Also available on: N/A
Genre: Virtual Life
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release date: December 5. 2008
Virtual life games are big business. The Sims is the largest selling PC of all time, selling over 16 million copies years before casual gaming was a journalistic buzzword. The Wii is the embodiment of that phrase, and having its own virtual doll's house would be a licence to print money. Animal Crossing is not a new title; first making a splash back on the Nintendo 64 and later GameCube, it is seen as a core franchise for Nintendo thanks to the wildly popular DS release, Wild World. Let's Go To The City arrives ready and waiting for the Sims-loving casual masses to eat up, and like so many other first party releases of late, leaves core gamers to fight for scraps once again.
For those not familiar with Animal Crossing, it's less of a doll's house and more of a village simulator with heaps of charm and customisation. After naming your character and town, you move in to a tiny, dingy house which you can decorate and furnish over time. The town is populated with a motley crew of eccentric animal neighbours with funny stories to tell, presents to give and errands to dish out. The village buzzes with fish and insects to catch and flora to cultivate, enveloped in a distinctive pastel aesthetic where cute garbled voices hit the right side of sickly sweet.
The main goal, if any, is to pay off your mortgage to the tyrannous landlord Tom Nook - until he makes an extension and slaps on a larger mortgage, that is. He won't send the lads round, though; you can take your time planting trees, making T-shirts and hopping to your friend's towns until it's paid off. You can take as long as you like, and do what it takes in your own time. Speaking of which, everything revolves around the in-game clock, revealing new events and things to discover constantly. For example, this time of year brings a husky brown hue to the entire village, with yellow trees to shake and mushrooms to unearth for this month only. The vast amount of things to discover, collect and share over the calendar year drives you to visit as often as possible. Not only does it appeal to the Sims crowd of virtual escapists, but keener gamers love collecting sets of furniture, hunting rare crickets at two in the morning or perfecting the town's landscape to earn the elusive golden watering can. If a term describes your first stay in Animal Crossing, it's sheer compulsion.
The series has always been a fruitful experience for those with particular tastes, and this edition is no different. This is because, unfortunately, there are hardly any differences. The main town hub of the game is almost exactly the same as previous versions - aside from the city bus stop outside the travel gate it's almost a direct port of Wild World. There's Nook's Cranny, the Town Hall, the Museum with the sleepy owl - it is all there to explore, again, while you pay off your mortgage, with the exact same array of tools to use and activities to do. Instead of updating the town with any real additions, a short trip on Kappin's yellow bus will reveal an array of new metropolitan delights.
In the city, you can purchase upper class furniture and clothes, shine your shoes, bid in auctions with friends, and get a make-over. It's very Oliver Twist, but just like the Dickens classic, you'll be asking for more. Spare one or two secrets, within five minutes you'll have seen everything the city environment has to offer. It's more of a rough patch of brambles than a bustling concrete jungle, a small area you'll visit sparingly for certain particulars. That's not to say there aren't fun things to try out - the salon offers new hairstyles and a Mii mask to adorn, and you'll want to occasionally visit the Happy Room Academy's base of operations to spruce up your home to Linda Barker's standards.
With the level of customisation in your home, town and persona, you'll want to show it all off online. Once past the ever-convoluted friend code system, up to four people can join in your daily pruning and fossil hunting, complete with voice chat thanks to the bundled Wii Speak microphone. Once the small device is planted on top of your sensor bar, anyone in the room can talk into it, with returning voices loud and clear with people across the globe. The quality isn't amazing, but it is what you'll expect from an open microphone, and does the job well. (Note the supplementary Wii Speak channel isn't available at time of reviewing.) Although it excels Wild World's online capabilities, online still feels heavily castrated due to the all-enforcing friend code system and lacks the spontaneous feel of the rest of the game. Having to open your gate every time you boot up so friends can pop in is a chore, and there is no way to just meet up with random others in their respective towns. It's a shame that they couldn't include any sort of dynamic internet play, which the city environment cries out for, so you'll have to settle for the usual (fortunately well-written and entertaining) offline residents while you wait for others to enter your friend code.
Other Wii-centric features are adopted rather well - you can copy your Wild World character and back catalogue from the Nintendo DS, and use it as a suitcase to transfer your character to other consoles. The Wii message board can host messages and screenshots (and writable to SD card for PC sharing) and works with a USB keyboard if the pointer isn't your cup of tea. It thankfully doesn't shoehorn waggle like every other Wii title either, reserving swings of an axe or lunge of a fishing rod, and even then you can just press the A button instead.
The pointer plays a huge part in interaction, bringing up menu tabs displaying your pockets, town map and so on, and while it works for moving around, the Nunchuk does a much better job. The two control schemes clash though: while you can run around and operate menus with the analog stick, the pointer is mandatory for typing or sorting out items and tends to get in the way. Your Nunchuk navigation will get confused by the pointer, choosing to follow it if you happen to press A, but as long as it's kept off-screen when doing delicate tasks (like bug hunting) the controls work fine. Your shovel, bug net and other tools are now mapped to the D-Pad also - a definite time saver.
Despite the general negativity festering within this review, it should be affirmed that Animal Crossing: Let's Go To The City is a great game well suited for the system. It is a whimsical affair that will hold you for weeks on end, and while you can't play for hours at a time you'll itch to catch up with your virtual neighbours whenever you can. The issue is that it's exactly the same as the DS version, with no meaningful overhauls to any existing elements. The improved online play and city environment make for a superior package, but they aren't enough of a step up, and can only be recommended for (as Nintendo surely anticipates) all those newcomers. If you've visited the majestic world of Animal Crossing before, there simply isn't much here to capture your interest.
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