Alright, quiz time! Can you name a franchise that was suddenly demoted to the status of “casual game” when Ninty started winning and the term “kiddy” started going out of style? I bet you can’t gu…Wait, where are you looking? HEY, STOP CHEATING!
Yes, the answer is Animal Crossing. The franchise no “hardcore gamer” ever had an issue with until the casual gaming plague hit the industry.
So those new to the franchise, or maybe gaming in general (don’t tell Mike if you are), Animal Crossing is one of Ninty’s top-selling franchises, introduced in Japan in 2001 for the Nintendo 64 under the title “Animal Forest.” The game wasn’t released outside Japan until it was ported the next year to the GameCube.
The premise is simple. You have moved to a village full of (SHOCK) animal villagers, and are set up in a home by the village’s thieving merchant, Tom Nook. You are forced to do odd jobs and sell garbage in order to pay back the loan on your house, and as you earn more money can increase the size of your home (which you have to pay even more money for), all while collecting furniture and items to fill it with and show off to your friends. There’s a little more to it than that, but if you care that much you can look it up yourself you lazy bums!
Due to the profitability of the franchise, it surprised exactly zero people that Ninty revealed Animal Crossing alongside the 3DS. It also didn’t exactly wow anyone either, due to franchise issues that delve much deeper than whether or not the franchise is casual or not. This, of course, being the fact that there have been minimal changes to the base game over the three released installments. So is there anything worthwhile about this new installment? Anything at ALL?
No, it looks like there’s absolutely nothing different. Well, I guess the bench and lamp post are new. And you have been stretched out a bit and have seemingly-customizable pants. Note the bear does not.
Well there does appear to be one (seemingly) major change from the prior games. That is, the player will, for reasons unknown at this time, become mayor upon stepping foot in their village for the first time. Suspicious and sketchy? Of course it is, but this is the franchise where your life is essentially ruled by a tyrannical merchant raccoon, so nothing shocking here. You may have noted my earlier sarcastic skepticism concerning playing as the mayor, but that’s because we still have no idea whether or not there will be any real gameplay changes following this “new” direction. Considering in all the other games you were the only one to actually DO anything to promote your town and its livelihood, including buying its decorative fixtures with your own savings, and designing its flag and theme tune, you technically WERE the mayor, only without the actual title.
Screw you, Tortimer, this is MY town now!
So instead of merely talking about what being the mayor might entail, I’m going to go ahead and crank this
rant editorial into overdrive and talk about some of the changes I feel should be implemented into the game in order to justify its purchase.
First, let’s talk about the town itself. Every Animal Crossing has started the same way. You take a cab/bus/train to your new home that has been lovingly randomly-generated for you. Fantastic. NOT. I can understand being given a random town to start off with, but why the hell aren’t we able to reconstruct it as time goes by and funds increase?
Now that we are the mayor, how about we be given the ability to redevelop the land of the town as we see fit, be it changing the path of the river or where the cliffs lie? How about the ability to actually have a choice (not one based off some stupid riddle that decides) where our house is stationed, and the option to move our house and other villagers’ houses if we don’t like the positioning or just want a change of pace? Let’s see even more options for village customization, with a variety of distinguishable architectures, be it multiple choices of bridges, fountains, and statues we can place anywhere in the village? (In the 3DS screen already shown, let’s hope we have the choice where that bench is placed, and that it’s not a permanent fixture!)
Next, let’s talk about the villagers. If there’s something that the Animal Crossing games have done right, it’s the humor that comes from the dialogue of the characters you interact with on a day-to-day basis. They should play an even bigger role in this game considering they are no longer just your neighbors, but also the people you are leading. As such, there needs to be a change to villager behavior. The key addition I am thinking of is a true relationship system.
Did you hate it when you hit one of your neighbors with a net, and after a few minutes of pouting they would talk to you as if nothing had happened? Let’s see a system where you can increase or decrease how much each villager likes you based on your interactions with them.
Maybe if Frobert held a grudge he’d realize that me hitting him in the face all day with my net for weeks wasn’t a sign that I liked him…
When you first enter town, the villagers should not be as open to you as they currently are in the series. They should be neutral, or perhaps even have a negative opinion of you becoming the new mayor. A good comparison to what I would like to see is Sable. She didn’t even reply to you the first time you talked to her, but as you kept coming into her shop she’d slowly open up and become more forthcoming with her back story and personality.
(Okay, I admit it! I have a furry crush on Sable <3)
Do favors for your villagers or listen to their requests for what they think the town needs and you get positive points. Ignore them or beat them up and you get on their bad side. Do this enough times and you destroy your relationship with them for good, and they will move out (and spread news of your reign of terror to other towns they visit). Likewise, you should be given the option to kick out any sketchy, unlikable villager whenever you like.
Catch Gaston the Nazi bunny peeking in your window? TIME FOR PUNISHMENT!
This could lead to a whole new line of sidequest material, where you could have many different tasks like renovating your villagers’ homes, settling grudges between villagers/promoting the peace (or breaking it if you so desired).
