2013-07-07

Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Enjoy a Better Life

by Yo Snyder

Animal Crossing is the Seinfeld of the video gaming world;
it’s a game about nothing. It’s hard to explain to someone why it’s so
compelling as a game. They ask me what I do in this game and I say I collect
furniture, I decorate my house, go fishing, talk with villagers, run errands
for them, celebrate holidays, try to get enough money from collecting bugs,
fishing and selling fruit (which is better than a regular drop) to buy upgrades
for my house and stuff like that. It’s at this point that whoever asked me
about the game stares at me a bit after I give this explanation and they ask,
“I thought you said this was a video game?” Yeah, it is, and a really fun one
that despite the fact that you don’t really do anything, at least not in the
traditional sense, there’s so much to do. I’ll be honest with you, my wife and
I practically rearrange our lives around our alternate lives in the virtual
world of Animal Crossing. When this game says, “Welcome to your new life,” it’s
not kidding. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
for the Nintendo 3DS is easily the best in the series thus far. Sure, you do a
whole lot of nothing in the game, but there’s just so much nothing to do and
it’s all so gloriously entertaining, it’s hard to put this game down and get
back to real life.

The basic set-up and structure for Animal Crossing hasn’t
changed much since the Gamecube days. You move into a cozy little town filled
with wacky talking animals for neighbors and just start living your life.
However, New Leaf adds enough new
elements to make that some old formula feel new and fun all over again. The
biggest addition is the fact that this time when you arrive in town the
citizens, for whatever reason, believe you’re the new mayor they’ve been
expecting. So without any questions asked, and despite your feeble protests,
you’re sworn in as mayor of…whatever you want to name your town. Oh, and as an
added bonus, you can also choose the layout of your town, which is a wonderful
addition. So, as mayor, not only do you have the usual nothings to do in an AC
game, but you’re also responsible for improving the town for all of your
citizens. You can do this through public works projects like adding new
bridges, light posts, fountains, or buildings like a lighthouse or a police
station and much more. It’s a fun element that lets you customize the look and
feel of your town however you like. You can also use ordinances to change
things in your town. You can encourage shops to stay open later or open
earlier, or you can enact new economic measures in your town. In truth, being
mayor isn’t all that tough, but it’s a fun new element that draws you in and
makes you want to obsessively check what’s going in town every day.

Other new elements aren’t so much new as they are refined
and improved upon from past games to make this one even better. The city from City Life has now been integrated into
your town and is now Main Street. Here you’ll find all the shops and the
museum, and as your town grows new shops will be added. It’s strangely exciting
to see construction taking place on Main Street as you keenly anticipate
whatever the new shop will turn out to be. The tropical island also makes a
return from the original Gamecube game. The Kappn’ is back singing his wacky
songs and once he delivers you to the island, you can catch bugs, fish and make
some good bells (money) doing so. There are also tours you can go on featuring
some fun mini-games that award you with medals which can be exchanged for some
unique items. Having both of these places integrated into life in Animal
Crossing adds quite a bit of nothing to do and just adds to the overall
compelling, obsessive nature of the game. There’s always something new to
discover and experience.

There’s also far more customization in New Leaf, which in truth should have always have been a key feature
of this “live your idyllic life” sim. I already mentioned how you can customize
your town, but now you can also customize your house; not just the inside, but
the outside as well; add new rooms, add a new door façade, a new mailbox, or
renovate it to look like a castle. There are more clothing options as well for
your character; from shoes to socks to pants. That’s not such a big deal to me,
but my wife really loves being able to go shoe shopping. Go figure. All of this
means that more than ever before, your town can really feel like your town, which again must makes you
want to visit it and hang out there even more.

Which brings us back to the question of why anyone would
want to play a game where you just “hang out”? It’s an interesting questions
and one that’s tough to answer. Once you play an Animal Crossing game, you’ll
finally “get it”, but what exactly are you “getting”? Well, I saw one comment
on this that I thought was remarkable insightful. The comment was that what
draws us into a game like Animal Crossing is it conveys to us that deeply
desired but often intangible promise that life can be “better”. Life can be simpler,
happier, and more enjoyable. It can be worry free, problem free, stress free
and something that’s laid back and easy to just enjoy. That’s something that we
all want, but something we’re resigned to never being able to have, so a game
like Animal Crossing gives us a chance to live out the fantasy of that idyllic
life of simple happiness.

There’s a misconception that once someone becomes a
Christian, their life will suddenly be like life in Animal Crossing; worry free
and always happy. The reality is that just isn’t the case. In fact, life often
becomes more challenging after one decides to follow Jesus, which begs the
question of why even bother? Well, I’d say there are two reasons that are sort
of intertwined. One is we get help for the challenges and trials of life from
an eternal source, the Almighty God. He’s not a genie who will make our
problems magically go away, but he can give us help, strength and courage to
face the issues of life. Plus, he does promise that there is a better life to
come. God didn’t intend for our world to be full of hurt and pain and
suffering; like or not, that’s pretty much our fault. We messed it up. However,
the good news is God fixed it on a cross through the death and resurrection of
Jesus Christ, and one day that fix will take affect across the entire world.
One day life will be a little more idyllic, a little more like Animal Crossing.
In fact, it will be far more joyful, satisfying and fulfilling than any sort of
existence in Animal Crossing could ever be. Sometimes it’s tough to see that,
sometimes it’s easy to think that the only expression of a truly “better” life
can only be found in the virtual world of something like Animal Crossing, but
God promised the pain and suffering of this world will end, that there’s
something better to look forward to, and sometimes that’s exactly what we need
to know to help carry us through.

Animal Crossing: New
Leaf
is easily the best game in the series thus far and one of the best
reasons to won a 3DS. It makes great use of StreetPass and SpotPass, offers
even more fun with online multiplayer where you can visit a friend’s town or
join others for some fun on the tropical island tours. It looks great with the
3D effect turned on, which can be helpful when trying to catch bugs, and it
even has some fun uses for the microphone. Plus, being able to have it with you
wherever you go means any time you have a few spare moments, you can go to your
happy place and enjoy yourself. This game was one of the main reasons I wanted
a 3DS, I just didn’t realize I’d have to wait such a long time after the 3DS
release before I could actually enjoy it. Well, it was worth the wait. If you
haven’t tried Animal Crossing yet, or need a reason to try out the 3DS, this is
the game for you. It’s an oddly compelling and thoroughly enjoyable game…even
though it’s pretty much about nothing.

Score: 6 of 7 – Animal Crossing: New Leaf is one of
those games the whole family can enjoy. It’s fun sending each other letters,
visiting each other’s houses, or if you have more than one 3DS, visiting each
other’s towns. Everyone in the family can enjoy this game, the only challenge
is deciding who gets to play and making sure you don’t play too long.