Animal Crossing New Leaf – The Nighthawk Review

(Also check out day 0 and day 1 impressions of the game on my blog from two weeks ago!)

Animal Crossing is a strange Video Game.

Animal Crossing is an insanely Cute Video Game. It takes the well known Nintendo charm, coats it in icing sugar and injects it with cuteness steroids. You occupy a primary coloured world of bizarre anthropomorphic animals living in harmony. There are no “fail states” in animal crossing. The worst thing you can fall victim to is being stung by bees – a whole hive of bees no less! – endowing you with a bug-eyed character for the rest of the day. But even after being stung by a swarm of bees your character shrugs it off and smiles inanely, getting straight back to business. Evidently, anaphylactic shock it not a concern in this world.

Animal Crossing is a surprisingly funny game. That is, assuming you like puns and amusing, random situations created by an off-kilter Artificial Intelligence (I do, on both accounts!) At one point I caught a Zebra Turkey Fish while fishing in the ocean. The game congratulated me, but asks of my catch “Make up your mind? What are you?!” Small touches like this abound, meaning the average play session brings a smile or two, or sometimes an actual chuckle. At one point I was asked by a villager to return a Dishwasher that a fellow villager had left behind at their house by accident. How exactly does one misplace a dishwasher? Granted the quest item was randomly generated, but it was (in)organically funny nevertheless.

Animal Crossing is a relaxing Game. The game has no rush to it. Everything is at your own pace. You have debts to pay, but no time limit. You can catch bugs and fish that are seasonal, but don’t fret if you miss some – they’ll be back next summer. In fact, the game entirely wants you to play a little each day, rather than for extended play sessions. You run out of things to do after 30-60minutes, and really should call it a day at this point. So many games we play nonstop for days/weeks, then shelve and never touch again. This game wants to be your friend for months, nay, years. This is rather genius. Quite possibly an evil genius. It does however lend itself to late night gaming, a time when anything more aggressive or thought provoking would stimulate then senses when I want to wind down. Animal Crossing should perhaps be prescribed to the over-stressed masses.

Animal Crossing is a social game. I say this when I haven’t even properly explored the multiplayer options. I want a better city before I start to share. I want better topography. I want a better, larger house with better stuff to show off. I have no idea why. I find myself reading Animal Crossing blogs and listening to Podcasts to relax. I care about other gamers experiences. Perhaps, because more than many other games, the experiences are each unique. Everyone has a different town with a different set of villagers and items. We build our own saccharine second life and there is something engaging about sharing them.

Animal Crossing is pointless. But then, so are all video games. This argument is largely moot. Some games may sharpen our reflexes or makes us better strategists, but ultimately gaming is downtime, a pastime, entertainment.

Animal Crossing is sometimes a chore. Collecting fruit every day. Grouping my inventory after every dozen pickups. Trekking back and forth across the same areas. At times I was wondering why the hell I was playing this game. Life is plenty full of obligations; why I am willingly adding to my list?

Animal Crossing is a sly beast. An entirely un-slutty game. She teases you with a little something new each day. Just enough extra ankle is shown under her long dress, combined with a suggestive, coy wink, to make you think that tomorrow, tomorrow I will have more fun. And, in fact, you do. The more you play, more options open up and the game comes alive. Once you unlock the tropical island, a run of minigames that seem to be far more conventionally “gamey” are yours to play. In an era of dwindling attention spans, the fact that a slow-burn Coquette of a game can be so popular is, well, kind of refreshing.

Animal Crossing is a game I am entirely unsure if I even like or recommend. I have played 15 hours in under two weeks. It is already one of my most played games on the console. But the boundary between game and chore is blurring. While it is utterly relaxing there is an undercurrent of near-addiction. If I miss a day, I may miss an important fossil for my museum. I may upset villagers, or miss some weeds. I hope this fades and I can visit and relax in my own time, leaving the positives to shine.

Animal Crossing is a strange Video Game.

Animal Crossing – Let’s see what this is all about…

Day 0

Sitting in front of me as I type is my soon-to-be opened copy of Animal Crossing for Nintendo 3DS.

I am utterly unsure as to whether I will enjoy this game, although naturally I hope I will. The next few weeks will be an experiment of sorts. Primarily, I want to try to understand what the big deal is. This game seems to have absorbed people in a way few other cultural phenomena ever manage, so if nothing else I want an insight into quite why this is. As a cod-anthropologist (aka “Songwriter”) I like to understand people, or at least try to. And this game, if my Facebook and Twitter accounts are to be believed, is gripping people from all walks of life like no game before it.

Let me start with a few points relative to my background here. Firstly, I am a gamer. I have been from a young age. I enjoy relatively little television. So alongside reading, Video Games have been my “chillout” time for many years. I am of a generation that have grown up with computers. Games are now a near cultural norm and “geekiness” is being more and more absorbed into the mainstream, nullified as it goes.

