Review

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Your Very Own Del Boca Vista

You control the town in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Luckily, there’s still nothing important to do.

By Matt Kodner • June 25, 2013

People like doing nothing. That’s why we retire. It gives us a point in our life, past the 4-year-old stage, where we’re expected to do nothing. Even Cosmo Kramer, who leads a perfectly pointless life to begin with, spends one episode of Seinfeld ensconced in Del Boca Vista (Phase III), the retirement community where Jerry Seinfeld’s parents live. Kramer finds comfort in a structured life of nothingness, cha-chaing little old ladies to their graves, before political strife drives him away. Animal Crossing: New Leaf thrusts its players into Kramer’s situation. You’re the new kid in what is essentially a retirement community, with just enough enjoyable busywork—gardening, swimming, bug collecting—to make it worth sticking around for a while. New Leaf even has the political intrigue angle covered. This time, you’re not just a resident of Animal Crossing’s idyllic world; you’re the mayor of your town. You are, essentially, in charge of making sure nothing gets done.

You start the game by moving to an idyllic village populated by sassy anthropomorphic critters. The town is small but vibrant, and in any case, it’s yours. The villagers don’t do much but gossip and fish. Each town is randomly generated, including the cast of villagers, but there are certain essentials. Every player gets Tom Nook’s convenience store, a town hall, and a little slice of ocean where you can catch worthless sea bass.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

In keeping with Animal Crossing tradition, your town progresses in real time, and there’s only so much to do in a single day. Unlike previous games in the series, though, your town starts out sparsely populated, with a handful of neighbors and only a few shops open on the main drag. It took me about a week before Kodneria felt “lived in,” and a month later, I’m still seeing new shops and attractions open up. There is no darker side to the story. It’s simply an idealized life of rest, relaxation, and the endless search for matching furniture.

The biggest change to the series comes from your unlikely position as town mayor. While Kramer’s bid for Del Boca Vista greatness failed, your success is guaranteed and actually kicks off the game. Upon arrival, you are immediately dubbed New Town Mayor, and as a reward, you’re given a dinky tent to sleep in. (Gracie Mansion it is not.) Your mayoralty seems like a figurehead position at first, but as the days go by, your powers creep into play, which lets you mold your town to your liking.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Eventually, you’re able to issue town ordinances and fund public projects. For instance, you can build a new bridge to make it easier to get around town faster. You could finance the construction of a giant torch. (I figured if Kodneria ever found reason to form an angry mob, they’d have a torch ready, and that would be the first thing they could thank me for.)

As mayor, I personally made no effort to beautify our town—I had no interest in planting flowers when I knew I’d never water them—but I could legislate. Imagine my delight when my assistant informed me I could issue the Beauty Ordinance, a decree to make my villagers beautify the town for me. The trouble is, you can only institute one ordinance at a time. I also was tempted by the Night Owl Ordinance, which would make the villagers talk to me at 3 a.m. instead of going to sleep. I opted for a town of insomniacs rather than a town of gardeners.

One of Animal Crossing’s strongest qualities has been its funny characters, and New Leaf doesn’t disappoint on that front. The best part about enacting the Night Owl ordinance was how the witty townsfolk responded: They were annoyed and unafraid to show it. For three days, I had to suffer zingy complaints and accusations of tyranny that manifested in the funniest way possible.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Even with smart writing, though, Animal Crossing tends to flirt with boredom: It’s easy to run out of things to do each day. There are typically a handful of time-specific events, like a monthly bug-catching contest, but day-to-day interactions got repetitive when the script ran out. New Leaf addresses this problem with a tropical island retreat, a home away for home that hasn’t been seen since the original Animal Crossing on the Nintendo GameCube. For a trifling fee, you travel to a land where you can spend hours whiling your time away. There’s a never-ending supply of rare bugs to catch and sharks to wrangle. The spoils from one trip will easily pay off your first mortgage. Visiting the island is a quiet experience that throws almost all character interaction out the window, boiling Animal Crossing down to its essence.

If you get lonely on the island, playing online in another enticing option in New Leaf. Inviting friends into your town is a relatively painless operation—I was able to easily coordinate a few sessions with other critics on Twitter—and you can even throw together impromptu fishing competitions. There are a few other options for interacting with other towns, like a passive feature that gives you access to the houses of strangers you might cross paths with in public, as long as you keep your 3DS in your pocket. There’s also the Dream Suite, with which you run wild in an alternate version of a friend’s town with no consequences to your frolicking.

