Animal Crossing is the definition of a divisive video-game series. Some players quickly become enamored by its cutesy, novel charms, rapidly sucked into its sickly sweet vacuum of home improvement and anthropomorphized social interactions. Then there are those who just can’t seem to comprehend, no matter how many hours of dedicated fish and bug collecting, tree-shaking, or flower-watering they put in, why the games have amassed such a sizable fanbase. Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the series’s first appearance on the 3DS, doesn’t seek to change the minds of those who question the sanity of friends who continually make daily visits into their virtual, critter-populated municipalities, enacting the necessary upkeep and milking every ounce of time left on the clock to maximize the growth of their gradually evolving microcosms. Instead, the game provides a hefty amount of fresh content aimed specifically at longtime fans, offering them the position of town mayor, a job that, while surely increasing the jurisdiction of a player’s god-hand in terms of community development, doesn’t subtract from the satisfaction one gets from building something, in this case your own little corner of the digital world, into a thriving, fully functioning mock metropolis.
Soon after your character (even more personalized this go-around; hell, you can finally customize your own pair of pants) arrives at his or her predestined whistle stop, Animal Crossing mainstay Tom Nook, now a real estate agent of sorts, sells you a house, and your essentially never-ending journey of devoted hamlet maintenance begins. Immediately obvious is how polished New Leaf looks; it’s clearly the sightliest game in the series. Animal Crossing has never been known for jaw-dropping visuals, but the 3DS’s graphical capabilities are put to good use here; a wide spectrum of colors exude a vibrant sheen, animations are never less than sleekly fluid, and the 3D effects actually add depth rather than tirelessly strain the eyes.
On the surface, New Leaf’s gameplay can basically be labeled as more of the same, given that your mayoral responsibilities, despite having a greater impact on your expanding village as a whole, are, in essence, just another intensified layer tacked on to the methodical everyday grinding that characterizes each Animal Crossing experience. Your administrative position comes with two primary authorities, Public Works and Ordinances. The former entails the enhancement of citywide infrastructure, from signing off on the construction of benches and streetlamps to buildings and overpasses, this kind of hierarchical power does well to make you feel as if you’re running the unarguably slow-moving show in a meaningful manner. Ordinances can be surprisingly ego-stimulating, giving you the opportunity to routinely lay down the law, so to speak, decreeing things like the Early Bird or Night Owl mandates, in which businesses must operate sooner or later in the day to stimulate the economy accordingly. I’m especially fond of the Bell Boom edict, a politically motivated statute that calls for shops to hike up their prices, generating a sudden cash flow and lessening the burden of lingering arrears. Of course, nearly every progressive action in New Leaf requires a substantial allotment of capital, and, even in an economic surge with donations from townsfolk rolling in, accomplishing the most extensive tasks takes days, even weeks, of committed attention.
Outside of district management, there’s a generous measure of ancillary practices to partake in throughout the course of New Leaf. Tortimer Island is a tropical haven of diverting mini-games and fetching collectibles. The Dream Suite is a unique multiplayer function that enables players to visit (and trash, if they see fit) the created abodes of others locally or over WiFi, and StreetPass instantly grants a peering into the dwellings of other New Leaf owners you happen to be in the vicinity of. As is to be expected, the occasional nostalgic Nintendo artifact, whether it be Link’s signature tunic or a wayward Metroid, pops up periodically, only adding to the small pleasures already abound in New Leaf, a game that truly knows its audience and makes little effort to lure in stiff-necked skeptics to its particular school of bureaucratic thought.