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Game Profile
GENRE: Simulation
PLAYERS:   1-4
September 16, 2002
Animal Crossing Calculator

Animal Crossing Clock

Animal Crossing: City Folk

Animal Crossing: Wild World

 Written by Ilan Mejer  on October 17, 2002

Review: Miyamoto's next big thing.

Anyone following the progress of Animal Forest towards the end of the Nintendo 64's life knows that title's eventual fate. Announced for the Nintendo 64, cancelled for its American release, an improved port announced for the GameCube, and over a year after its original release, Americans get an even more expanded version of the Japanese GameCube iteration. Nintendo's newest trek through the imaginations of their designers results in a game that could be compared to such games as The Sims or Harvest Moon, yet retains many original elements that separates it from those experiences.

The game begins on a train, taking you from your hometown to your new home, when a friendly critter strikes up a conversation with you. As part of this opening, you are given the opportunity to introduce yourself by inputting your name, and explain your destination by naming your village. Your train-trip companion, after hearing your location, offers to put you in touch with a comrade of his, Tom Nook. Upon arriving at your adopted village, Tom Nook greets you and offers you a choice from one of four rundown shacks, a unique take on save files, and even a job. What results is approximately an hour's worth of ?tutorial? gameplay, where the details of the game's mechanics are introduced to you in the form of odd jobs. For each task you complete, you learn a new gameplay trick or feature, meet a new village resident, and work a few hundred Bells off your rather extensive debt. Eventually, Tom Nook will report that he has no more jobs available for you, and lets you go about your own business, once he's satisfied that you will indeed pay back your loan in a timely fashion.

Once let go by Tom Nook, you are essentially left on your own, with the invitation to come back to purchase his items or sell him your unneeded ones for extra cash. Tom's little stint as your employer serves to introduce you to some of your initial neighbors within the village and the gameplay mechanics behind deliveries, pick ups, letter writing, mail sending, planting, and digging. Afterwards, the game is up to you and the goal of repaying your debt in a timely fashion. If you are afraid that this won't take long, don't worry. After repaying your debt, you will be met with offers to expand your house multiple times, adding or enlarging rooms, for increasingly steeper loans.

What is the point of Animal Crossing, then? Well, there really is no point to the game. Once you leave Tom Nook's employ, it actually ceases to be an experience dictated by what the game itself requires of you. At this point, Miyamoto's much vaunted ?communication? game begins to realize itself. Animal Crossing increments time not according to preset intervals (like every five minutes equaling a ?day? in Ocarina of Time) but fixes itself to the GameCube's real-time system clock. Assuming the GCN's internal timepiece is accurately set, Animal Crossing will perfectly reflect the present time, day, date, season, even year. Not merely a gimmick, this kind of real-time gaming allows Nintendo to implement a slew of timed events, not to mention daily schedules. The game even keeps track of major real life holidays (some carefully pruned to remove religious references) and indeed, many unique and rewarding events can only be accessed at specific hours of certain days.

Would you like to collect paintings or special items? Are you interesting in bug hunting, moonlight fishing, or orchard building? Would you prefer to become a lapdog and merely run odd jobs for the residents of your ever-expanding village? Would you rather simply work on expanding the beauty and spirituality of your own home, the village, or both? Animal Crossing lets you do all these things and more. Now, the game does provide you with optional goals beyond expanding your home and paying off your incurred debts. For instance, each village includes a museum, run by a humorous and amiable owl named Blathers. From the onset of your personal quest, Blathers is decidedly lacking in displays, and asks that you donate fish, insects, dinosaur fossils, and rare paintings to his collection. With literally dozens of each type of item to find, some of which only show up during specific seasons or events, this task alone is quite an ambitious one to undertake. However, it is a job that essentially requires you to exploit just about every major gameplay feature of the title including the bug catching net, fishing pole, shovel, and the ability to communicate with your neighbors. Hunting down each of these items requires that you explore every corner of the game, at all hours, in all possible configurations.

If that was somehow insufficient, the game is full of a myriad other optional inspirations, such as raising the ?rating? of your house to record levels, completing the different parts of Nook's catalogue, tweaking the natural balance of your village, even dabbling in a bit of Feng Shui when furnishing your abode. As an ultimate tribute to classic gaming, Nintendo has even included a slew of classic NES games to be collected throughout your stay in Animal Crossing, including Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong, Wario's Woods, Excitebike, and Balloon Fight, to name a fraction. Each NES cartridge, aside from acting as a rare collectible to be displayed in your living room, actually functions as a true game, which can be played at any time in perfectly emulated form! As an added bonus, high scores and NES game progress are all recorded within your Animal Crossing save file, a feature not even a GBA incarnation could promise.

The gameplay still does not end there. Animal Crossing is fully supported by both the Gameboy Advance game link cable and Nintendo's newest peripheral, the Nintendo E-Card Reader. By simply connecting the GBA to the GCN with the specially made inter-system link cable, you gain access to a new character that will happily ferry you between the mainland and your own personal isle. At this island, you will be able to meet a new character, pick some exotic fruits, catch rare fish and bugs, and even work on your tan! Once you are ready to head back to your village, you will be able to ?take the island back? with you (on your GBA) and play a lovely mini-game called Animal Island on it. This mini-game is a fully optional, highly lucrative little program that can not only net you significant amounts of Bell if properly played, but even rare items like foreign fruit and rare NES games! This is a great way to acquire fruit that does not grow natively in your region, which could then either be sold to Nook at exorbitant prices or be planted in the hopes of establishing a lucrative foreign fruit orchard.

