As mayor, it's my responsibility to make the town sparkle with new public works projects. Beardo didn't fund the yellow bench or the fountain it sits in front of – I did. He didn't plant the assorted trees, build a campsite or a police station. While I'm paying for prime tourist attractions, Beardo is lumbering around town with a watering can, flooding the flowers I already watered.
One Saturday afternoon, the town's citizens competed in a sea bass fishing derby. I devoted hours to luring in dozens of fish, and was determined to win a sweet gold trophy for the center of the main room of my house. I came in second, and you better believe I was bitter when Beardo stood above me on the winner's podium, holding the first place trophy that was meant for me. I then abandoned my duties as mayor to dig holes around his house, plant trees in front of his doorway, send him vulgar letters and shove him around until he stormed off in anger. It may be my job to make Hayward heaven for its citizens, but it became my personal mission to make it hell for Beardo. Even with players being promoted from citizen to mayor, New Leaf sticks to Animal Crossing's roots, presenting a chipper life management game in which players can collect an assortment of items like clothes and furniture for their home. The game still includes activities like fishing and donating items to the town's museum, but New Leaf also introduces a new destination for the series – new to everyone who didn't have a Game Boy Advance link cable, anyway – a tropical island in a perpetual state of summer. The island plays host to many activities – bug-catching, fossil-hunting competitions, etc. The real reason to visit the island though, particularly at night, is for the insects.
Catching dozens of bugs only found on the island and bringing them back to my town quickly became an efficient way to make money. Each haul secured somewhere between 150,000 to 250,000 bells (the series' currency) at Hayward's "Re-Tail" store. That was enough to buy anything I wanted in the stores on main street, the urban stretch of venues in Hayward that replaces the city part of Animal Crossing: City Folk. Multiple trips to the island also earned frequent upgrades for my house, allowing me to pay off loans from Tom Nook on a daily basis.
For a short while, I started wondering if that's all there was to New Leaf, but then I remembered my role as mayor, however marginal it seemed. While my house expanded and started filling with furniture (including newly-available hanging furniture like shelves and clocks), the town's flowers were dying and the animal citizenry started wondering where I'd been. My friendly mouse neighbor Broccolo began to contemplate moving to another town entirely.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is really about striking a balance between your personal life as citizen and your professional life as mayor. I started focusing on projects, bringing both a nightclub and a "dream suite" to main street, the latter allowing me to check out other players' towns in a dream-like state. The dream suite felt largely useless, since you can't impact these towns in any way – and you can't bring back any goods – which means there's no clear benefit to bothering with the option at all. Dream suite aside, improving Hayward by working on projects and enacting ordinances made me feel more like a town caretaker than in past games. Being mayor equates to having more goals to achieve and more items to collect.
That fits nicely into the Animal Crossing ethos, which has always been about encouraging players to collect various items and manage their tiny in-game lives. Paying off loans to Tom Nook still feels like a nice, but not unfathomable accomplishment. The series isn't known for its tremendous difficulty, but for the ways it simplifies life's activities, making them agreeable, warm and inviting. That doesn't change with New Leaf, which is certainly a good thing.
Apart from your mayoral responsibilities, New Leaf also offers a few other improvements. Characters themselves get a bit of a makeover, in that they have more defined limbs and aren't as squat. There's a benefit to this in that outfits for your mayor are more fun to toy around with. I have a section in my closet devoted to all the pants, shoes, hats and shirts I've collected, and my mayor tends to wear a full pirate outfit (because pirates are awesome). Unfortunately, though customized designs are still available for creating hats and shirts, I've yet to find any means of creating custom shoes or pants, which would have been a nice addition. Housing customization options, however, have more depth thanks to Cyrus, an alpaca who will apply your custom designs and colors to furniture items at the Re-Tail shop.
New Leaf also adds the ability to swim in the sea near your town or in the ocean surrounding the island. It's hardly worth mentioning though, as it's not all that exciting to swim around and find items underwater. The mechanic itself functions nearly the same as walking around town and digging up fossils, and merely gives players more tasks to complete in their collection quests.
Another addition, though it doesn't affect the gameplay, is New Leaf's use of the 3D display. The effect is subtle, but it helps bring the world to life. Thanks to the return of the "rolling" environment camera angle, the extra sense of depth in New Leaf stands out just enough that I rarely played with the slider off. Also, pressing both shoulder buttons snaps a screenshot of the upper screen, which is a fun little feature for sharing funny moments from your adventure. You can see some of mine in the gallery above, including a threat from Cyrus that he'll make me "see things in 4D" if I make a pass at his wife (I didn't).
In previous Animal Crossing games, the notion of "home" essentially meant your house, your life. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the entire town of Hayward becomes your home, and your life becomes the betterment of all its citizens. Yes, it can be boiled down to "just more Animal Crossing," but the introduction of your mayoral duties, a few housing and furniture enhancements and (let's be honest here) the ability to buy your character pants is enough to make Animal Crossing: New Leaf worth playing, even for series veterans.
Oh, and as for Beardo, he has informed me that he'll be moving away on the sixth of the month. Good riddance.
Editor's Note: This review was originally published early as the result of a miscommunicated embargo. Joystiq rescheduled the review, but it's content has not been changed.
This review is based on an eShop download of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, provided by Nintendo.
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