Animal Crossing New Leaf is the next coveted first party title to expand the (already impressive) 3DS lineup. It promises the usual unique joys of the series while at the same time expanding game play in new directions.
This time round we get to play the Mayor. It's a simple change but one that opens the door to all sorts of city management functionality. More than this though it adds a through-line to the game play and story. Having this clear role in your town answers some critiques of the series who bemoan the overly open play-style.
Either way, those who will get most out of Animal Crossing New Leaf will be players willing to embrace the intricacies of its world that practically buzzes with life (literally on sunny evenings when the insects come out to play). Here's what my family made of starting to play it:
You see, Animal Crossing New Leaf (like previous games in the series) uses the date and time on the 3DS to get the game-world to match real life. If you play in the morning the game offers a town just waking up as the sun rises. If you play late at night you will find shops closed, inhabitants asleep and the stars out in the sky.
More than that though, it also uses the date to match the current season. Play in summer and the place prickles with heat and bright sunlight. Play in winter and don't be surprised to find everything covered in snow.
Other games have done this, but not in a way that so closely relates to game play. In Animal Crossing New Leaf the time of day and season changes what insects, fish and plant life you find in the world. This is important because a bit part of the excitement here is the collection of each and every piece of wildlife -- collected insects, fossils and fish can be donated to the museum so you can enjoy them all year round.
This is the crux of Animal Crossing New Leaf's genius. Rather than a game you may play intensely for a time and then finish, it is a much longer, slow unfolding experience. It draws you in day by day, until the first thing you do each morning is go and check on the prices of different fruit and see what your virtual friends have been up to. It's the closest thing I've come to a daily videogame meditation, at times it almost feels therapeutic -- or maybe some strange experiment being carried out on the human race by Nintendo.
In my family setting this often means that my daughter is as keen to play as my sons. It's even got her off Skylanders and back on the 3DS. As I wrote in the blog previously, Style Boutique offered a play-style that let her tackle it at her own pace. Well, Animal Crossing New Leaf seems to fit the same bill for her.
Animal Crossing New Leaf launches in the UK on 14th June and in the US on the 9th. I'm looking forward to exploring further the online features and multi-player options in the family. I'm also excited to see how each of our towns turns out.
As well as reviewing the game in full, I'll be creating an Animal Crossing Daily Diary with a test family who have agreed to video their experience with the game.