Release Date: November 16, 2008
Back in 2002, Nintendo decided to do something entirely new. Sure, life simulator games like The Sims had been brought to the PC some years back, and they had proven fruitful, but how would something like that fare on a console? More specifically, how would Nintendo appeal to its target audience of younger gamers without sacrificing any of the genre's appeal? Countless brainstorming sessions later, Animal Crossing was born for the Nintendo GameCube. The purple lunchbox handled the game surprisingly well; sure, you couldn't get online connectivity, but you didn't really need it if you were content to be contained within your own little world. Animal Crossing: Wild World was born for the Nintendo DS in 2005, taking the original and expanding on it. Making this sort of game portable proved to be a significant boon, and sales soared. Nintendo has decided to bring the franchise back to its play-from-home roots with its recent release, Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Wii.
This edition of Animal Crossing brings you much of the action of the first two offerings in the series; you'll still wind up paying off your mortgage little by little to Tom Nook, you'll still socialize with residents of your little town, and you'll still collect miscellaneous doodads with which to decorate your home. You'll even get to decide what clothing, facial expressions, and other details of your character get shown to the residents. There's no violence, no bosses to kill or princesses to save; this is simply your character living his life in whatever way you choose, meandering about with no danger to speak of.
This is not to say that the latest offering in the series brings nothing to the franchise. The key element is online capability: Not only can you explore others' towns and see what they've done, but you can actually open up your own place to the populace and let them see what you've been doing. With countless worlds come endless places to explore and people to meet. This being the case, the potential for interaction is unparalleled, which can be a true mixed blessing: while the game often does take care to remind players not to be rude in their interactions with others, there is always the risk of children getting online and being exposed to people, places and things they shouldn't be. Nintendo (justifiably) accepts no responsibility for the content you may encounter online, so you're on your own out there; I never once encountered anything but positive experiences when making sorties to other peoples' systems, so a little supervision will go a long way.
One complaint about the game involves how little has been accomplished in the audio-visual field since the previous offerings. Characters maintain the same blocky look, and while textures have been added in order to give each character some personality, there really haven't been any significant changes in this facet of the series since the GameCube introduced it more than five years ago.
Conversely, while the visual elements of the title simply fail to improve, the audio factor is nearly appalling. When my roommate first watched the game, she was almost immediately driven out of the room by the warbling, stuttering gibberish that substitutes for any actual speech. Within an hour, I similarly found myself seeking to skip past any speech bubbles as quickly as possible. When the entire experience is supposed to be focused around your interactions with the people around you, this is almost unforgivable. Most of the tunes have progressed very little beyond the initial stages as well, with gratingly simplistic notes played whenever you speak to certain characters. This is one area where the game could have used some polish, and ignoring that fact deals a significant blow to the rating.
Of course, the end of the previous sentence is somewhat misleading because Animal Crossing is a game in only the most technical sense. While it does seek to give the player goals in the form of paying off Tom Nook and getting a bigger and better home, there is very little to do in this title, apart from rake in cash and talk to the other residents, many of whom only have little to say. Sure, possessions can be accumulated and used to decorate your home, but let's face it: You can only rearrange your furniture so many times before it gets old. Sometimes other residents will send you on a quest after some item, but these are usually so reliant on random factors that success is simply a matter of waiting until the time is right. This is further complicated for anyone who has a busy schedule because Animal Crossing keeps track of time. That would be fine, were it not for the fact that stores are far from 24-hour affair; I would often finally get to sit down to play, only to find that my goal was out of reach until the following morning. Manipulating the system time is a convenient trick, but I shouldn't have to throw my clock out of whack to properly experience this — or any — title.
My final issue with Animal Crossing: City Folk is that, as a life simulator, it doesn't simulate life very well. It's true that you start out by getting a part-time job, but that largely involves three very brief fetch quests so that you can meet the different occupants of your town. Upon the completion of those tasks, you are left to your own devices; you don't need to work, you don't need to eat, you don't need to sleep, and you don't need to do anything that you don't want to do. It would be kind of cool if life were actually like that, but reality is much more harsh, and a life simulator should at least involve doing some of the things that would keep you alive.
Overall, Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Wii seems like it should have been held back until more work was done on it. The transfer to the Wii didn't add enough polish to justify a purchase in my eyes, so those who really want the Animal Crossing experience can go get the GameCube version for a steal and not really miss very much at all. I found the experience to get rather dull rather quickly, and online play simply was not enough to save this one from the bargain bin. Devoted fans who just have to own every Animal Crossing game should pick this one up, but everyone else should just keep moving.
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