Officially slated for release this September, Nintendo's innovative Animal Crossing is finally going to come to the US -- more than two years after we first went hands-on with the N64 original (Animal Forest). The game was shown in near final and localized form at this year's E3 Expo, and we of course took it to the test to find out all the differences to the already released Japanese version.
- Utilizes GameCube's real-time clock that parallels the real 24/7world
- Four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
- Explore life in a tranquil forest village, and make friends by talking, running errands, making presents, and writing letters
- Wear numerous outfits, use tools, work, buy your own house
- Collect items, insects, catch fish, dig, chop down trees and more!
- Arrange your furniture in accordance to Feng-Shui and get points according to how good of an interior decorator you are
- Transfer your character to your friends' Animal Crossing and bring back items from their worlds
- Win and play classic NES games like Donkey Kong, Ice Climber, ExciteBike, Pinball, Punchout! or Baseball, then transfer them to your GBA to play them on the go
- Up to four players -- friends, family, or both -- can exist in the world you create
- Watch the world change around you as data is saved to the included Animal Crossing Memory Card
- GBA Link and e-Reader support: access a hidden island, create your own patterns on GBA, download new song and texture data from trading cards, and more.
Animal Crossing starts off on a train. Although the rest of the game is played from a third-person view, the intro FMV scenes show the action from the viewpoint of the main character. You are introduced to the first of many animal characters that populate the village you are about to move into. Upon hearing that you don't have a place to stay yet, your newfound friend calls a buddy of his from the train to ensure that you will have a roof over your head the moment you arrive. And sure enough, the train pulls into the station and a bipedal raccoon named Tom Nook welcomes you to... well, whatever you decided to name your own personal town on a disc. Tom Nook offers you to buy one of four houses at a special price. Since you don't have much cash but look honest and needy, he lends you the money with the understanding that you pay him back and help out in his shop.
It all starts with a tiny empty house. Choose from one of four locations, then customize your roof color and start moving in furniture.
Thus starts an open-ended adventure -- or rather non-adventure -- in an every-day forest community populated by talking animals. This game is not about exploring sprawling levels or pushing about blocks to open up doors. Animal Crossing lets you become part of a quiet little community, with all its relationships, daily chores, and occasional excitements. As a matter of fact, some of the things you can do in Animal Crossing wouldn't be considered fun at all were they to take place in real life. But that's the beauty of the game. You don't have to do them. Don't want to be nice to the talking duck and help him find his lost glasses? Fine, don't do it. Not interested in catching fish? Sell your fishing rod to the raccoon. Or better yet, sell it to your little brother. Animal Crossing takes a hint from Nintendo's own Pokemon games and stresses communication both inside and outside of the game. A family member who plays the game when you're not home enriches the gameplay experience as much as a friend who owns another copy of Animal Crossing. But we'll get to that later.
Animal Crossing is one of a few GameCube games to utilize one of the console's not so well-known features: the built-in clock. Animal Crossing GameCube uses the time and date info to synch gameplay events to actual goings-on in the real world. For example, if you play Animal Crossing in December, the village you live in will be all wrapped up in Holiday preparations. Play Animal Crossing in Summer and you'll be able to see fireworks and plenty of bugs, such as noisy cicadas, large buzzing beetles and beautiful butterflies. Nintendo has totally localized the game for the US market and replaced the Japanese calendar events with traditional American celebrations, such as Thanksgiving and Independence Day. So unless you're an expat living abroad somewhere, the seasons and weather patterns should roughly match what's going on outside your house. But it's not only the date that matters. Like Nintendo's own Pokemon Gold/Silver, Animal Crossing is on a real-time clock. The sun sets when the sun's supposed to set. The town's convenience store closes in the evenings. Animals sleep at night. And every hour, a clocktower lets you know what time it is.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, Animal Crossing is not a game you are supposed to play and finish in one sitting. You're not even supposed to play it for a long time every day. This game is designed from the ground up to sit next to your console for months to come, enticing you to pop it into your GameCube and check out what's new in the forest. And then the weirdest things start to happen. You catch yourself thinking of Animal Crossing when you're supposed to be working. You wake up early in the morning to take part in a special event. You may even blow off a date so that your character is home on Friday at 6:00 PM to meet up with a traveling salesman in your virtual home. Don't scoff at this idea. It will happen to you.