It’s easy to lose hours, and even days, of your life playing this game. New Leaf kindly encourages its players to take a break after they’ve been playing for an extended session. Nintendo knows how blissful it is to play this game, and for your own sake, the developers don’t want you to lose yourself. Too much idle bliss can be numbing. That’s why Kramer gave the retired life the boot as quickly as he did. There’s only so much nothing you can do in one day.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $35

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  • vinnybushes

    When I was thinking of a name for town I came up with an interesting theory about Animal Crossing. I considered naming my town “Purgatory” initially as a silly joke, but it got me thinking. What if I was living in a strangely idyllic afterlife populated not only by humans but a now extinct race of Dr. Moreau-like animal people? Things started to make sense. I could even go visit my friends in their own private versions of paradise where they also ruled, since they were all made in the image of a Judeo-Christian creator. Fossils? Why they’re just tools of Satan in the first place, so no dinosaur people. I thought about the possible ramifications for a while and then decided fuck it. It’s Animal Crossing. I named my town Spumoni and went party with my new animal friends. I haven’t looked back.

    On a side note, going to the island with international players is just as socially awkward as actually being stuck on a deserted island with a person who only speaks Japanese and desperately wants to make conversation.

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      Regarding your side note:
      Depending on the time of the day, all you need to know might be なんさい which can be translated as “I’m an annoying child who asks strangers personal questions on the internet, so you should just ignore me.” It’s quite the efficient language.

      Seriously, my advice is don’t play international unless Japanese children are asleep.

      • Raging Bear

        If anyone asks you なんさい、 just answer むげん and follow them around, staring. They will assume they’ve ended up playing Animal Crossing with the devil, and leave.

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          I sometimes went with はくさい, because corny wordplay is fun.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      ‘Purgatory’ seems kind of appropos. My only Animal Crossing experience was the DS game, and I think the primary adjective I’d use to describe the gameplay was “Sisyphean.” Unsurprisingly, it didn’t really “take” with me, despite repreated attempts to be engaged.

      It’s extremely likely I was just ‘doing it wrong,’ but it seems like the sort of game where that should be impossible.

      • Destroy Him My Robots

        Animal Crossing: The world’s premier Absurdism simulator.

      • Raging Bear

        But then, there are those of us for whom cuteness is its own gameplay mechanic.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Raging Bear’s review: Everybody, shut up and look at my new pants.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I like cute stuff. Which is probably part of why Hedgehog in the Fog is probably my favorite animated film, and why I taught preschool for several years.

          But the cuteness in AC:WW felt as paper-thin as the rest of the game to me at the time. Zynga didn’t exist at the time I played it (I don’t think) but if it did, the most immediate comparison I would have drawn would have been to something like Farmville (instead of clicking on cows I was poking at fruit trees, and instead of clicking to till every square of soil I was clicking to dig up every square of diggable land). Not really my bag.

        • Raging Bear

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus Fair points. On the other hand, my Animal Crossing house contains a 10-foot teddy bear.

    • Effigy_Power

      Don’t listen to sound advice. The secret is to speak slower and louder. Always.

      • George_Liquor

        Try to adopt a stereotypical accent, too. That always facilitates communication. 

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          MY LOOWD!

          AWA GENERAL IS IN GWAVE DANGER!

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    So I think the main question is, in Kodneria can people over eighteen attend the Nook E. Cheese’s unattended?

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      Skee-Ball for some, glow-in-the-dark spider rings for others!

    • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

      Oh no, are we compiling mythologies for Gameological contributors now?

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        What? You mean you never read the Great Tale of Teti and the Red Button? What did they teach you in school?

      • Effigy_Power

        By Toal’s Blessed Nasolabial Fold and Sanskrit’s Ear Lobe of Power, you really don’t know much, Chalk. (But you may just have given me a possible Digest Comic idea.)

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        I had so much fun writing my David Brooks / Gail Collins buddy detective fanfic, The Case of the Underperforming Charter School, I thought I’d try it out with game journalism.

