Title: Animal Crossing New Leaf
Bottom Line: New Leaf perfects everything that was great about past AC games. An absolute must-buy for any 3DS owner.
It had been four years since the release of City Folk that Nintendo announced that there would be an Animal Crossing game for the 3DS. My only initial response to the news was a long winded "uuuugh" in the back of my throat. No way would I play another AC: my love for the GCN original faded with the mixed bag release of Wild World, and City Folk felt nothing more than a ho-hum expansion pack. I was afraid AC had turned into a never ending cycle of repeats to milk money rather than improving the experience- I presumed New Leaf would break my heart once more. I was wrong. I was so very wrong.
From the get-go, New Leaf proves that the 'New' in its title isn't deceiving: this fourth outing in the series (fifth for Japan) doesn't have you thrown into the town, forced into catering for Tom Nook, the pesky home salesmen/store employer, in order to pay off your home loan like every previous AC game had started out before. No, this time around you play as the town's Mayor. For the first time ever YOU are in control of how you play the game. You can set up Town Ordinances, to say boss your neighbors to help clean up the town, or create a Town Project and gather donations of Bells (the game's currency) over time to help build new bridges or water fountains- and it's always your choice. Sure, you still need to pay off your home loan to get a house, but you don't have to work for Tom Nook in order to do it (you start out in a tent in the beginning of the game, but there's no rush to upgrade unless you want space). You are completely free to do whatever in NL, but if you decide to take Mayor duty seriously, your Cocker Spaniel personal assistant Isabelle will give you helpful info at the Town Hall whenever you ask her. There's a great sense of progress to paying off debts, because you never now how much your new project will benefit your experience.
If there's one factor about AC that hasn't changed is its amazing spunky charm that has captivated fans of the series, new and old alike. This is prominently clear in New Leaf: from the new furry texture on the animal neighbors to their hilarious little outbursts and the way they wave/bow at you when you leave their home is adorable beyond words. Neighbors don't just pretend to hold unto items either- they occasionally do fish, catch bugs, shake trees, pull weeds and water flowers, which makes following neighbors around as much fun as listening to what they have to say. The game also looks and plays so perfectly on the 3DS that I can't see myself playing it on a home console again; the wonderful charm of AC and recommended brevity is objectively better on the 3DS. I honestly can't stop coming back for more, and I confess that I've been cheating and have found myself playing the game in longer intervals than I should have been (even my neighbors tell me I should take a break...though I believe this is another one of Nintendo's dirty little tricks to get me outside). It may take some time to unlock and see everything that's new in NL (I was a bit touchy about reviewing this game even after two weeks, because I knew I would miss something worth noting), but the pace at which things happen is at a nice slow motion; perfect for gamers on the go.
The island from the GCN Animal Crossing is back, and it's better than ever. If the many things you can do in your village doesn't satisfy your gaming pleasures, the island offers a huge assortment of mini-games called "tours", where you have to beat the clock under various conditions to win tokens that you can exchange to get exclusive items at the giftshop. Though many of the ocean fish and insects aren't exclusive to the islands anymore (you can catch pretty much every fish and insect in your town) the island is the only place to get the Wet Suit, which let's you swim in the ocean; collecting a new assortment of bottom dwelling marine life, expanding an already impressive Collectopedia. Avid kleptomaniacs will have to wait over a year to catch and collect everything that the game has to offer, maybe even more. But remember: it's not a game meant for 4-7 hour play sessions, so waiting isn't a major concern.
Lastly, your experience with AC:NL is purely random and unique. You might not like the neighbors you get or the dumb shirts they hand you in exchange for that fish you tried so hard to catch (which also was based on luck) but it's not like that everyday. That's the beauty of AC: you never know what's going to happen next. And with New Leaf I can totally stand behind that philosophy even after playing every previous game in the series. NL is a brand new fresh experience, and the 'New' in the title is in no way unambiguous. I absolutely can't recommend this game enough- this review barely does any justice to describe everything that this game has to offer. Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a wonderful journey that 3DS owners of any age cannot miss; whether you played all the AC games prior or it's your first time. Animal Crossing has finally found a way back into my life...and I will never let it go again.
+Fantastic replay value and content, both old and new.
+Pacing is perfect no matter what kind of gamer you are.
+Charm is unmatched by any game I've ever played.
-Unlocking new content and items can be a slow process.