Let me tell you a story. Long, long ago in the dying days of the Nintendo 64, far away in the cities and mountains of Japan, a game called Animal Forest was released and failed to make it out of the East. Western gamers from San Francisco to Islington sighed in frustration, as Animal Forest was the latest revolution to come from the mind of Shigeru Miyamoto and looked extremely promising. Miyamoto calls it a 'communication game'. The man has a vision of families and friends playing and enjoying games together, of multiple people sharing the same game space and communicating with each other through it. It may sound exactly like an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online RPG), but in 1999 console internet gaming was only just finding its feet and Miyamoto clearly had no more faith in it than Nintendo apparently has today. Consequently, the Animal Forest that was released on the N64 was a game like no other, and proved to be a very intriguing idea.
When this GameCube update was announced a widespread cheer arose among the gaming community; the potential for this exciting new concept on a next-generation console was enormous. When it was revealed that the game would still remain offline, few were surprised, as Nintendo has never exactly been openly enthusiastic about the entire 'online gaming' revolution. Animal Crossing (as it was renamed) was to remain unique, remain offline and, hopefully, remain compulsive. Japan got the game in Summer and America received it gratefully soon afterwards. And now, after years of waiting, complaining, swearing, crying and threatened mutiny, Nintendo are releasing it in Europe. Happy? You should be...
Miyamoto's idea has taken the shape of a virtual village in which your little protagonist lives, along with up to three other human players and a wide variety of slightly surreal animals. The idea is simply to live and enjoy
There is a larger element of personalisation and interaction in Animal Crossing than there ever was in Doshin, however. Your village is designed for you alone and you are given endless opportunities to make it yours. The first and most obvious mark of your influence is your town's name, which you choose; you also choose the house you live in, how you decorate it, what furniture goes into it and what music you play on the stereo. You can even design your own clothes, which is one of the game's very best features; anyone with any degree of artistic talent can design their very own funky clobber at the local tailors to wear on clothes or umbrellas or to use in your house. Your designs are displayed for all to see in the shop, too, so you might see one of your fellow town-animals sporting an own-brand scarf or shirt. Fabulous indeed. As for the furniture, wallpaper and carpets, the sheer variety boggles the mind. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of items to be found somewhere in the game, through trading with friends, buying them at the shop or helping out your animaly mates. Even if you don't like any of it, which is highly unlikely, you can always design your own.
Pulling a Doolittle and talking to the animals tends to pay off very well indeed in the world of Animal Crossing. They often offer up furniture or other items for sale or trade, or even give it free on rare occasions. You can also collect things for them and deliver borrowed items back and forth between them to earn some new junk to clutter up your house with. Quite on top of the personal gain, you'll find that a lot of the animals are genuinely hilarious characters
This could be considered as one good reason why this game should have been online
If you're thinking of creatively avoiding these inconveniences by messing with the time settings, you may as well forget about it. Changing your game's clock or resetting the game in order to cheat a bit will result in a meeting with Mr Resetti the Angry Mole, who shouts a lot and lectures upon how there's no reset button in life, etcetera, etcetera. He even makes persistent offenders (like me) repeat 'I am bad' over and over again in order to get the message through and threatens to erase your game data (which, I'll warn you now, he actually does if you're insolent enough). Quite apart from the nightmares that the mole could quite easily give you, cheating in this way defeats the point of playing in the first place. It IS possible to cheat at Animal Crossing, but it's clear that Nintendo does not want you to play that way. At all. Miyamoto intended for this to be more than just an item-collecting game; he wanted it to be an alternate existence.
That, however, is the problem with Animal Crossing. It relies on a certain Nintendo magic to make the whole thing work; at base, it's a simple and repetitive item-collecting money-earning game. Quite simply, that magic won't affect everyone. Some people will not be absorbed in the personality of their village and will be nagged persistently by the off-touch graphics or samey conversations or the simple nature of the tasks. Something
The joy in Animal Crossing does not come from the actual doing of the tasks that are set, which like Doshin's are really very simple at heart. It comes instead from atmosphere
The only genuinely unimpressive aspect of Animal Crossing. 2D sprites, pathetic polygon counts, poor character definition - it looks at best like a reasonably good-looking N64 game (which, of course, is what it originally was). Personally I don't find it a huge problem, but I am sure that the graphics will prove a substantial deterrent for many more aesthetically demanding gamers.
Run-of-the-mill music for the most part and incomprehensible animal babble. But again, this game could not give a flying toss about aesthetics; it doesn't want to be pretty.
Theoretically, forever. Realistically, about a year. I couldn't bear to leave the world of Animal Crossing for any substantial length of time before I have built a mansion, spent obscene amounts of bells in Tom Nook's shop, seen all the seasons and attended all the festivities. Only then will I be satisfied.
There is so much to say about a game like Animal Crossing, and it is open to so many different interpretations from different people, that it is almost impossible to review. Animal Crossing, like Doshin the Giant, is very much a game of many levels; at worst, it's repetitive and simple, a good idea gone to waste. It can, however, be an extremely engaging and rewarding experience, if you let it; if you are prepared to approach it with an open mind and let yourself be absorbed in your own quirky little world. I cannot lie and say that everybody will adore this game, because some won't. Animal Crossing definitely isn't a surefire success, but it definitely is a typically accomplished Nintendo attempt at doing something new, and if its magic works on you, you'll find it an experience hard to forget.