Game: Animal Crossing
Genre: Life Simulation
Release date: 2002
Given how much time I've put into the first--the first to be released in North America, anyway--Animal Crossing title, you'd think I would've reviewed it by now. One of the main reasons for this inexplicable delay: I wasn't at all sure how to explain to readers why I adore this "life simulation" as much as I do. In part, that's because I probably shouldn't adore, or even enjoy, this "game"--which basically consists of having players run errands (usually in the form of fetching or delivering packages) for their anthropomorphic animal neighbors and otherwise busy themselves.
Sounds boring, right? Well, it isn't--or at least most of it isn't. Yes, the fetching and delivering of packages can be trying, but even that aspect has some appeal thanks to the game's brilliantly witty (and snarky!) dialogue. Where Animal Crossing really shines, though, is in those "other" activities that are made available to players. Among them: catching insects and fish, digging up fossils, decorating your house, designing clothes, planting flowers and even playing classic NES games.
(All of these endeavors are accomplished in real time, by the way, thanks to the fact that the game is synched with the GameCube's internal clock and calendar. In practice, that means that if you decide to boot it up at, say, 8 am on Friday, Jan. 11, it will be the same day and time when you arrive in your Animal Crossing town. Also, the game's environment reflects the time of day and the time of year--so, it gets dark at night, it snows in winter and cherry blossoms appear on trees in the spring.)
None of the above-mentioned tasks are particularly deep or involved, nor do they take much time to complete, but all are implemented in such a way that, when tackled, feel fun rather than tedious.
That's not to say there's nothing about Animal Crossing that's, well, a bit of a chore. For instance, writing letters to your furry neighbors is OK at first--until you come to the realization that they respond negatively to 95 percent of what you write. Likewise, picking weeds in your artificial town--especially after you've spent some time away from the game--is just as thrilling (or not) as it is in real life.
Thankfully, you don't have to send letters to your neighbors, nor do you have to run errands for them or talk to them or otherwise acknowledge their existence. Sure, it may cause a few of them to move out in a huff, but that's about the worst that'll happen to you if you neglect them. You also don't have to pluck weeds or plant flowers or catch fish if you're not so inclined. In other words, it's quite literally up to you to create your own experience while playing this adorably and lovingly crafted "life sim."
Does that mean everyone can or will enjoy Animal Crossing? Of course not. Some are likely to find the lack of action and direction and goals to be completely bewildering, if not downright off-putting. Others are sure to dislike the game's aesthetics, which are bright and cute but also more than a bit rough at times. (It doesn't help that this is basically a Nintendo 64 title ported to the GameCube.) Even the soundtrack, masterfully directed (in my opinion, of course) by Kazumi Totaka, is sure to earn its share of detractors thanks to its rather subdued, subtle nature.
Oh, and then there's the fact that playing this game is a fairly solitary experience--as in, you won't be wirelessly visiting the towns of family and friends as you could if you played follow-ups Wild World (for DS), City Folk (for Wii) or New Leaf (for 3DS) instead. Personally, I'm OK with that, as for me Animal Crossing is about me interacting with my cat, dog, fox and horse buds rather than any human ones.
Should you not consider any of the above-mentioned quibbles to be deal-breakers, though, and should you be longing to escape real life and experience a second one on the proverbial small screen, you'll probably find this iteration of Animal Crossing to be a suitably entrancing diversion.
See also: Previous 'Great Gaymathon' reviews