Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the newest addition to the popular, super-casual, extremely family friendly series of lifestyle simulation games from Nintendo. If you aren't a fan of slow-paced, no-obligation, easy-to-play video games, then New Leaf won't be much different from the previous three installments. Even if you have followed the series, New Leaf doesn't do anything particularly new or exciting to make it the next awesome Animal Crossing, but the little improvements go a long way to make it refreshing.
When you start up New Leaf you are greeted with improved graphics, even compared to its Wii sibling, in both 2D and 3D. The textures, lighting, and about everything else just looks better than before on the Nintendo 3DS. When you create a new game, older fans of the series will recognize Rover on the train, who even makes a reference to the first Animal Crossing from 2002. Rover's job is to get to know you by means of asking your birthday, name, gender, the name of the town you want to visit, and also giving you five layouts of said town to choose from. It's nice having choices when it comes to the design; if you didn't like how your town looked in previous games, the only option was to go through a lengthy removal process and start anew.
Once you step off the train, you are greeted by the animal citizens of your town who praise you, the mayor, for finally arriving! Of course, you have no idea why they think you're the mayor, and it's never really explained. Nevertheless, the weight of mayoral duties are suddenly forced on your shoulders, not that it's a very stressful job. You are under no obligation to do anything for the citizens of your town, nor is there any penalty for being inactive. While exercising your leadership powers are vital to advancing forward in New Leaf, you could choose to ignore them completely if that's what you wanted to do.
Grow a garden, ask residents how you're doing with your new mayoral powers, or just have fun!
Your assistant, Isabelle the dog, will give you various tasks at the start of the game that act as a tutorial. You will quickly learn the basics in no time, from the simple controls to doing tasks for villagers and planting your own flowers. After completing these tasks you are required to gain the unanimous approval rating of the citizens: a solid 100 percent. Your rating will never go down, and it isn't very difficult to raise in the first place, making approval easy to gain. Afterwards, you earn a development permit and can create Public Works and enact Ordinances.
Public Works, along with other new customization features, allow you to stamp your personality on your town to essentially make it the way you want. You'll be able to place extra bridges to make crossing the large river easier. You can spring up a fountain to liven the town, or place signs decorated with your very own patterns. You have to fund Public Works purely by donations, and while you, your friends, or citizens can donate to the work, you'll probably be paying most of it off yourself.
Ordinances are more complicated and have a longer-term effects compared to Public Works. For a flat fee of 20,000 bells, you can have your town be wealthy, beautiful, an early-bird, or a night-owl. A wealthy town will give you more local currency, called bells, when selling items to shops, but also raise the prices of items you can buy. A beautiful town will make it easier to take care of the environment, having citizens perform public services like watering flowers and picking weeds. Early-bird and night-owl are useful if you find your real life daily schedule interferes with that of New Leaf's, making residents and shops active earlier or later, respectively.
Like the previous Animal Crossing's, New Leaf runs in real time. Every in-game minute is a real-life minute. Shops close at certain times, shops open at certain times. Citizens are more active during the day and sleep at night. When Isabelle tells you you have to wait until tomorrow for an upgrade, you have to wait until tomorrow. You can time travel – that is, change the time on your 3DS to trick New Leaf into thinking the clock has really advanced. While this speeds things up, it ruins the gameplay and I do not recommend it. If you are going to do so anyway, however, enact the Beautiful Town ordinance: time travel has no effect on the environment when active.
Familiar characters of the Animal Crossing universe make their appearances here, too: Blathers, the night-owl that manages the donations of fish, fossils, bugs, and paintings at the museum; Tom Nook, who now runs Nook's Homes, retiring his role of shopkeeper to his nephew's Timmy and Tommy; the Able Sisters, porcupines running a clothing shop with the same name; Pelly and Phyllis, the pelicans at the Post Office; and of course the Brewster, Copper, Booker, Pete, Gulliver, and many others. There are also new characters looking to be just as memorable to old and newcomers of the series alike.
The new island, rich with multiplayer minigames and exotic fish and bugs, is a great addition to New Leaf.
One of the massive additions to the Animal Crossing series was with the addition of multiplayer in the Nintendo DS edition, Wild World. Being able to visit other players' towns and see their houses opened up a near endless replay value when it came to playing with friends, or even people you had never met. While City Folk for the Wii didn't build upon this, excluding the addition of Wii Speak, New Leaf has taken multiplayer to a another level. After you gain 100 percent approval, your town's previous mayor, Tortimer the tortoise, will invite you to his island, reminiscent of the first Animal Crossing's use of the Game Boy Advance. This endless summer isle has new minigames ranging in difficulty from easy to hard that can be played with up to three other people. Throw in swimming in the rather small ocean and diving for barnacles on the sea floor, and it's easy to have hours of fun.
Animal Crossing hasn't really built on anything new as a series, though, after the Nintendo DS' Wild World. The differences between the original Gamecube and handheld versions were massive: the world wasn't broken up by choppy screen-by-screen acres, and you could play online. City Folk didn't contribute anything new to Animal Crossing when released on Nintendo Wii, except with a city that felt more like a plaza, and a game-breaking flaw with degradation of grass in your town as you ran over it.
Sadly, New Leaf decided to keep the grass degradation, even after the negative response Nintendo received after City Folk. Supposedly, the grass takes longer to wear away and grows back faster in New Leaf, but along with the new avatar-aging feature, I haven't played long enough to notice any tangible difference. The city returns, this time called Main Street, and doesn't require a two-minute bus ride to visit. Instead, it's part of your town and just a short one-second loading screen away.
Main Street contains the Post Office, Tom's Houses, Nookling Junction, the Museum, a photo booth so you can access online play, along with unlockable and upgradable buildings. I wish the Museum was back in the town itself as with the other Animal Crossing's, since it's annoying walking the entire length of your village to donate a new fish you caught or a fossil you excavated. For convenience, there is a fresh store called Re-tail, which pays higher prices than Nookling Junction and acts like a flea-market, allowing you to sell your items and set your own prices. I found this feature to be altogether useless, since the citizens in my town never bought my items, but Re-Tail is not located on Main Street, making access easy when you have an inventory of bugs or fish to get rid of.
Re-Tail makes it particularly easy to sell bugs or fish after a trip around the town.
If you decide to play the way Nintendo expects you to, Animal Crossing can deliver years of fun with a seemingly endless world that can be continually improved. If you're returning to the series, you'll be greeted with familiar characters and styles of gameplay, but New Leaf, aside from many multiplayer enhancements, hasn't managed to add anything significant in comparison to its Nintendo DS and Wii siblings. The first Animal Crossing you play will likely be your favorite, so if you're interested in the series, then New Leaf would be the perfect place to start. You may be bored if you aren't new, however, yet the small additions still make for a fun experience for people of all ages, and that makes Animal Crossing: New Leaf a great supplement to the 3DS library.
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: June 9, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-4 (Cooperative/Multiplayer)
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS (Reviewed)