Friday, January 6, 2012

A Third Dimension

The Animal Crossing series has been a phenomenal success ever since its debut title in 2001 for the Nintendo GameCube (U.S. release). Since then, two additional titles have been made, Animal Crossing: Wild World for the Nintendo DS handheld, and Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Nintendo Wii.

The game itself is a sort of life simulator with anthropomorphic animal critters as interactive neighbors. The original title was quaint and you start off on a train to some unknown destination. You meet a cool cat named Rover who decides to strike up a short conversation with you. (At this point, the player does not know what his or her avatar looks like as they player gets a first person view of everything in the cabin.) By answering certain questions the player's appearance is then determined. Unfortunately, sometimes to the dismay of the player...regardless, the train arrives in town and the player then meets Tom Nook, a tanuki or raccoon dog. He shows you some of the available houses and after the player chooses one to his or her liking, Tom Nook promptly asks for payment for the cramped living space. Ironically, the player can't pay the full amount initially and Tom Nook decides that to remedy the situation, he'll have to give the player a temporary job at his store. After completing all of the mundane tasks, Tom Nook decides that the player is no longer required to work for him and that they can pay him at their own discretion.

Now, at this point, most people might think to completely disregard their debt and do as they see fit. However the house is, as I've stated before, very cramped. Thus, if the player wants to expand their home, they must complete payments by selling fruit, fish, fossils, et cetera to Tom Nook for bells (the currency used in town). This is essentially the premise of the game. However, because of its lax nature, the player has quite a lot of freedom. Players can develop strong bonds with their animal friends and collect a wide assortment of items and furniture. There's a museum, police station (with a lost-and-found which can be used to claim multiple items without repercussions), and a vast ocean to fish. There are insects and seashells to collect as well. Once the player expands their house to maximum capacity and pays off all of their debt, Tom Nook congratulates the player and erects a statue of them in gold. (In later versions, the mayor allows the player to have a flagpole next to their home and create a personalized flag). 

The game has quite a lot for a player to do. I would most definitely argue that this game is a casual experience and can be picked up and played at any time. In recent installments to the series, a multi-player aspect has been introduced, albeit with a  requirement that each player own their own individual copies of the game and their own respective devices.

As an avid gamer (and one that just so happens to own all three titles), I have to say that, thus far, my favorite has to be the original simply because it was such a uniquely revolutionary experience. Even the advertisements for the game were enticing. The cozy atmosphere and relaxing music only add to the depth of the whole virtual world.

On a separate note, I feel that the crown jewel of the franchise is the ability to make pixelated patterns at the Able Sisters workshop. You can use these custom-made patterns to make shirts, billboards (in the original game), and umbrellas. The level of customization allows anyone to become an artist and there are multiple palettes to choose from. One can compare the system to a color-by-number canvas. There are even websites dedicated to converting pictures of just about anything one desires, into pixelated forms that can be manually transferred into the game by following a numerical setup. Some really talented people make elegant murals from multiple patterns and sell each "piece" for a profit (in bells). My only qualm is that in nearly every iteration, the palettes are changed or (in some cases) removed, so one may not be able to make an exact replica of a pattern that they had in a previous version. Colors my be too bright, dark, or nonexistent. I would like to see a much more unified and standardized palette set.

Now, Nintendo has recently unveiled a fourth title for the Nintendo 3DS which I can not wait to purchase. Seeing as how I only have one multiplayer game in my possession (Dead or Alive: Dimensions), and that being one that so few gamers in my area and network of friends possess, it is all the more reason for me to save up for this game, especially knowing of my previously favorable experiences with Animal Crossing.

I'm hoping that Nintendo will take full advantage of the Nintendo 3DS's capabilities. Namely, I would like to see the gyroscope used for, say, shooting down presents from balloons or perhaps the ability to take pictures of your friends and incorporate them as portraits or the ability to take in-game screenshots that can be saved to the SD card like in Animal Crossing: City Folk. Also, the Mii Mask would be a welcome return in my opinion. Ideally, I would like the option to trade patterns and/or store them to the SD card as well. The added space would be great considering that in Animal Crossing: City Folk, there was a glitch with the Able Sister's shop storage for patterns where the first page may be deleted randomly. There was an article about the incident in a Game Informer magazine if I'm not mistaken.

Another slight problem is trading items. Having to drop and pick up items is sort of irritating considering that another perhaps more obnoxious player could pick up the item and run off with it. It would be nice and convenient to have some sort of trading mechanic where players can designate what items go to which players. This isn't necessarily a problem considering that most items can be ordered via Tom Nook's catalog so long as the player had obtained the item previously, but it DOES become a problem when the item (or items) in question is/are rather valuable (in terms of bell cost).

There is no definitive name for the new Animal Crossing game as of yet. Nonetheless, one should note that there will be a multitude of changes to the traditional roles of the characters in the game. Most notably, Tortimer, the prominent mayor of all of the games up until this point, will no longer be the mayor in this iteration. In fact, the players themselves take on this role. Whether or not the tortoise will make an appearance is uncertain. In addition, it appears that Tom Nook now runs a real estate agency (according to Koji Takahashi, the Design Leader). Apparently, as mayor, the player can add certain public accommodations such as benches or street lamps. There is a brand new character to aid the player as well with their duties. A clumsy female canine secretary named Hisho. (As as side note, she's nicknamed "Shizu" by Mr. Takahashi). I suspect that he calls her that because she has the appearance of a Shih Tzu.)

I find this addition to be quite practical seeing as how Pelly was the daytime secretary of Tortimer in Animal Crossing: Wild World and Animal Crossing: City Folk.

Another change, albeit perhaps a less shocking one, is the inclusion of the ability to alter the appearance of both shirts, pants, and shoes that the player wears. Coupled with this modification, the player avatars are much taller now, which leads me to believe that  the development team is attempting to appeal to a much broader audience seeing as how even older, veteran gamers enjoy this game as well.

I'm curious to learn how to make my own furniture seeing as how it was also mentioned that this is a possibility as well. The option to change the aesthetic appearance of already existing pieces is nice, but I worry that the feature may not be a fully-fledged furniture creator.

Also, being able to create model homes that can be swapped via StreetPass seems to be somewhat interesting as far as player connectivity is concerned.

I'm overjoyed that there is a train station in this installment as well as a shopping mall. I wonder if Phineas the sea lion will make a return appearance seeing as how he was in the city near a boutique giving away balloons and pinwheels in Animal Crossing: City Folk.

There was an article featured in Nintendo Power magazine (Vol. 270 August 2011) by Chris Slate. Unfortunately, it wasn't as informative as I had hoped. There was no mention of Hisho whatsoever. In addition, the information that was provided was minuscule at best which is odd considering that they could've at least made some inferences based upon the teaser trailer from E3.

 From what I saw in the June 2011 E3 trailer, (approximately 25 seconds into the video) there appears to be a wooden frame beehive (there were flowers placed all around the structure and it looks similar to real-life Langstroth beehives).

When this game will finally arrive on store shelves remains a mystery.
E3 2011 Trailer -- Property of Nintendo

Video is property of The1UPNetwork. 

Slate, Chris. "Animal Crossing*: Get Ready to Move into a Whole New Neighborhood." Nintendo Power Aug. 2011: 59.Print