Animal Crossing is the Seinfeld of the video gaming world; it’s a game about nothing. It’s hard to explain to someone why it’s so compelling as a game. They ask me what I do in this game, and I say I collect furniture, I decorate my house, go fishing, talk with villagers, run errands for them, celebrate holidays, try to get enough money from collecting bugs, fishing and selling fruit (which is better than a regular drop) to buy upgrades for my house and stuff like that. It’s at this point that whoever asked me about the game stares at me a bit after I give this explanation and they ask, “I thought you said this was a video game?” Yeah, it is, and a really fun one that despite the fact that you don’t really do anything, at least not in the traditional sense, there’s so much to do. I’ll be honest with you, my wife and I practically rearrange our lives around our alternate lives in the virtual world of Animal Crossing. When this game says, “Welcome to your new life,” it’s not kidding. Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS is easily the best in the series thus far. Sure, you do a whole lot of nothing in the game, but there’s just so much nothing to do, and it’s all so gloriously entertaining, it’s hard to put this game down and get back to real life.
The basic set-up and structure for Animal Crossing hasn’t changed much since the GameCube days. You move into a cozy little town filled with wacky talking animals for neighbors and just start living your life. However, New Leaf adds enough new elements to make that some old formula feel new and fun all over again. The biggest addition is the fact that, this time, when you arrive in town the citizens, for whatever reason, believe you’re the new mayor they’ve been expecting. So, without any questions asked, and despite your feeble protests, you’re sworn in as mayor of…whatever you want to name your town. Oh, and as an added bonus, you can also choose the layout of your town, which is a wonderful addition. So, as mayor, not only do you have the usual nothings to do in an AC game, but also you’re also responsible for improving the town for all of your citizens. You can do this through public works projects like adding new bridges, light posts, fountains, or buildings like a lighthouse or a police station, and much more. It’s a fun element that lets you customize the look and feel of your town however you like. You can also use ordinances to change things in your town. You can encourage shops to stay open later, or open earlier, or you can enact new economic measures in your town. In truth, being mayor isn’t all that tough, but it’s a fun new element that draws you in and makes you want to obsessively check what’s going in town every day.
Other new elements aren’t so much new as they are refined and improved upon from past games to make this one even better. The city from City Life has now been integrated into your town and is now Main Street. Here you’ll find all the shops and the museum, and as your town grows, new shops will be added. It’s strangely exciting to see construction taking place on Main Street as you keenly anticipate whatever the new shop will turn out to be. The tropical island also makes a return from the original GameCube game. The Kappn’ is back singing his wacky songs and once he delivers you to the island, you can catch bugs, fish, and make some good bells (money) doing so. There are also tours you can go on, featuring some fun mini-games that award you with medals, which can be exchanged for some unique items. Having both of these places integrated into life in Animal Crossing adds quite a bit of nothing to do and just adds to the overall compelling, obsessive nature of the game. There’s always something new to discover and experience.
There’s also far more customization in New Leaf, which in truth should have always have been a key feature of this “live your idyllic life” sim. I already mentioned how you can customize your town, but now you can also customize your house; not just the inside, but the outside as well; add new rooms, add a new door façade, a new mailbox, or renovate it to look like a castle. There are more clothing options as well for your character; from shoes, to socks, to pants. That’s not such a big deal to me, but my wife really loves being able to go shoe shopping. Go figure. All of this means that more than ever before, your town can really feel like your town, which again must makes you want to visit it and hang out there even more.
This brings us back to the question of why anyone would want to play a game where you just “hang out?” It’s an interesting question and one that’s tough to answer. Once you play an Animal Crossing game, you’ll finally “get it,” but what exactly are you “getting?” Well, I saw one comment on this that I thought was remarkable insightful. The comment was that what draws us into a game like Animal Crossing is it conveys to us that deeply desired but often-intangible promise that life can be “better.” Life can be simpler, happier, and more enjoyable. It can be worry free, problem free, stress free and something that’s laid back and easy to just enjoy. That’s something that we all want but something we’re resigned to never being able to have, so a game like Animal Crossing gives us a chance to live out the fantasy of that idyllic life of simple happiness.
There’s a misconception that once someone becomes a Christian, their life will suddenly be like life in Animal Crossing; worry free and always happy. The reality is that just isn’t the case. In fact, life often becomes more challenging after one decides to follow Jesus, which begs the question of why even bother? Well, I’d say there are two reasons that are sort of intertwined. One is we get help for the challenges and trials of life from an eternal source, the Almighty God. He’s not a genie who will make our problems magically go away, but He can give us help, strength, and courage to face the issues of life. Plus, He does promise that there is a better life to come. God didn’t intend our world to be full of hurt and pain and suffering; like it or not, that’s pretty much our fault. We messed it up. However, the good news is God fixed it on a cross through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and one day that fix will take affect across the entire world. One day life will be a little more idyllic, a little more like Animal Crossing. In fact, it will be far more joyful, satisfying, and fulfilling than any sort of existence in Animal Crossing could ever be. Sometimes, it’s tough to see that. Sometimes it’s easy to think that the only expression of a truly “better” life can only be found in the virtual world of something like Animal Crossing. But God promised the pain and suffering of this world will end, that there’s something better to look forward to, and sometimes that’s exactly what we need to know to help carry us through.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is easily the best game in the series thus far and one of the best reasons to own a 3DS. It makes great use of StreetPass and SpotPass, offers even more fun with online multiplayer where you can visit a friend’s town or join others for some fun on the tropical island tours. It looks great with the 3D effect turned on, which can be helpful when trying to catch bugs, and it even has some fun uses for the microphone. Plus, being able to have it with you wherever you go means any time you have a few spare moments, you can go to your happy place and enjoy yourself. This game was one of the main reasons I wanted a 3DS, I just didn’t realize I’d have to wait such a long time after the 3DS release before I could actually enjoy it. Well, it was worth the wait. If you haven’t tried Animal Crossing yet, or need a reason to try out the 3DS, this is the game for you. It’s an oddly compelling and thoroughly enjoyable game…even though it’s pretty much about nothing.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is one of those games the whole family can enjoy. It’s fun sending each other letters, visiting each other’s houses, or if you have more than one 3DS, visiting each other’s towns. Everyone in the family can enjoy this game; the only challenge is deciding who gets to play and making sure you don’t play too long.
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