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I’ve never really done video game reviews before. Recently I got a 3DS and now I have a huge back-catalog of (supposedly) fantastic games to catch up on. I figured I might drop a review or reflection from time to time, switch it up from the music and hockey things for fun. Here’s my first one on the latest Animal Crossing, originally released in the US in 2013.

If you’re familiar with Animal Crossing, here’s the big takeaway: New Leaf is the same premise, only you’ve been given more control over the town’s direction and the pacing is perfect for a handheld system. If you’re new to the series, that sentence made no sense at all. Let’s try to explain what’s going on.

In essence, Nintendo was right to call the first Animal Crossing a “communication game,” and it’s a label that sticks in the latest version. You’re an adorable human character placed in a vibrant village inhabited by friendly anthropomorphic animals. You’ll wander past a river, around a beach, and between plenty of trees.

The goals of this game are similar to those in The Sims. That is to say, there really aren’t set benchmarks. You can earn in-game currency by participating in various subgames (using a simple fishing and bug-catching mechanic and then selling those at the in-game store). You can use that money to buy decorations for your house, to upgrade said house, or to improve the town in some way.

But all that “earning” isn’t the soul of Animal Crossing. Instead, it’s the interactions with the inhabitants where you’ll find the core of it all. You get a chance to “befriend” the residents by chatting with them, sending them gifts, helping them with errands, playing games. That’s the communication aspect. The rewards? Witty text in conversations, return gifts, even the knowledge that you’ve convinced someone to stay in (or move to) your town.

Now those aren’t especially substantive rewards, I’ll admit. That does get at a core philosophical question of why you’d play any videogame. In that way, Animal Crossing is an escape from reality in the same vein as a Minecraft. There are incentives to doing stuff (digging/mining in Minecraft, interacting with the animals here), sure. The reward is the experience.

To that end: you’ll need to be self-motivated to get the most from this. If you can give yourself a goal (maximize your house, create a fruit orchard, complete the museum) and you enjoy the slow process of chipping away? You’ll get a lot of mileage here. If you’re twitchy and want the next level or event to happen *now*? You’ll lose interest before the big stuff happens.

There are a few missteps that remove from the overall immersion. You’ll want a bigger inventory almost immediately and you’ll long for a deeper connection with the town’s residents (sending letters misses the mark as the computer characters can’t read your notes). These are weakness that have existed since the first game arrived in 2002 (US version) and the latter seems an unavoidable issue.

Luckily, the balance of the New Leaf has made this a great handheld choice and helps to counteract some of the problems. Events are spread out. When you finish funding an upgrade to your house (a 2nd floor, a basement) or the town (a new bridge, a decorative fountain), the building process finishes the next day. That sort of model feels like free-to-play design, but it’s done carefully (you’ve not lost extra money to speed an event, the one day wait is consistent across all projects).

Curiously, that wait is a strong feature. You play 15-20 minutes, complete some event? You’ll need to come back and enrich your experience another day. That kind of patience and slow burn isn’t for everybody, of course. If you’re like me and that strikes you the right way? You’ll be hopelessly addicted for an entire month… only looking forward to even more tomorrow.

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