Friday, 14 October 2011

Retro Videogames: Animal Crossing (2005)

a personal selection of retro favourites

To the point: Animal Crossing on the Nintendo DS is a superb game. Superb because its brilliance is in the simplicity of its design and theme. Insert the cartridge, switch on the DS, and what happens next is up to you. You're dropped off at the train station and you begin your digital life to the rhythmn of real time. Simple. Simple done with style.

Animal Crossing is a game of interaction with the characters within that digital world. Animal characters that range from a demented gorilla to a neurotic duck.Through this interaction you begin to see the true depth of the game. You have a basic unfurnished house. With a mortgage. A mortgage that you need to pay off by getting a job. And the only job in town is working for Tom Nook at his Convenience Store. Here you earn money to pay off that debt but also to buy the essentials to get further into the game. A fishing rod to catch fish to sell. A net to catch bugs and butterflies to either sell or donate to the local museum. A shovel to plant things and to dig up dinosaur fossils. Money also buys you stuff to furnish your house. Is that a totem pole for 500 bells? A pink sofa? A spaceship? There are tons of things to buy and how you use them is up to you. The game is about collecting and the continuing urge to complete a collection on a specific theme.


The game runs on a real time calendar and day/night cycle. The landscape changes with the seasons. Leaves fall from the tree's in Autumn. It snows in Winter - the first time this happens in the game is absolutely fantastic and you run around making snowballs and just having fun like a big kid. Following the calendar gives the impression that you're actually in a living breathing world. You tell it your birthday and on the big day you'll get cards and presents from your friends. Same goes for Christmas Day. At midnight on New Years Eve everyone gathers in the Town square to watch a fireworks display. Events happen during the year when you have to be playing the game at a specific time to witness them. The game rewards the players participation and is brilliantly done. If you are away from the game for any period of time, the next time you return you'll discover weeds growing everywhere and your animal characters asking where the hell you've been. Brilliant. AC is also as funny as hell. The animal conversations are laugh out loud funny most of the time. The characters each have their own personality with some of them becoming your own firm favourites and you don't want them to leave town as the game "refreshes" as time passes and characters leave so as to bring in new faces. For me, it was Victoria the mule. She was like a hyper version of Liberace on speed and had an obsession for pink furniture. Major bummer when she left.

Animal Crossing's greatest achievement is that allusive "just one more go before bed" magic which it has in abundance. So very few games have it these days and it was no surprise that it sold millions around the world. Visually its wonderful to watch with its distinctly Japanese cutesy tone. The sound is also fantastic and I spent many an hour just sitting on the riverbank fishing listening to the chirps of crickets in the background. The game is meant to be played in short bursts which is another reason for its enduring longevity and is just one of the many reasons why this is easily one of the greatest games I've played and certainly the most fun. Come to think of it, I never did find that T-Rex skull..

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