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Animal Crossing: New Leaf review

In a town full of animals, you just became The Man

Things really changed in the last decade. Despotic leaders fell, economies crumbled, humans statistically became taller. Sorry, what? Arab Spring? Global recession? Science? No, no, we were talking about Animal Crossing. What are you on about? You know what, never mind: New Leaf is here. You can ignore all that now.

It says a lot that, 12 years on, the coming of a new edition of Katsuya Eguchi's existential experiment is still such an event. We'd say that that's mostly down to a single fact - there's still nothing quite like it. That gently woven comforter of rustic life simulation and Saturday morning cartoon whimsy seems too focused an idea to copy from without being noticed, while too abstract a proposition to feel copied itself.

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But something else changed in the last 10 years - handheld gaming grew beyond its traditional boundaries. Phones helped it jump into the pockets of millions and with that shift came a fresh sector of the industry Nintendo studiously avoids: free-to-play games.

It's a genre that asks you to start small and build up, to put yourself out of pocket for increasing rewards, to invest small chunks of time that add up to make hours, justifying spending many hours more. It also often involves cute little people constructing supermarkets. That suddenly sounds familiar. It's not Animal Crossing's tone that free games nabbed, it's the ability to keep you hooked.

Circle Of Life

The basic AC gameplay loop certainly bears that out. The idea of a game that solely involves placing a lonely human into a town filled with talking animals and getting them to grow fruit, assess fossils and ultimately pay off a succession of mortgages is far-fetched enough. That it's as enjoyable as it is, is a work of game design black magic; hidden beneath a set of games that appears mostly to consist of wide-eyed sheep having conversations about furniture is an unerring pivot between pay-off and increasingly difficult-to-reach goals.

What's different is that those goals are now front and centre. New Leaf may lack the money-grubbery of its new counterparts, but, the first game in the series to be released after the F2P (free-to-play) boom seems to have learned that genre's greatest trick: keeping someone hooked isn't a case of just giving them something to work towards, it's letting them feel like they've chosen what they want to work towards, and then making that a slow process.

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It's achieved by the simple, if momentous tweak of putting you in charge of the town. After choosing your name, the municipality's name and its general layout on a map, you are brought by train to familiarly leafy surroundings, the only difference being that a small dog called Isabelle tells you that you're the mayor now and (excuse us) dogs you until you accept the role.

After a series of disguised tutorials you're handed the reins. Sitting at the mayor's desk, you can set ordinances - one-time payments that change the town's outlook, whether that be to earn more Bells (the currency), look nicer or stay awake later - and start public works projects.

The latter provides the most tangible goals ever offered by Animal Crossing. With a list of citizen requests from which to choose, you'll be constructing everything from suspension bridges to the Dream Suite, a building that enables you to break into the subconscious minds of other players. The connection between each one is sheer cost - completing the entire list will be a case of millions of Bells, most of which you'll have to collect yourself.

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19 comments so far...
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  1. Andy Tuesday 11th Jun 2013 at 13:30

    OMG, this looks soooooo good..... :D I can't wait untill it is officially released.... which is only 2 days, 9 hours, 33 minutes and 10 second from right now. i Can't wait, these few more days are going to go sooooooo slowley now.

  2. HughPR Tuesday 11th Jun 2013 at 13:42


    GAME have dispatched so may even arrive tomorrow.

  3. olrodlegacy Tuesday 11th Jun 2013 at 13:46

    Going to get this, hope it's as addictive as Wild World, which was the pinnacle of the series for me.

  4. eresin Tuesday 11th Jun 2013 at 13:52


    GAME have dispatched so may even arrive tomorrow.

    aww poo, GAME haven't dispatched mine and I pre-ordered on the first day you could :(

  5. drahuligon Tuesday 11th Jun 2013 at 14:03

    GAME have dispatched mine just now, Can't wait!

  6. twadebarcelona Tuesday 11th Jun 2013 at 15:12

    GAME said that mine had been dispatched at 11 am and i only pre-ordered it on saturday but i think they should of had the multipllayer work with the microphones on the 3ds systems sort of like how wii speak worked on lets go to the city

  7. Capt_Anders Tuesday 11th Jun 2013 at 15:58

    Bit of an obvious comment, but I want this so much!!! :D

  8. xElysium Tuesday 11th Jun 2013 at 16:52

    I just found out that my orders been cancelled from Game :( Is it too late to try pre-ordering it again?

  9. Jgiron455 Tuesday 11th Jun 2013 at 17:31

    At 9:00 this morning i receive a message that my game has been dispatched!! I'm so looking forward to playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

    I have already made some friends from America, Canada and Japan!! I can't wait to visit their Town!!

    I'm calling my town "Aniville" what are you guys going to name your town? :D :D

  10. TheSlenderman Tuesday 11th Jun 2013 at 17:37

    I'm getting this at the weekend from the eshop. I have to wait a bit longer for it, but I will play it more if I have it as a download. Still, I'm really excited for this! :D

  11. chazrinelli Tuesday 11th Jun 2013 at 19:57

    I have mine dispatched today too :D cant wait! Everyone knows I'm a hugeeeeee AC fan!

  12. TwilightLink77 Tuesday 11th Jun 2013 at 21:19

    Going to get this, hope it's as addictive as Wild World, which was the pinnacle of the series for me.

    Animal Crossing Wild World's development got rid of many features for me and other Animal Crossing Gamecube veterans.

  13. AdamScott2193 Wednesday 12th Jun 2013 at 01:23

    Well it would seem that I finished Fire Emblem in time.

  14. super_casey Thursday 13th Jun 2013 at 18:48

    Wish I could've played the Gamecube version, just to compare. The cover looks so indie! :D I liked City Folk, but it was difficult to keep visiting the town regularly, since we only have one TV in my house, so the flexability was a bit of an issue. I'm glad New Leaf is available on the 3DS, so that I can just sit during long car journeys, talking to villagers and designing clothes :)

  15. parker-skywalker Thursday 13th Jun 2013 at 23:42

    Just brought the download version from game to save myself Ł5 and cant wait to play it looks so good

  16. Parane Wednesday 26th Jun 2013 at 19:44

    I can only agree with all the positives that have been said about Animal Crossing. I've never been interested in the franchise and never thought about playing it, much less actually purchase it, but boy oh boy what a game! I'm enjoying every second of it, and my 4-year old has taken interest in my village and is dabbling around as well.

    Fantastic title. Well worth every penny.

  17. xs3mx Wednesday 26th Jun 2013 at 20:59

    I just DON'T get it, OOT gets a 98 % and this gets a 95% yet it takes its place as the number one game on the 3DS, i just don't get it like how does that make sense you guys cannot review for s**te

  18. Mario All-Stars Wednesday 17th Jul 2013 at 02:40

    I need to get my hands on this like ASAP! I love Animal Crossing and it's like a big learning experience with Nintendo.

  19. dead_unicorns Monday 26th Aug 2013 at 12:55

    Going to get this, hope it's as addictive as Wild World, which was the pinnacle of the series for me.

    Animal Crossing Wild World's development got rid of many features for me and other Animal Crossing Gamecube veterans.

    Yep, I liked Wild World but was gutted that there were no festivals etc. I'm a little bummed that they got rid of the bottle mails and the funny bulletin board messages from Wild World but New Leaf has so much extra to do so a minor gripe. I've been a fan since the gamecube game sucked me in and this one is by far the best yet. Would definitely recommend. :mrgreen:

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