week what they will be getting.

          • reply
            June 4, 2013 4:36 PM

            I picked up the Pikachu 3DSXL when it came out. I didn't get up until 11AM, since it was the weekend, and I barely got one. I went to 4 different places that listed online as having them in stock before I could find one. It didn't help that Target was having a sale on 3DSs that day. The fourth stop was a GameStop. Funny enough though, I couldn't find a single copy of Luigi's Mansion, which was also released that day. I had one girl a GameStop that pulled one out and then she's like "I'm sorry, it's reserved."

            • reply
              June 4, 2013 4:42 PM

              Eh, for 3DS games I don't care anymore. I just bought a giant SD card and I eShop them all from home.

            • reply
              June 4, 2013 5:36 PM

              The girl at Target the other night said they only got 4 Pokemon 3DSXL bundles when it was released and they don't do pre-orders on the bundles. I think its stupid that they don't take preorders on them.

    • reply
      June 4, 2013 3:10 PM

      The game is getting excellent reviews across the board. Except for Jim Sterling's.

    • reply
      June 4, 2013 11:22 PM

      So... I should be glad I skipped the Wii version so as to make this feel more fresh. Gotcha.

Hello, Meet Lola