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Animal Crossing

Review By:  Siou Choy

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:  10-21-02

OK, letís take things head on, and not beat around the bush. There was a whole hell of a lot of people out there laughing at Nintendoís decision to release Animal Crossing for the Gamecube. My personal favorite anecdote involves an overweight, apparently somewhat mentally deficient member of Americaís proud youth of today pestering his obviously completely disinterested white trash father incessantly about his desire for "A-ni-maul CRAW-sing [DAD! DAD! (Repeat)]" at a certain famous downmarket retail chain store. Itís an image that has been burned into my brain, and which pops up each and every time the subject of the game, and its likely target audience, is broached (I donít know, maybe you just had to be there). After all, who needs or would want an RPG with no defined purpose or goals, with N64 level graphics, just when Nintendo is trying to make a bid for respectability by featuring such high-powered, mature-themed games as Eternal Darkness and Resident Evil? But in this case, the people laughing the hardest may very well be Nintendo and their stockholders. Word of mouth from those who actually played Animal Crossing has quickly propelled this dark horse N64 carryover (it was, in fact, slated for N64 release, but adapted to meet the requirements of the new format at last minute) into an enviable sales position. In point of fact, Animal Crossing is quickly, and quietly, establishing itself as a bonafide cult favorite.

Iím sure everyone knows or has heard by now that the graphics in Animal Crossing are not exactly spectacular. Itís true, Animal Crossing is nowhere near the level you would expect of a Gamecube game. But if you can get past the goofy, blocky visuals, you just might find a game amusing and diverting enough not to need them. And on the flipside, designers do have a tendency to hide a poorly designed game and sparse storyline behind a plethora of surface imagery, selling sub-par programming with pretty pictures; something especially true in this age of Next Generation systems.

One memory card holds one town, which can be inhabited by up to four actual players (and, of course, a veritable cornucopia of computer generated ringers). In other words, up to 3 people can live in the same town as you; so by all means grab a friend, spouse, brother or sister and have them join in. That said, Animal Crossing is a one player game, but you can interact with other players indirectly; by giving them gifts, sending letters, leaving messages on the town bulletin board, etc. What becomes really amusing about all this is how letters sent to any of the sundry computer generated characters tend to be shown to other players at random points down the road. So be careful about badmouthing your fellow residents Ė it might come back to you at the most unexpected times!

The only real goal in Animal Crossing is to pay back the loan for your house (and itís various upgrades, which you have no option to turn down or refuse) to that sleazy squirrel, Tom Nook. Thankfully, you donít actually have to work for it - you just wander about catching fish and insects, picking up seashells and fruit, and digging up fossils. All of which Nook will pay you for, at sometimes-ridiculous pricesÖjust what the hell is he going to do with a pterodactyl wing, anyway? Who cares, for $4,500, he can do anything he wants with it! Another way to earn money is to do jobs for the villagers. These usually involve you playing errand boy, running back and forth between these apparently incestuous villagers who seem to play "telephone" with every item they borrow. When you finally return an item to them from the other villagers (sometimes it seems that one item has made its way through the hands of half the damn village!), or when they take something from your collection (which they do all too frequently, so be careful what you carry on you, whether items or money), they will always trade you an item of their own Ė generally a piece of furniture or clothing. These can be kept to furnish your house (an unseen "committee" rates your house by mail every few days, though there doesnít seem to be any real purpose to improving your house rating) or sold to Nook the Crook for cold hard cash (which will indubitably end up in his own pockets anyway Ė what a racket!).

The P.R. on the game informs us that "Animal Crossing is all about communication", which means that itís a good sell to yuppie latchkey parents. What better way to harass that kid you never see to do his homework or stay off drugs, than to leave them a message in a funny animal video game? I donít know, does anybody else find this amusing, or is it just me? The only thing I saw, between some all too frequent cheap plugs for Nintendo products (I canít count how many times I heard NES, SNES, the link cable, and the GBA mentioned during random conversations with the villageís denizens), is how the villagers will continually harass you about how long itís been since youíve played, what time it is when youíre playing, and "what ever happened to (other player(s) on this cardís save), I havenít seen them in a while!" They will also stir up some friendly rivalry by talking good about the absent player, but never about youÖand then turn around and do the same thing to the other player when itís their turn at bat! What a bunch of weasels!

Basically, what Animal Crossing is really about is teaching you to be a conformist. Your billís paid up? Time to get back into debt via enforced home improvement! Rather take it slow, and leave the house "as is" between loans? Prepare to be badmouthed, harassed and frowned upon by not only the HLA (or whatever the mysterious, invisible home rating commission calls itself), but people all over town, who will insult, cajole and admonish you on the merits of home improvement! And need we get into the whole clothing "fashion" issue? There may never have been another game in history so unidirectionally focused towards maintaining the status quo of contemporary adult society among the youth of tomorrow via not-so-subliminal value manipulation as this. Congratulations, Nintendo!

One of the nicest things about Animal Crossing is that in many ways, it can be personally tailored and customized to your preferences. Donít like the town melody? Then change it. Want to teach the villagers (each of whom has their own "catchphrase") a new one? Go ahead. Think the clothes look awful? Then design your own and then sell it at the Able Sisters. It can be quite amusing to see another resident wearing your design, particularly if itís a deliberately absurd one. Want your whole village wearing the anarchist logo? Design it and put it up for sale. You never knowÖ

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