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Animal Crossing

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  Nintendo
Publisher:  Nintendo
# of Players:  1-4 (alternating, per town)
Genre:  Simulation
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card (included), GBA, e-Reader
Date Posted:  10-7-02

I never ever thought I’d have the opportunity to write this review. Animal Crossing (then known as Animal Forest) was originally developed and released for the Nintendo 64 late in that console’s lifetime. That combined with its definite non-mainstream feel made it a virtual certainty that the game would never be released outside of Japan. It wasn’t. I can’t say that I was heartbroken, but I was a little disappointed. When the remake was announced for GameCube, I still didn’t think we’d see it here. Luckily I was wrong, as Animal Crossing is thus far the most innovative (and one of the best overall) GameCube title yet.

Don’t be fooled with the genre classification, as this isn’t some kind of lame Sim City knock-off. The game starts off with the player finding themselves on a train, bound for their new home in a brand new town. Here they meet up with Rover the cat, which asks for their name, the town they’re relocating to, and other miscellaneous questions. After the train ride is finished, the player is dropped off in their brand new town. Luckily Rover has contacted his good friend Tom Nook ahead of the player’s arrival, and Tom sets the player up in a (very) small home to start off with. Unfortunately this leaves the player in debt, and thus they must initially work off some of that running errands for Tom.

So the first few days in town largely consist of running errands for Tom, meeting neighbors, and learning the ins and outs of life in a new city. The kicker is that everything takes place in real time. Not "real" fake time ala The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but rather real time ala real life. Thanks to the GameCube’s internal clock, events and actions in Animal Crossing parallel those in real life. Nook’s shop is only open certain hours, town residents keep a schedule and sleep at the same times every night, town workout is held at 6am every morning (bet none of you will attend that), and so on.

If you only play at certain times of the day, you’ll end up missing out on a lot of what the game has to offer. I can hear all of you out there screaming "That’s not fair!" but it’s not as bad as it seems. Nintendo smartly designed the game so that even if you can only play at certain times of the day, there’s still plenty to do around town. The player can fish, run errands for other townspeople, dig up fossils, gather seashells, plant trees and flowers, visit the museum (filled with things the player donates), catch bugs, mail some letters, or simply run around talking to everyone. Outside of the initial errands for Nook, the game is virtually open-ended. The only goal is to do what you want, and accomplish what you want to accomplish.

There are limits of course. Since Nook is only open certain hours to sell to and the total number of inventory and house space is limited, eventually the player will run out of room to hold things. Combine this with the fact that running errands becomes rather pointless (and annoying since the animals repeat a lot of the same lines) once the player has gathered most of the things they want, and eventually Animal Crossing becomes the kind of game that will only be played for an hour or two a day.

Recognizing this limitation, Nintendo took a number of steps to keep the player interested in the game for a long time. First off is the huge number of items in the game. Players can collect furniture, knickknacks, wallpaper and carpet combinations, and various theme items to decorate their house with. A committee sends out regular updates with an overall score based on how the player’s home looks. The game also allows the player to catch a wide variety of bugs and fish, and keeps track of which ones the player has captured. Finally, there are many rare items that will take a bit of work to get, including…

NES games. Yes, Animal Crossing includes a number of perfectly emulated NES games that can be collected and played. Included are gems such as Donkey Kong and Punch-Out!!, among duds such as Clu Clu Land and Soccer. There are even rumors of classics like The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. in there somewhere, but that has yet to be proven (they were in the Japanese version as prizes). Personally I’m really hoping Zelda’s in there, as my old NES cartridge bit it a long time ago I’d love to give Link’s first adventure one more try. Once a game is obtained, simply place it in the house and then press A. Up pops a perfectly emulated full-screen version of the game chosen, and naturally the GCN controller feels much better than an old NES one ever did.

Animal Crossing also makes the most use (by far) of the GBA/GCN connection to date. This includes the ability to download those NES games into the GBA’s RAM and play them on the go. They’re erased once the GBA is powered off, but it’s a simple thing to download them again. Players can also visit a special Animal Crossing island playable on the GBA, which offers up additional opportunities to gather rare items and explore. Finally, using the newly released e-Reader and the upcoming set of Animal Crossing cards players will be able to upload a variety of new textures, items, etc. off of barcodes located on the cards.

Aside from all the extras, a variety of events also take place in the town from time to time. The player is given a calendar at the start, so planned events should never be missed accidentally. This includes things such as Sports Day, Toy Day (no Christmas), fishing tournaments, Mayor Day, and a variety of other special days. Officer Copper also drops hints whenever special visitors might be dropping by, as well as other unannounced events.

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