Although the original Animal Crossing remains an engaging and addicting gaming experience, it’s DS and Wii sequels, while solid enough, lacked any meaningful changes to the series. It became a wonder if Animal Crossing was doomed to complete repetition. Then along came Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the 3DS, and suddenly the series once again became one of Nintendo’s secret weapons.
Rest assured that the “New” in the game’s title is appropriate. New Leaf represents the first leap forward for the series, after the the previous entries seemed content with merely replicating the original. It isn’t necessarily a complete reinvention of the series, but New Leaf adds enough meaningful changes to the formula to make it a memorable and engrossing experience that demands replayability.
Yes, you still collect bugs, fish and fossils. You still greet your absurd animal neighbors, and you still scrounge around town looking for enough bells (the game’s currency) to pay off your house to Tom Nook. But now you do so with a more personal control of your town. As soon as you name your character and town, you become the new mayor of the place. As such, you can now help shape the town itself, instead of merely being a part of it.
In a more literal sense you can commence construction on various public work projects (bridges, police stations, etc.), which can be placed pretty much anywhere you choose. And in a more figurative sense, you can commission ordinances for how your town operates. Maybe you want your shops to open extra early, or perhaps you want them to stay open into the wee hours of the night? Or you just want to be able to sell things for a higher price? New Leaf provides plenty of options for you to run your town.
Additional changes include the ability to swim and scuba dive (meaning there’s all new kinds of undersea life to catch), more character customization options, various new events that occur around town (quite frequently), and you can now visit your tropical island at any time starting early in the game (no attached gimmicks to gaining access to the island this time around). Said island now features a range of mini-games for a bit of added variety.
It may not sound like much, but the thing that makes New Leaf such a standout is that these little touches just keep coming at you. One day your entire town will be scavenging for bugs, the next day you’ll be invited to one of your resident’s homes for a little get-together. You’ll commission a cleanup of the town’s litter one minute, then take part in a game of hide-and-seek after that.
The best part is you do things however you want. Whatever the game throws at you, whether it be a festival or a town get-together, you can just go about things at your own pace. There’s no pressure to do any one thing. You can even go to the beach and catch some fish, avoiding the hustle and bustle of the town’s goings-on altogether. Animal Crossing has always been a rare stress-free experience in gaming, and the new additions to New Leaf make at an even greater “play it your own way” type of game. You can literally play for fifteen minutes or five hours if you want, and you’ll get a lot done either way. The simple sense of accomplishment that is so often found in this game becomes an accomplishment in itself.
New Leaf, more than any Animal Crossing before it, is also built with multiplayer in mind. You can visit your friends’ towns (or they could visit yours. Just keep your place nice and tidy) and do whatever you want. You can trade items, share your customized t-shirt designs, plant trees to make the local fruits of your town a new local fruit of your friend’s, or just go to a cafe for a cup of joe. The 3DS’ smoother online capabilities over those of the DS and Wii versions make this the most enjoyable Animal Crossing to play with a friend.
If you’re an Animal Crossing fan but felt that the sequels were too derivative, New Leaf brings enough newness to the table to make you remember why you love the series to begin with. If you’re new to Animal Crossing, New Leaf is a great way to introduce you to the series (not that this is a series that would overwhelm anyone very easily), and it retains everything that made the series so addicting to begin with.
There are some small quibbles that have continued since the series’ beginnings: the game is insistent on making you collect furniture and trinkets for your house, yet most of such trinkets aren’t interactive in themselves, leaving you to wonder why you spent so much money on them to begin with. And Tom Nook’s demands for your Bells can get quite hefty, which can leave you spending entire play sessions scrounging for Bells, should you wish to pay the conniving raccoon and improve your house.
But these really are small complaints when the overall package is so delightful. You may just find yourself checking into your town on a daily basis for no other reason than to just check in on its progress. It’s an addictive game, but in a rare case where it’s addicting for being inviting, not demanding. There’s always something to see and do, the experience itself is a reward.