    • WaxTom

      Nook E. Cheese sounds like the world’s worst brothel.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        ::full-body shudder::

      • Uncle Roundy

        Liked for making me audibly gag.

      • Effigy_Power

        I bet they give you a full custard massage like nobody else can.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        Or the world’s best sensual fondue restaurant.

    • vinnybushes

       That assumes that you can’t get a tiny raccoon person to dress like a kid and help you get in. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgNqDWFKxQY

  • WaxTom

    I hate this game, not because it’s bad or because I think it’s unenjoyable, but because all my twitter feed has been since it’s release is nothing but screencaps from this fucking game. Back in my day we played the stalk market from the privacy of our own Gamecubes and didn’t have to share it with the world!

    • DrFlimFlam

       It’s helpful when a friend is getting 334 bells per and your local Re-Tail is lowballing you at 67 per.

  • vinnybushes

    Matt, it’s weird that some your residents couldn’t stand staying up late. Mine immediately thanked me for the late night shopping and all the extra time they had to hang out. What can I say? I’m a charismatic mayor.

    • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

      yeah, they all called me a tyrant. I was all too happy when Marshal and the others came around. Now I’m making them a lighthouse and they fucking love me. 

      Also, note the single, wilting flower behind my avatar. gardening is for the weak-minded!

      • vinnybushes

        I’m more concerned with exploring with Mr. Resetti’s underground lair. It turns out he has Voltron style launch chairs to eject him above ground. http://i.imgur.com/iib3EIk.jpg
        he also has public toilet stalls!

  • johnshinobi

    Do you think you inserted that same Seinfeld reference enough times into the review?

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Yeah, I hate when writers take the time to make sure that their rhetorical tools and analogies feel wholly integrated into the text by by repeatedly invoking them over the course of the piece!

      I’d rather they just drop an inconsequential, one-off pop-culture reference and then never acknowledge it again. Basically, these reviews should be written more like late-period episodes of Family Guy.

      • johnshinobi

        A little variety wouldn’t hurt.

      • Effigy_Power

        -queue shot to salmon helmet-

    • neodocT

      You’re right. This review would totally have been better with more Mulva. Perhaps a Newman joke here and there.

      Edit: Actually, considering the aptness of the comparison between the show about nothing and the game about nothing, the article was surprisingly restrained.

    • ItsTheShadsy

      I think it’s weirder that this was the second review in two days to use Seinfeld as a framing device.

  • Destroy Him My Robots
  • CrabNaga

    I guess this is as good of a time as any to plug this ridiculously good Animal Crossing Let’s Play. It has an, uh, interesting narrative (especially toward the end). A very entertaining read, especially since this isn’t the sort of game that you’d expect to see a good Let’s Play of.

  • Uncle Roundy

    I had never played an Animal Crossing game before this one except maybe like 30 minutes of the Gamecube one, but I saw a bunch of my friends picking it up and getting into it and I thought “ahh, what the heck” and for the past week this game has been my life. I’m no good at SimCity-type games, so it’s nice to be in charge but also get to screw around and leave my people behind for a day of island shenanigans and never have anyone pissed off at me because I’m putting power plants next to their house or something.

    Also, until this article and the comments I was convinced that literally all Animal Crossing towns were named after pop culture references. I’ve learned that the American landscape would look vastly different if my generation was in charge of naming cities. (Not that I’m above it—my town’s name is Domina, the first town in Legend of Mana.)

    • Raging Bear

      Mine is also named for a pop culture reference, albeit misspelled.

    • DrFlimFlam

      Mine is Pawnee, which is of course very much a pop culture refrence.

    • http://twitter.com/zhandlen Zack Handlen

      My town is Enhava, which is a reference to a fantasy novel I was trying to write in my early twenties that died a horrible death. That means I’m nerdy _and_ a narcissist. 

      This is such an odd game. I’ll play around for a few minutes, sell some bugs and fish, and then leave it alone, wondering what I really got out of the experience. But then I’ll come back an hour or two later, just to poke about a few minutes more. It’s very much unlike anything else I’ve played. I keep wondering if I’m missing something, and then not really caring.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

      That’s not entirely true. I have a couple of friends who named their towns after their actual locations. Mine is a phonetic approximation of how locals pronounce my hometown (which has ten letters normally and wouldn’t fit).

