Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Great Gaymathon Review #63: Animal Crossing (GameCube)

Game: Animal Crossing
Genre: Life Simulation
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
System: GameCube
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


retr0gamer said...

I've wanted to get into this series but couldn't. I used to leave it for too long and when I'd get back to it the town would be a post apocalytic version of how I'd left it. I can however definitely see the appeal in them.

Justin Difazzio said...

I loved the real-time aspects that you failed to mention here. That's what drew me to the series originally...the thought that I could play in the morning and have it be morning, play at night and have it be night...that blew my little mind way back when.

And...this: "the first to be released in North America, anyway"


thegaygamer.com said...

I understand, retr0gamer. I'll say one thing, though--this first game in the series is the most forgiving when it comes to leaving your game for long periods of time. Yes, a few characters may move out if you don't play for a few months or years, and weeds will pop up (many of them if you leave the game for a long time), too, but other than that things are left alone. As such, an hour or so of picking weeks is about all you have to do to get things back to normal.

One thing I've always hated about the later versions of Animal Crossing are that you lose flowers and stuff like that if you leave the game for too long, which only adds insult to injury, if you ask me.

Before I wrote this review, by the way, I returned to an Animal Crossing town that I hadn't played in about three years. Like I said above, I had to pick a bunch of weeds, but that was about all that changed about that particular town in the ensuing years. (Well, that and a few characters moved out.)

I guess what I'm trying to say is: coming back to an AC town isn't as bad as it seems, so don't let that keep you from enjoying this great game (or series, if you want to play the DS or Wii versions instead).

thegaygamer.com said...

Ah! How could I forget that, Justin? Uh, expect me to edit this a bit later today. Thanks for pointing that out. Sigh.

As for my comment about it being the first released in North America: the first Animal Crossing ever was released for the Nintendo 64 in Japan. It was released at the end of the N64's life, though, so Nintendo updated it and brought it to the GC.

The graphics in both versions are pretty much identical, with the main differences having to do with the game's interface and some of its characters and events. For example: Tortimer isn't in the N64 version, nor are the Able Sisters.

I'm planning to pick up a copy of the N64 version soon, and once I do I'll give it a proper rundown and share my thoughts on it here, OK?

thegaygamer.com said...

OK, Justin, I added in some text about the game's real-time element. I think it feels kind of shoehorned in at the moment, so I'll probably edit it more tonight or later this week, but for the time being it should suffice. Thanks for reminding me of this important element of the game!

Zaphod65 said...

Another advantage of the GC version is you could track down a ghost late at night and have him pull all the weeds at once. Very handy if you'd been away a long time.

One of the houses in my town was set up as an arcade with shelf after shelf of NES games. That's the feature I miss most in the newer games.

thegaygamer.com said...

You know what, Zaphod65? I've NEVER encountered this ghost. Granted, I've also never played the game too late at night, although I'm sure I've played it after 10 or 11 pm.

Also, I must be one of the only folks who plays these games and doesn't much care about the inclusion of NES games. I thought it was cool when the game was released, of course, but in this day and age, when we can access all of these Nintendo classics and more via the Virtual Console (or even via PC emulation), it seems a lot less appealing to me.

As such, although I happily collect the NES consoles/games that are given to me while playing this version of AC, I pretty much never actually play them :|

That said, I probably should mention them somewhere in the review, eh? Sigh. This is why I'm doing these reviews--writing reviews has never been my strong suit, and this is one of the reasons why (I focus so much on the writing of the review that I tend to forget to add important details).

Anyway, sorry for my lengthy reply, and thanks for your comment!

Soapy_Illusions said...

The GCN version of Animal Crossing is the only version of Animal Crossing as far as I'm concerned. All subsequent versions have used the god awful rolling world mechanic instead of the divided screens, the DS version got rid of the fucking calendar of all things so you couldn't plan out events and special days ahead of time, and the Wii version actively discouraged you from running around your town because the "Animal Tracks" feature wore down the grass in your village and eventually turned it into a desert.

I'm looking forward to the 3DS version but, honestly, there have been so many niggling changes in each game from the GCN version onwards that I really don't know what to expect.

Soapy_Illusions said...

This is Alois, btw. For some reason I'm now listed as my screen name >_>

thegaygamer.com said...

Hey there, Alois! You name is showing up OK now, just so you know.

thegaygamer.com said...

Although I like the Wii version quite a bit (I used to even like it more than the GC original), I have to say that going back to and playing the GC version a second time (I'm still playing it, actually) has really opened my eyes to how much better it is than the DS and Wii sequels, in many respects.

For instance, like you say here, the more top-down perspective/viewpoint in the GC original is so much easier on the eyes than the 'rolling world' view used in the DS and Wii iterations.

Also, I really dislike that the DS/Wii versions introduced things like having to water plants, fake holidays (in the case of the DS game), grass that dies (in the Wii game), etc.

It seems some of these issues are dealt with in the 3DS version, but not all of them, sadly. I'm going to pick it up anyway, of course, and I'm even pretty darn excited about it, but I still wish Nintendo would rethink a few of the changes they've made to the original formula (the dying grass being the main one).

I doubt they'll do that, of course, but there's nothing wrong with wishing for it, is there :)

thegaygamer.com said...

By the way, what's your opinion on the first game including Famicom/NES games? Is it a big deal to you, or just a nice but non-essential addition to the experience?

Alois_Wittwer said...

Yeah, it's a nice little feature but I never actually played any NES games when I found them :p . It's not a big loss.

thegaygamer.com said...

Ah, it's so nice to hear someone else say this, Alois! Until now, I've literally felt like the only AC fan who doesn't much care if NES games are included or not. Don't get me wrong, I like using them as decorations in my homes, but I rarely play them.