Animal Crossing: City Folk review
Nintendo's mortgage simulator arrives on the Wii with new places to visit and greater connectivity options.
Animal Crossing keeps the formula from the previous two games, make a life for yourself in a village full of anthropomorphic creatures with some bizarre dispositions. In your new village you'll experience a very open world of choices that can be compared to The Sims or Harvest Moon, you have no defined goals and it's up to you to make this sandbox into a game. After building your character (or importing from the DS) you'll step off the bus into your new life, just remember that with great life comes great debt, you'll quickly meet everyone's favorite racoon tycoon, Tom Nook. Nook'll recruit you into his shop and give you a tutorial by sending you off to do some quick meets and greets before he casts you off into the world, this'll sound familiar to players of the last games and sadly so will most everything I have to tell you about City Folk.
Being cast off into the world can be a disorientating experience, your only real goal is to pay off your mortgage by pawning off items you find, fortunately there's a good list of other things to do if you take the time to look around. Most of these tasks bring a lot of monotony and it'd be easy to burn any joy out from the game in just a few hours, but here's where Animal crossing uses a rather unique trick, the internal clock. You could gather fruit, but there's only so much each day, you might want to shop in the store, but their stock only recovers overnight. This can require you to change your gaming habits as you can't see what Animal Crossing has to offer by playing a 20 hour weekend, instead you are rewarded for taking it easy and just playing for an hour or so each day. Failing to attend to your village for some time will upset your villagers, fill your town with weeds and bring a plague of bugs on your house, this can be a problem depending on your gaming habits. If you're someone who plays your Wii daily already it's probably no big deal to throw in Animal Crossing for a few minutes, personally I find these restrictions better suited to the DS but that's a personal preference. There's a definite draw to returning to the village for a short while each day to see what's new in your town, new people visit, events occur and new items are stocked op on shelves, of course if you connect with a friend then there's a another whole village to explore.
The DS brought the first level of online play but allowing people to visit your town and trade items, City Folk extends the connectivity in a few ways that were sadly missing previously, Downloadable items, Inter-town mailing, and the much touted voice chat using the new Wii Speak. The improvements show that Nintendo were paying attention to what the fans were asking for, of course you still have friend codes, but there are other features clearly learnt from experience, like being able to go to the post office and report an animal who's been taught to swear like a sailor. Some other improvements such as having the animals in your city not lock themselves away when players visit and the option to have 4 characters each with their own house show off the extra capabilities of the Wii, although some restrictions still apply, such as not being able to visit the city or simply design patterns while the doors to your town are open.
You'd expect the city to provide the big changes but sadly you'll find that it's mostly just a refuge for animals that used to set up shop in your village. Gracie (fashion), Katrina (Fortune Telling), Shampoodle (hair styles), Redd (rare goods) and Shrunk (the shrink) are now just a bus ride away whenever you need their obscure services. There are a few new things to do in the city, like shoe shining and exploring the HRA academy, but all of this could of just existed in your current village and is different just for the sake of change.
Since you'll spend a lot of time talking to the AI creatures that live in your town it's fortunate that this is one area of the game that has received a fair bit of attention, even though it's never mentioned. Animals have new lines of dialog and tasks for you to perform, nothing revolutionary but playing games of hide and seek or fishing someone's keys from a river adds some surprise variety. Animals will also talk about the other humans they've met and will occasionally ask you to pass messages across to them, such as "Next time you see Doug remind him to come talk to me about interspecies procreation" or whatever the wacky AI is into. The other animals can keep you entertained for a while but the reason for Animal Crossing to exist is for the multiplayer, whether you're on the same system or using the WiiConnect24 features.
Controls are still a worry to me when a Wii game is released, but fortunately Animal Crossing keeps things pretty basic and simple, sure you can hoist the controller to cast a fishing line or swing a net if you want to, but you'll get the same reaction by simply tapping A. Things control best with a controller/nunchuk configuration rather than simply using a stand alone controller, using the nunchuk to walk around and then using the controller to activate, rather than pointing at the screen to stumble around the town, typing is a lot easier when using a Wii controller rather than scrolling through letters. You also use the Wii controller to paint the patterns which requires a very steady hand, these patterns are also a fine example of how the series hasn't evolved. Sure you can now make designs that allow you to customize the front and back of a shirt but you're also still restricted to the same old basic pallet selections. In this day and age of HDR graphics it's hard to tolerate using a Mario paint style 15 colour pallet.
The monotony of Animal Crossing may not appeal to some, but it can be a great way to keep in contact with family, it sure is easy to get into and if you have some distant relatives who've already picked up a Wii for the bowling and fit then this can be a fun way to keep people together. For those who play by themselves then you'll find Animal Crossing still appeals to the obsessive compulsives that liked the previous games as long as you're not expecting any drastic improvements. There's no NES games (as expected) to play back at your house, no real decisions or choices to make about your life that'll effect anyone else, it's still just a game where you'll do mundane tasks to earn enough money to expand your house so you can fill it with more garbage. In the end you'll either love this or hate it, just don't expect much more than the feeling of an expansion pack over the previous games.