I am a Nintendo child. Mario, Zelda and Metroid have all been with me from a young age and their particular breed of quirky games have been something special to me for 20 plus years. I am however gaming less and less recently. Perhaps it is simply the demands of grown up life. Perhaps my tastes are changing. Perhaps I am growing tired of the “same old” gaming experiences.

So, a completely new type of game might be a great idea…

Animal Crossing is now in its fourth iteration (its third outside of Japan). In only 1 month since its English speaking release, the newest Version has become a cultural phenomenon, the size of which may have shocked even Nintendo itself. Social networks are ablaze with people talking about this game. Men, women, boys, gals. Confirmed “gamers” and casual players are all being taken in.

The thing is, I really, really don’t get it. I simply don’t see the appeal from what I know.

I tried the “Wild World” version 6 years ago. I bought it out of intrigue and off the back of solid reviews. I traded it in within a few days. I simply did not see the point. I wandered around, dug up things, went fishing and “talked” to inane anthropomorphic animals. All in a small area with banal music and the “cute” dial turned to 11. This barely seemed like a game. I wasn’t doing anything. I wasn’t achieving anything. But from what I have read, that is somewhat both entirely the point and entirely missing the point.

Those that champion the game (and note they number in the millions) describe it as a relaxing time sink that is a unique, charming experience that grows over time. Perhaps, therefore, I simply played it wrong. Or maybe I went in expecting something, whereas the idea is to simply be taken along for the ride.

This afternoon, I came across an audio podcast by a bunch of people talking about their love of Animal Crossing ( I had a few hours of laborious chores to do at the studio and I was all music’ed out (a thankfully rare occupational hazard). So I grabbed the headphones and listened while I cleaned. These chaps and chapettes enthused about the game and their in game towns. Geeky, yes, but as I say such labels are becoming meaningless, and I like a geek anyhow.

What  I heard made the game sound like a deep, slow burn of an “experience”. A chilled, obsess-a-thon. But somewhat compelling, and, to these guys at least, enthralling in a hard-to-pinpoint kind of way.

So. Here I am. My copy of the game in hand and heading in with just a little knowledge and an open mind. This may end with a new addiction. This may end with me remaining confused. Or somewhere in between, perhaps understanding the appeal but deciding it isn’t for me. We shall see…


Day 1

So, having discussed my Day 0 preplay thoughts, what are my initial impressions one day in? They can be surmised as “uncertain”. I remain open-minded but I am still thinking/hoping there is more to this game than what I am being drip fed.

And drip fed is certainly the phrase! This game is like no other, in that you have to wait for things. Wait in real world days. This is not a game you can power ahead with. After an hour or so, I have run out of things to do other than wander around. This seems absurd, but is entirely part of the design. You are supposed to play it as a second life, a short visit every day. I got to thinking; perhaps our modern, high stress and constantly connected lives are being contrasted here by this laid back experience? The abundance of 20-somethings playing this game can’t all be Nintendo kids that refuse to grow up. Maybe many of us have grown up, and this game is a gentle tonic to wash down the day-to-day mania.

So what did I actually do in the game. After being welcomed into the town as the new Major – the result of a rather convenient if astronomical administrative error it would seem – I have chosen somewhere to live in my new home town. I have been given a tent by a property mogul. Then I had to go fishing and fruit picking to earn the down payment for my house. Which I will have tomorrow, naturally.

Now, there is a charm to all this silliness. An almost enforced calm. Most things are prep for the next day. I have spoken with my villagers. Some have asked for things, mini errands. I have written them letters and sent them items. The results of which I will see tomorrow. It is all awfully twee, but it is the charm that keeps it held together. I suppose the clincher is whether this charm is backed up with substance as the game develops. Once I have more to do, perhaps I will view this differently.

I do like the museum . Fossils, fish and bugs can be donated here, to build a collection. This I can imagine becoming an OCD dream (or nightmare, dependant on your view).

Of course, I don’t have a net yet so no bug collecting. And I don’t have a wet suit so no underwater fishing. And no proper house to store anything. So often I find there are things I want to do but am not permitted to do them yet. This could be a hook – I am constantly left looking ahead, wanting to do more. This drip feeding is perhaps a design model to keep me coming back.

What astonishes me is that in popular music, film, television, etc, we are constantly told that we need to engage our audience quickly and firmly. A catchy melody upfront, bam! A plot that grabs us from the opening scene, bosh! This game teases me with future fun – fun I am not yet allowed to have. Crazy!

But… I did stop playing today thinking about what I will do first tomorrow. I want a bug net so will check the store. I look forward to seeing my fully built house. And apparently there are fireworks in the evening. So I am starting to see the appeal. Whether the appeal is substantial enough, and whether my patience holds out,  these are the questions for the weeks ahead.