Animal Crossing: City Folk
Name: Animal Crossing: City Folk
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Check the Video Review.
Now that Wii Music has plunked onto store shelves, Animal Crossing: City Folk is really all Nintendo has for the holiday 2008 lineup. Within moments of play it’s apparent that it isn’t a real leap forward from the previous versions. In terms of graphics, it struggles to surpass the Gamecube version, and in terms of gameplay, it doesn’t really move forward from Wild World on the DS. Some portions of the previous games are just moved around and rebranded, and others, which seemed like givens for the Wii Port, are absent entirely. So if it isn’t a jump forward from its predecessors, what exactly is it?
Just as before, you make a character and move into a new town, working odd jobs to pay off Tom Nook for your constantly growing home. You can catch fish and bugs, dig up fossils and plant trees, all the while upgrading your house and talking to neighbors, enjoying the atmosphere and world. Hours and days flow by in real time, and there is something happening nearly every week that should get players excited to revisit their town. Holidays usually match those occurring in the real world, only modified to be more politically correct, and having more of a global appeal. Thanksgiving, for instance, retains the message while being rebranded as a “Harvest Festival,” and there’s usually special furniture or items that can only be accessed on that day.
The largest content upgrade is “The City,” which is a small area accessed via bus. The City is small, and there are only a few stores and places to visit. It’s disappointing, because there’s definitely a missed opportunity to create something new for the series. Animal Crossing has always been without any sense of a nightlife, and when the sun goes down most of the residents go to sleep and stores close. The City could have fixed this, but it doesn’t, and most of the places inside are both limited in usefulness and are only opened a bit more than those in the town. Many things in the city are just recycled characters and stores that, in previous versions, would appear as traveling merchants from time to time. Instead, they are given a storefront, but their function is still small.
The control scheme is also worth taking issue with, as it seems ripped straight from the DS version. City Folk forces players to use the Wiimote to point at the screen for inventory manipulation and text entry. If motion controls were implemented better, say, with an interesting fishing mechanic, this might be forgivable. They aren’t, and the game’s extremely limited use seems tacked on, and letting players either use the Gamecube or Classic Controller would have made the experience much better.
Multiplayer returns in several forms. Players are able to bring their character onto the DS in a “DS Suitcase” to literally carry their player to a friend’s house, or skip the lower-tech version and connect online. Traveling to a friend’s town is slightly more complicated than it needs to be. Players have to exchange their character’s name, city’s name, and friend codes to even think about connecting. Afterwards they must open their gate, inviting friends in, or choose the option to travel abroad. There’s no way to allow for friends to simply come and go as they please, even when the system is in standby mode, which is something that should be possible using Wii Connect 24. In fact, it was one of the main things people expected from the game, and it should have been the first thing included. To arrange visits to friends’ towns, players need to use another form of communication outside of the game, which shouldn’t be necessary in this generation. Once the visit begins, voice chat, luckily, is included with the Wii Speak Microphone, which actually works very well and is a welcome addition to the game. Having several friends wander around a town, smack talking eachother while conducting an impromptu fishing tournament is a highlight, as silly and juvenile as that might sound.
And yet, despite all its faults, Animal Crossing is even more addicting and enjoyable than ever. There’s something brilliant about playing Hide-and-Go-Seek with a bunch of dumb animals, and delivering a carpet in hopes of being rewarded with a cool piece of furniture, as stupid as it might sound, is actually fun. It’s relaxing, and just because it wasn’t improved doesn’t mean listening to K.K. Slider’s songs on Saturday night are any less awesome. I keep coming back, and if it’s nothing more than an excuse to play more Animal Crossing it’s still worth playing.
But no matter how enjoyable it might be, the fact remains that Animal Crossing: City Folk is a sloppy, lazy port of a Nintendo DS title to the Wii. It’s everything that everyone hates about Nintendo – overly safe and underdeveloped, and it misses every opportunity it has to be a killer app. That doesn’t mean it isn’t an incredibly fun game for fans of the series, but it does very little to add to the already established formula. The game will likely sell regardless of the lack of improvements due to the obscene amount of shovelware on the system, but with some more effort on Nintendo’s part, the game could have been a real holiday blockbuster. Their apathy towards the series and complacency with their current success stunted the title, stopping it from reaching the heights it could have reached.