      But yes all the rest are pop culture references.

      • Sillstaw

        Do you live in Louisville? How did you spell it, “Louvl?”

        • KHalleron

          Luavul

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

          I have never lived in Louisville and I’m pretty sure you have me confused with someone else?

          The town in question is Gloucester (MA), which sounds an awful lot like my AC town of Glosta when filtered through a MA accent.

    • MathleticDepartment

      Mine is Derptown because I am not creative and something of a failure

  • DrFlimFlam

    I really, really enjoy just popping this game in for 10-45 minutes a day, depending on what I’m trying to do. Currently I’m creating my fruit districts and amassing wealth through turnips, but mostly I’m just enjoying life as mayor of a beautiful town. Because beauty was totally my ordnance.

    I just wish I could choose townsfolk. I like Cookie the pink puppy tons, but the rest of the townsfolk are boring. I need Olivia, Tangy, and lots of grumpy folks.

    • Citric

      That’s always been a Nintendo thing, hasn’t it? I remember SNES games suggesting I take a break too.

      • http://mrglitchsreviews.blogspot.com/ Mr. Glitch

        One thing I forgot to mention in my (shameless plug!) Virtual Boy write-up is that each game asks you if you would like it to automatically pause for breaks every 15 minutes or so. Presumably, that was Nintendo’s solution  to the problem of the Virtual Boy melting people’s eyeballs. 

        • DrFlimFlam

          Based on my experience with 3D in general, the Virtual Boy would likely have killed me.

      • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

         It was most prevalent in Earthbound, where your otherwise-absent father would call you up and remind you to take a break.

    • Matt Koester

      I have a resident in my town, and he is a sheep-person with horrifying clown makeup on. I hit him every day with my net so he’ll leave me alone, but he still thinks I’m his best friend. 

      Anyone know what the whole “have a problem with a resident” thing does? Can I evict this jerk?

  • Celebith

    I love the Animal Crossing games – I don’t have a 3DS yet, but between this, Etrian 4 and Mario Kart 7 I’m inching closer to getting one. 

    I always spend the first bit of the game converting all of my trees (except for a small grove) into foreign fruits so I can harvest bells more efficiently, but other than that, I love how pacifying the whole thing is. Just leaving it on with the opening screen music makes me feel calm.

    • DrFlimFlam

       I like how it is fun but also feels like work for some strange reason. I create fruit districts and now for the first time I am also creating a spare stash of fruit in storage so if something bad happens or I clearcut the wrong section of town I still have spare fruit.

      • dingdingdongdingdong

         Always good to have a cache of fruit in case a new villager settles right in the middle of your orchard.

  • DrFlimFlam

    I wanted to add that lazy control freak is a dead-on description of me, so it makes sense that I love this game so much. I want to do nothing, but dangit, I want to do it right! I’ve even scared my kid off the game a little because of my “no digging, no chopping” policy. Only I may alter the townscape.

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      I’m going to omit the name here but someone from your family visited my town when I left the gates open while I was sleeping a couple of days ago. I know it was someone from Pawnee and someone whose name isn’t Dad because they left a nice note at the bulletin board. Don’t worry, they didn’t do any damage. Good parenting!

      Uhm, the other day I also send you a swapnote in which I wrote “Hi dad!” so you might have some explaining to do. Ahem. Sorry ’bout that.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I think it was the Mrs. FlimFlam. Her jaw is still on the floor after seeing your bucolic town.

        I still don’t quite understand SwapNotes and the like. I’ve kind of just gone past all that to gorge on AC and Fire Emblem.

    • http://starttocrate.tumblr.com/ Http Lovecraft

      Hey Animal Crossing dudes, do y’all remember what thread had everybody’s friend codes in them?  I was gonna get this this weekend.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I want to say it was in the What Are You Playing This Weekend? thread from Friday.

        • http://starttocrate.tumblr.com/ Http Lovecraft

          You’re right, thanks!

  • SonjaMinotaur

    This game! My sister got me into Pokemon, but I think Animal Crossing on the Gamecube was what turned me into a gamer. It was when I bought multiple GC memory cards so I could create alternate towns so I could collect all the fruit trees that I knew there was no going back.

    Animal Crossing is why I bought a wii (and now it’s the only reason I don’t *completely* regret getting the wii.)