Let’s see some actual gossip spreading, and have the player attempt to squash it or let it fester and burn out of control…
And now we come to what the Animal Crossing games have always been about. Collecting everything you can find so you can cram it into your house to show off! The problem is, Ninty has never given us enough space to display even a small fragment of all the cool items you can find. And for some reason, they gave the player even LESS room in City Folk than they did in Wild World! WHY!?
Now that you are the mayor, let’s put that power to good use and have an actual mansion for once. I have no idea why Ninty has restricted the size of your house in a game about collecting items. Let’s see your standard basement and second floor, then let’s through in an attic and several more ground floors. Give a trophy room so we don’t have to waste space in our main rooms for them. Stop wasting floor space for paintings and give us the ability to hang them on the wall. Hey, might as well throw in an enclosed front yard (fully customizable, mind you) as well. Technically a yard isn’t part of a house, per say, but it’s a feature that should be included none the less.
Okay, hold on, it seems like I’m missing something…
Nibbles discovers the nasty truth far too late…
Oh yeah, gameplay! After three straight games of doing nothing but collecting money, you’d think Ninty would finally come up with a way to freshen up the gameplay experience.
First, let’s see some actual sidequests. I talked on this slightly before, but let’s see more than just your tired “Such and so wants this crap, go deliver it” bullplop that we have done in every game ever, and the only one we have done in the entire Animal Crossing franchise. Actually, there HAVE been a couple “sidequests” so to speak, like the little kitten who got lost and has to be returned to her mother, and the occasional time one of your villagers somehow drops their key into the river and you have to fish it out. But there’s just so much more that could be done, like solving mysteries surrounding events in your town (like trying to figure out the identity of a ghost seen late at night or finding out who graffitied on a wall), settling grudges/improving relationships between other villagers, or even something as radical as exploring/discovering whole new regions that could be added to your village (expanding legion get!)
Sidequest Objective: Determine if Mr. Resetti actually wears pants…
Second, let’s see more interaction with the environment. It’s ridiculous after three games we still don’t have the ability to climb on top of trees or even jump into and swim in the river or beach, nor the ability to make snowballs to throw. You are already restricted into a tiny village, so open up the freedom within that small space as much as you possibly can.
I can tie weather effects into this as well. There should be far more varied weather effects, including different strengths of rain (sprinkle, steady rain, torrential downpour) and snow (flurries, blizzard), fog, heavy wind, and more. The effects should also change on an 4-hour, or even 1-hour schedule to shake things up (of course randomized in a sense that heavy wind/torrential downpour would be far rarer). These could have an effect on the environment, where rain would make the ground slippery and easier for you to fall down when you are running, and likewise for snow/icy conditions. Fog would obviously make it harder to see, and heavy winds would blow the fruit off your trees and make it difficult to make your way around town. These aren’t exactly earth-shaking examples, but they would most certainly create a more immersive experience than just having rain, snow, and sun.
The aurora borealis was a nice addition, but it’s not enough!
Third problem is the economy of the game. As I have already drilled into your heads plenty already, the goal of the game is to make money (ahem, “bells”) to buy all the crap you can’t fit into your house. The problem here is that the methods Ninty has provided to make bells haven’t changed at all in all three games. It all comes down to
1) Selling crap you don’t want/need (Furniture, Fruit, Fossils, Fish)
2) Playing the turnip market
Nothing like attempting to manipulate the system by buying enough turnips to fill up all your town’s ground tiles, only to completely forget about them and wake up to find them all rotten.
Anyway, back to the issue at hand, this lack of options is not only annoying, but tedious, especially when we’ve been doing this for three games already. Let’s see some new ways to make money, like through jobs you can perform in your town. How about letting us pick side-professions like chef, construction worker, blacksmith, etc, and attach simple, yet challenging minigames to them? Perhaps even throw in a possible taxing system that could potentially tie into the relationship system (no one likes taxes, after all).
Fourth, the holidays. There need to be more, period. I don’t understand the development team’s strict basis of almost solely real holidays, when there could be so much more done. How about adding lunar/solar eclipses? How about a sports festival with races and a tug o’ war? How about a snowball fight tourney? How about a prank day where you lay traps (and avoid traps) throughout town and see who can trap the most villagers?
Finally comes the most important issue to address of all: the online component. As the other major focus of the game in recent installments has been showing off your house and town (or your friends showing off their own), Ninty needs to add a lot more to do to make these online voyages worthwhile. Otherwise you see your friend’s town once and then that’s it. INVIGORATING!
Considering Ninty has long since disposed of the built-in NES games due to the Virtual Console, they need to finally replace them with something of at least similar entertainment value. Let’s see built-in versions of tag, hide-and-seek, snowball fights, races, more variety of traps than just pitfalls, variations on fishing tourneys (First to catch such and such fish, etc), board games (even basic versions of chess and checkers would be SOMETHING). How about letting friends join in on the events during holidays? Let’s also see the villagers given some actual AI so they join in on these games. After all, these are supposed to be your neighbors, not mindless puppets…
There’s just so, so much that could be done with this franchise, and the lack of hard information instills a sickeningly pitiful amount of hope that even some of these issues are being addressed. Probably not, but let’s hope that Ninty looks back on what the franchise has delivered (and failed to deliver), and give this series the creative jump-start that it deserves.
THE TIME IS TICKING DOWN! (to disappointment)