Since Animal Crossing: New Leaf was released in North America just a little over a month ago, I have spent eight days playing the game. To be honest, the actual amount of time is just a little over eight days – 192 hours and 36 minutes.
I am only this precise because my shrink tells me it’s important if I’m going to confront and overcome this addiction… this sickness… this… monster.
No other game in my activity log even comes close in amount of time played – second place is Fire Emblem: Awakening, which I’ve played for 62 hours – a pretty significant amount of time to devote to any game. Ocarina of Time comes in third with 22 hours of logged play time.
The funny thing is, New Leaf is nowhere near my favorite game on the 3DS. It’s not even my second or third favorite game. I would probably rank it my fifth or sixth favorite title on a system that has a few great games, a pile of mediocre games and a load of stinkers.
So what does that say about New Leaf?
While the game does nothing amazing (or even new, for the matter), the simplicity and enjoyment derived from conducting every day tasks makes it incredibly easy to lose yourself in it for hours at a time – in New Leaf, one runs through their daily chores as easily and carefree as one would run through your everyday life.
Do you ever look at your watch late in the evening and ask yourself where the day went? That’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf in a nutshell.
Your tasks are never anything more than trivial or menial at best: talk with your neighbors, go shopping and try on new clothes, rearrange the furniture in your house, garden or run errands.
You also engage in hobbies like fishing, bug catching or digging for fossils (if anyone reading this actually has that as a hobby, let me know. I also want to dig for dinosaurs). You take strolls on the beach and collect seashells. At night, you can hit up the local nightclub and listen to DJ K.K. Slider spin some tracks or play you a few songs on his acoustic.
And before you know it, you’ve been playing for two or three hours and you haven’t even addressed your duties as mayor of your town – which, I suppose, I should at least explain a little bit because it’s about the only thing new AC:NL brings to the table (and would have to be considered the crux of the game, if a game like this even has a crux).
In New Leaf, you’re not just a citizen of your community, but based on what I assume can was the most ridiculous clerical error of all time, you are in fact the new mayor (dictator?).
No one seems to care that there was no vote, or that unlike everyone else, you’re a human. They immediately accept you as their leader and put you to work enacting town ordinances and building various amenities in the form of public works (not to mention paying for them out of your own money, but I digress).
A lot of the mainstays are back. Tom Nook is here, loan sharking as always. The general store is run by his two nephews, Timmy and Tommy. Blathers still heads up the museum, the Able sisters run the clothing store, Harriet is still doing hair and makeup in Shampoodle. There’s a new character in the form of a raccoon named Kicks that sells you… kicks… and also, there is Isabelle, the secretary (assistant… slave…) at the mayor’s office who essentially does all the hard work behind the scenes after you’ve made your decrees.
The game is basically par for the course: if you’re familiar with any of the previous installments of the game you’ll be able to dive right in to New Leaf. It doesn’t shake anything up or do a whole lot different, which is fine – it’s a formula that works and Nintendo has normally taken the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach with its successful franchises.
As always, you buy a house and upgrade it by taking out loans that you pay back by earning money. Money, or bells, are earned the same way as always – selling fruit, bugs, fish, seashells or by investing turnips and taking your chances with the Stalk Market.
The biggest change with the 3DS version is the Happy Home showcase, which is how the game integrated Street Pass. Without a doubt, HHS is the single greatest integration of street pass since the systems launch. Not only does it give you full access to the homes of others you pass, but it allows you to purchase almost anything inside the house and have it delivered the next day, meaning you don’t have to wait months and months or rely on trading with friends to get the house you want.
Within my first month of playing, my place is pretty decked out the way I want it to look.
Collecting bells and paying off loans was also made a lot easier with the return of the island. On or around your first week, you’ll be allowed to travel to an island loaded with rare bugs and fish that makes earning money a cinch. Not to a point where it breaks the experience, but so that you don’t grow bored and actually feel like you’re making significant progress.
You can also travel to the island with up to three other friends via wireless play (over the actual internet as opposed to via local multiplayer… thanks, Nintendo) where you can partake in multiplayer games. The winner of these games are awarded tickets, which can then be traded in for items exclusive to the island itself. It’s adds a much needed dimension to the multiplayer aspect of the game which originally consisted of simply visiting your friends towns.
Another thing the game did well is space out achievements and goals to always make it seem like there is something to do everyday. If you’re not paying off your loan, you’re contributing money towards the new public work. If you’re not donating to the museum, you’re cashing in by selling to the stores. If you’re not collecting signatures on a petition arguing the merits of hopscotch versus jump rope, you’re returning the sweater that Kevin the pig borrowed from Hans the gorilla but neglected to return (and now is too embarrassed to do it himself).
While changing just enough to keep things interesting, coupled with a significant amount of time between series installments, Animal Crossing: New Leaf feels just fresh enough regardless of how long it’s been since your last foray into the world. If this is your first time playing a title in the series, New Leaf gives you everything from the earlier entries with a few new dashes of something new. This game is going to sink its claws into you and it won’t let go until it’s good and ready. Unfortunately, don’t expect to be holding on tight for any wild rides. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had doing the most mundane activities in existence.