Nintendo's "Animal Crossing" franchise has always been a bit of an anomaly for the game maker. For starters, it doesn’t star any kind of uniquely discernable character - while the townsfolk that you encounter throughout the game are unique, they aren't the central focus of the game. Secondly, the "Animal Crossing" games represent Nintendo's lone "open world" franchise. There is no discernable end to any of the games, and you can continue to play them until your little heart is content. These games have also been the forerunners for a lot of new ideas from the company, including concepts like the Virtual Console and Swapnote, that have eventually grown into much larger ideas on various of platforms. The latest entry into the series, "New Leaf" for the 3DS, does come with a host of similarities to its predecessors, but it also manages to move the franchise forward with some creative new ideas.
"New Leaf" starts off like the other "Animal Crossing" games; a new character arrives in a new town, where they are looking to settle down. However, "New Leaf" puts a different spin on this major life event by also bestowing the power the mayor on the new resident, giving them the power to decide what's best for their new hometown. While you still have the addictive gameplay of expanding and decorating your own home, these same concepts are now expressed in a bigger scale, allowing you to customize the whole town. While that may be overselling the concept a bit, for the first time you get to decide what goes where in the town, and influence how its citizen operate on a daily basis. That's "New Leaf"'s main selling point, but the game offers a host of additional revisions to the tried and true franchise formula.
As you go about your day-to-day routine, you'll have a host of different things to do to distract yourself. "New Leaf" provides its players with an abundance of activities, most of which can help you raise money to funnel back into expanding your home or improving your town. Whether you're chasing fireflies or shaking mango trees, each activity is introduced at a slow and steady pace that lets you explore and learn on your own. These deliberate design choices make the overall experience very rewarding, and encourage players to come back every single day.
In addition to the habit-forming gameplay, "New Leaf" continues the series' technological trend, and makes complete use of all of the 3DS' unique features. Aside from the obligatory 3D graphics (the game looks really solid for a handheld title), "New Leaf" takes full advantage of the system's WiFi connectivity - both locally and online.
For starters, after completing some minimal play conditions, players can share their towns, and visit other players' towns, via the village's Dream Suite - a restful shop that lets you astroplane into other people's games. Whether thought a system that's reminiscent of friend codes or through an online randomizer, players can visit other towns as part of a dream sequence, and explore or destroy how ever much they want.
You can also visit or invite your friends to visit your town just by heading to the train station, making it really easy to just pop in and pop out when your compadres are online. Taking it even one step further, players can receive other
mayors' homes courtesy of both StreetPass and SpotPass. And, if that wasn't
enough, you can even use your collected Play Coins to purchase special Nintendo
themed items from one of the shops. When all of that comes together, "New Leaf"
ends up being one of the most well-rounded games on the system - and that's not
even mentioning the benefits of downloading the game.
What happens if sharing your creations online isn't your thing, and you actually want to play something instead? Well, "New Leaf" has you covered there as well. Returning in this game is the tropical island, however this time around there's a twist: former mayor Tortimer has retired, and has taken up residence on the island, and is spending his days hosting games that turn each of the game's activities into a competition. Whether you're catching butterflies or planting flowers, visiting the island and competing can offer a nice diversion from the daily routine, as well as introduces some unique tropical items that can help boost your finances.
"Animal Crossing: New Leaf" is an exceptional entry into this twelve-year-old franchises, that can appeal to both longtime fans, as well as newcomers. While it may be a small tweak, allowing players control of how the town operates through ordinances actually does open the game up, and make it more accessible (the good kind of accessible). Players are no longer constrained by things like closed shops when playing in off hours, and with the expansion of Tortimer Island, there is always something to do, and someone to play with. While some players that demand instant gratification should stay far away from "New Leaf," anyone that can appreciate the slow burn of a well-paced, open-ended game, should pick up this game immediately, and while away the summer months shaking trees, and digging up fossils, picking weeds, or whatever floats your boat.