How do you explain a game like Animal Crossing: New Leaf?
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is not a game you can see in a day. Its delights are drip-fed, its pleasures served subtly, and personally. It’s a game you have to live as well as play.
And if you described how to play Animal Crossing to someone with no exposure, it would provoke a shrug, a sense of suspicion. On paper there’s no way to class this as fun. Yet, 10 years of success for the franchise has proved otherwise.
Animal Crossing is not about game mechanics or instant rewards. Animal Crossing is a magic trick, a game that charms the player with the illusion of friendship, an illusion so sweet that resisting it is impossible. It’s the kindest god game you can imagine, every action making your residents love you a little more. A totalitarian state smothered in jam.
It’s a place you can intend to visit for ten minutes, but with an errand to run, a butterfly to catch, and a letter to write, those minutes can easily become hours. And every errand is repaid in kind with beautifully witty dialogue, and a dazzling array of collectables to discover.
The move to the 3DS brings a welcome visual bump, and a host of modest technical improvements. Having your tools mapped to the D-pad, and a cleaner UI, helps to streamline the experience enormously. The move also brings some nifty online components, using Street Pass to great effect, and making online field trips operate in a much smoother fashion.
Other gameplay changes – such as being able to exercise mayoral privilege over your residences – also help to reinvigorate the experience, but as before it’s the small moments that matter most; be it the sight of a firefly on the horizon, a letter of gratitude from a Pony named Peaches, or the discovery of bag of coins hidden under a rock.
The game has a bit to say about real life too. Any kids playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf will certainly be well prepared for a lifetime of mortgage drudgery.