Thursday, May 20, 2010

(Nearly) a Year in the Life of Animal Crossing

Written by pikaby

Animal Crossing is the pinnacle of casual gaming, and yet offers deep collecting-em-all gameplay for the more compulsive gamers. You can trash the entire town and leave it with weeds, or you can spruce it up with ten flower patches every square inch of the town (imagine how busy it must be to maintain them all). You can be friendly to your neighbors or you can make them move out. The more hours you pour into Animal Crossing, the more it rewards you.

Provided you don't get bored of it.

I've always heard Animal Crossing was a game that would last you an entire year, since there's different bugs/fish to catch each month, and different events happening at different times throughout the year. Seasons change, weather changes, the town changes. But for some reason I just can't get myself to play a full year's worth of Animal Crossing, no matter how hard I try. The longest any AC game has ever lasted for me was around 9 months. (that was Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Wii)

The fact is, if it weren't for the bugs and the fish, the mortgage that needs to be paid off, and the ever-present temptation of being able to earn more Bells and buy more clothes and furniture, Animal Crossing is by large, the most repetitive game on earth. You wake up every day, talk to neighbors, fulfill their occasional requests(of which there is very little variety, it's usually just find a piece of furniture, catch so-and-so insect or fish, or find their house key which they somehow managed to dump into the local river, seriously, how stupid are they?), water the flowers, prevent the locals from moving away, and just potter around wandering in general. Rinse, repeat. Every day for a year.

Furnishing the house is a tedious affair with limited storage space and once you've made your dream home there's no compulsion to remodel it again after another month or so. So that's all of Tom Nook's generic repetitive goods out of the window, with the occasional rare piece of furniture which you'll actually want.

The usual element that adds longevity would be earning lots of money and expanding your house. And you know Wild World was released in spring, and City Folk in winter, right? Neither season offers the most tantalizing money-making opportunities. The real clincher in every Animal Crossing game is in the summer season. THAT'S when the highest number of rare and valuable fish and bugs come out to play. Forget selling fruit and earning Bells from neighbors, this is the only season which you'll actually get to earn some real money.

And herein lies the rub. After summer it's back to boring-o-town again when in autumn, the variety of catchable bugs and fish once again hit rock-bottom and stay that way for the rest of the year until the next summer. And along with the decreasing number, my interest in the game wanes as well. You'll feel guilty for not visiting the town for two days, and you'll come back, sigh, and pick up once again. Then leave it again for three more days, and so on, until you get to a point where you say 'Ah, screw this' and just dump the town altogether. And curiously, there's no coming back. Once you've left an Animal Crossing, it's leaving for good. You don't feel like coming back, ever, unlike the majority of good games that aren't based on living a virtual life, because you'll know if you come back you'll be greeted with a hollow shell of what was once a thriving, bustling, beautiful town, your house is full of roaches, your mailbox is all clogged up, and all the neighbors barely remember you, if they haven't already moved away. That's the sin of having a game that plays itself when you're not.

That's probably why every time summer's over, I drop the game and wait for the next one. Wild World lasted me from March to September. City Folk lasted me from December to...September. Never once did I play a full year, because the fun always ends on September.

If Nintendo wants me to play for a full year, they're going to have to do one of the following things:

1. More new features every month, not just a cosmetic change in the town. Make it less repetitive.
2. Balance out the number of bugs and fish throughout the year, not just all concentrated on summer.
3. Release Animal Crossing in September

And that's my two cents for the series as a whole. It's charming, but the charm doesn't last and soon it'll turn to drudgery before you stop altogether. Much has to be done to help Animal Crossing gain more lasting appeal, in my opinion.
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