Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Review

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Platform | Release Date
3DS | June 9, 2013
Developed by Nintendo EAD
Published by Nintendo

The Pitch:

Welcome to Animal Crossing where, as mayor of your own town, you make the decisions that shape your town and your life. Experience a living, breathing world where new friends and new discoveries await every day, morning, noon, and night. Express yourself by customizing your character, your house, and your town as you create your own ideal world.

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It hasn’t been easy getting my eldest daughter into playing video games. The ones that were up her alley previously were so pandering and mind-numbing that I wanted to shoot myself. Dora Saves the Mermaids, Ni Hao Kai-lan’s New Year Celebration, and Diego’s Great Dinosaur Rescue were the best for a girl who couldn’t read fluently, but they weren’t anything more than a bunch of minigames that all seemed to want you to yell into the microphone. “SAY IT WITH ME! GARBAGE!” (actual Dora quote).

Last year with the release of Skylanders: Giants, I saw a whole new world opening up. Not only could she read, but she could play without much involvement from me. I’d of course sit with her, helping out when I was needed, but she was in control of a much more fleshed out game. While frustration still set in from time to time, I could see her finally “getting it”.

ACNL-3With some trade-in funding, I decided to purchase a 3DS and Animal Crossing: New Leaf. The purchase was intended to sate my own personal fruit-filled town building desires, but it has ended up being something much more than just a simple game with Tom Nook’s loansharking. Instead, ACNL has become another way for my daughter and I to enjoy each other.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t going to let her be the mayor. No way. Not after years of Animal Crossing under my belt. That was mine. I wanted to ensure that I had put in a nighttime ordinance so the shops wouldn’t be closed when I was playing. I wanted to make sure we had a bridge built to make navigating the town a bit easier.

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Instead, she’s a resident of Mayor Daddy’s “utopia” with a house right next to mine. For a while, I supported her home improvement efforts, sending bells to upgrade her space (yeah, I was paying for two mortgages). It took some time for her to really get a hang of the circle pad, but I taught her how to dig for fossils, how to sell items, how to fish.

A somewhat embarrassing side effect of naming your character Daddy: You’re still named “Daddy” when you visit other towns on community game night.

Being on summer vacation, she’s got extra time between playing outside, going on play dates, and reading any number of fairy books, so she’s had a bit of time to get proficient. I send her a notes through the mail in-game, maybe attaching a trinket – the first being a baby teddy bear. When I come home from work, she’s often waiting to tell me about a new animal that came to our campsite, or that the Nooklings had closed their shop down to turn it into a supermarket. When the bunny Mira was having a birthday party on the same day as my son, she insisted on “stopping by” Mira’s party too. She thinks Lobo the wolf is “freaky” – not sure if that’s in the pejorative.

Eventually, she started sending me notes with gifts attached too. She made her way to the island resort by herself. She’s checked out other impressive houses through the Happy Home Academy and bought a flat screen TV through one of their catalogs. I didn’t even know you could do that. One night we checked out the new discotheque, Club LOL, that KK Slider was spinning at. Together, we just listened to his music while my daughter and her character bobbed their heads; her giggle, infectious.

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Last night before bed, I grabbed the 3DS – or “Blue Game” as she affectionately refers to it – and found a note from her waiting in my mailbox that simply read “THIS is FUN!!!!”. Realizing I hadn’t seen the inside of her house in a while, I popped in for a quick visit and found what looked a lot like the game-created layouts instead of my own mess of Gyroids and Nintendo items. It was immaculate. “Is this the wrong house?” I panned the camera around and saw the flat screen TV she ordered setup in front of a couch. I saw the Big Ben model she received from Gulliver the seagull.

I saw the baby teddy bear I had given her at the foot of her bed.

While Animal Crossing: New Leaf may not have any huge advances for the game itself, focusing on small refinements instead of leaps and bounds, I’m appreciating it on a completely different level. It’s not only about grinding for bells and making a bigger house, or fleshing out the museum run by Blathers the owl. It’s about enjoying simple moments of discovery, development, and fascination.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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