Another feature that exploits this inter-system connectivity is the art design tool that you can access through your village's tailors. This art tool will allow you to design 16 color patterns which you can then apply to your umbrella, clothing, personal yard sign, or even your home's front door! In a pleasant twist, you can even ask the tailor sisters to display your pattern on their clothing or umbrellas, only to eventually be adopted by some of the other villagers! It is a surprisingly satisfying side-activity. For those with some free time on their hands away from their consoles (like commuters) you even have the option of downloading a handheld-friendly version of this art program to your GBA, in order to design patterns away from the game, which can then be later uploaded back into Animal Crossing. Of course, the NES games you collect throughout your life in the village can also be downloaded to the Gameboy Advance and played on the go.

Finally, Animal Crossing is one of the first GameCube games that are truly expandable, thanks to its compatibility with the Nintendo E-Card Reader. By connecting a reader to the GBA, and then a link cable to the GCN through the reader's pass-through port, you will gain access to a new ?ETM? terminal from your post office. This terminal will allow you to download a special communications program to your reader's flash memory, one which will allow you to upload game data encoded on special Animal Crossing e-cards simply by scanning them into the reader. These cards, which will start being released within the next two weeks, contain new items, new patterns, new town music themes, and could potentially gain you access to new events or extremely rare items, such as additional NES games. The first generation of AC cards is composed of 66 cards, to be released in random sets of five cards, at about $2.99 a pack.

Aside from communicating with the animal residents of your village Animal Crossing also encourages you to communicate with other players in a variety of different ways. The village will always contain four homes, which can only be inhabited by human players. Each save game is, in fact, a home within the same village. So while you and your parents, friends, or siblings will not be able to play Animal Crossing at the same time, you will be able to send each other mail, leave each other messages on the bulletin board or gifts in their mailboxes, bury booby traps outside their doors, steal work from their neighbors, or engage in a large variety of different activities, cooperatively.

Those without easy access to another close, interested party to share the experience with can opt to interact with friends long distance, by sending and receiving password encoded gifts. You could easily send gifts, such as rare items, furniture, wallpapers, carpets, fruits, or NES games via the password postal service, to friends living far away who are playing their own games. Simply by inputting your friend's character's name, and his or her village's name, you will be able to encode a gift that can only be opened by that character, living within that village!

Finally, by inserting two different memory cards in each slot, each one with a different village saved on it, you will be able to access the train station again and literally leave your village in order to visit your friend's! You can easily make a day out of it, befriending your friend's neighbors, taking their jobs and addresses, stealing your friend's fruit, chopping down his trees, fishing his ponds, or buying up his goods! This literally expands your ?game world? since any foreign villagers you meet will be added to your own village, as long distance acquaintances, when you return to your own village and save. You will then be able to send and receive letters and gifts from them at any time, even without leaving your village to visit theirs again! Additionally, since villages are never static, you may find that some of your residents will eventually leave your village. More often than not, they will opt to move to a village you have visited in the past, and you will always be able to keep in touch. Additionally, you should not be surprised to discover that eventually, foreigners you befriended in other villages, will leave their homes and move to your own for a time!

Animal Crossing's one true weakness is, sadly, technological in nature. The game is essentially an expanded port of a Nintendo 64 game. As such, the graphics and music are decidedly lacking and are in no way indicative of what the GameCube is capable of outputting. In Nintendo's defense, the graphics and sounds do employ large quantities of heart and charm, and play well into the game's extremely developed sense of humor and wonder. This is probably one of the most successful Japanese to English adaptations, despite the game's endless quirkiness. The animation is quite decent when it is present, and the sound effects accurately compliment the on-screen goings-on. The music, which is fully customizable through a simple editing tool, changes every hour on the hour, and though simple in nature, is comprised of very catchy tunes. Totokeke's (K. K. Slider's) weekly Saturday night shows are a true treat to behold, both for comedic and audio purposes. The developers did not fail to pay attention to details either, and it shows since each of the dozens of insects outputs its own distinctive (and realistic) sound effect when you approach them. The changing of the season is also quite well managed, and generally makes for an especially exciting period of gaming, graphically and from a gameplay standpoint.

Bottom Line
Animal Crossing is a delightfully deep and sublimely rewarding game, just one wrapped in a technological package that will be hard for some to swallow. This is the type of game that does not presume to dictate your goals to you, but one that allows you to set your own goals and dynamically provides you with opportunities to accomplish them. Perhaps not a game that you could sit down and play for hours each day, Animal Crossing is, at least, a game that you could sit down and play for half an hour each day, for the next half-year! Finally, since the game creates a completely random village every time you initialize the game world data, you will always be able to start a new village with entirely different neighbors, items, and layouts to keep you occupied. Do I need another reason to play but for Punch Out? Yes, the NES original arcade boxer is embedded in Animal Crossing somewhere, and the prospect of playing it both on screen and on the go alone has me salivating.

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