Although the game is fully polygonal, the presentation in Animal Crossing bears an eerie resemblance to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Characters are rendered in a super-deformed fashion from a 3/4 overhead view and the map slowly scrolls with you as you move into different directions -- but only up to a certain point. Every time you move from one preset square on the game's map to another one, the screen quickly shifts over. On the SNES, this was done because of memory reasons. In Animal Crossing, it's done because of the way the map is divided up. As you can see on the map, the whole forest is divided into blocks of the same size, numbered from 1 to 5 horizontally, and 1 to 6 vertically. Sometimes, animals will announce a special event on the town bulletin board, such as a treasure hunt. For example, the note may read that a treasure is buried somewhere on the third block. If you're serious about finding it, you will have to look for it in six different square sections.
The animals that live in Animal Crossing all have their own little lives. They wake up in the morning and go to bed at night (some earlier than others). During the day, they either hang out in their houses, wander about the forest, or engage in scheduled events or celebrations. While they don't really exhibit advanced AI, the animals actually remember you (and other players), engage in simple conversations, write letters, trade items, and play with you. Besides interacting with you and the other animals in the forest, the inhabitants of your little virtual world actually have simulated moods. If an animal is whistling, you can tell it is happy. If they're stomping about with little black swirls over their heads, then it's best no to talk to them since they're ticked off. Since Animal Crossing is a communication game, your ultimate goal is of course to communicate with the animals -- but also with other players.
Nintendo has completely localized the game. In addition to English text and single-letter speech synthesis, you can also look forward to American holidays and new furniture.
Yes, there are four player houses in each version of Animal Crossing. At the outset of the game, you decide which one of the four you want to buy; the other three remain empty. Your house is very tiny in the beginning, but as you make money and go about your life in the village, you can pay cash to have it expanded. Apart from making your living room larger, you can even add on a second floor to the house. Beyond supplying you with bragging value, a bigger house lets you store more furniture and items. So what are the other houses for? For other members of your family, of course. You see, what goes on when you're not playing Animal Crossing can be just as important as what happens when you're playing the game. Let's say you and your brother both like to play games, but you have soccer practice on Wednesdays -- which means your bro gets to play without you. The first time your brother plays Animal Crossing, he will create himself a new character and move into one of the three empty houses. If he walks up to your house, he can find a message from you saying that you're not home (since you're obviously at soccer practice), but everything else in the game is just as you left it.
This creates a whole new dynamic in that you and your brother both lead separate lives in the village. You can never really meet, but you can leave each other messages, you can write each other letters, heck, you can even send your brother packages with gifts or items that he would otherwise not be able to afford. Don't like your brother? Hide your stuff from him. Set traps to annoy him or cut down trees he has planted. Do you see what this game is about? As one player strives to do one thing and plant an orchard in the North of the town, the other player may be planning to do something completely different. Whenever you play the game, you see what the other player has done -- and you can send him letters or post notes on the bulletin board to let him know what you think of his actions. As cool as this feature is for older players, the possibilities for parents are even more exciting. You can create a fictional character who leaves your kid messages and writes him/her letters -- or you can play as yourself and give feedback. Don't want to leave it to the animals to stage events? Create your own treasure hunt by hiding an item and post hints to its whereabouts on the bulletin board.
But the real fun begins when you actually visit another town. You can "depart" your village by going to the train station, at which point the game will save your character to a separate Memory Card. You can now take your Memory Card with you to your friend's house and stick it into his GameCube (in memory slot #2) and enter his town. Since the layout and inhabitants of this village are completely different, your best bet is to go to the local police station where visitors are given a temporary map that they keep for the duration of their stay. You can now explore this village to your heart's content, make first contact with the animals, make gifts and see what the local store has for sale. And that's when you notice that this village has completely different fruit. Grab a pear, maybe plant a cherry tree in return, and head back to the train station. Once you arrive at home you can now finally create a pear orchard for yourself. It gets better. When you depart, your friend's village data will be updated with your information. The animals in your buddy's village will now start to refer to you by name and, get this, some animals may actually move out of your friend's village and move into yours. It's a simple trick made possible by the real-time clock, but it's very effective in convincing you that you're dealing with a living, real world.
And just like in the real world, money plays a major role in Animal Crossing. The local currency is "Bell" and there are really no limits as to how much money you can have -- but there is a limit to how much you can carry. Once your pockets are full, money is put into bags, which you can store in your house or bury at a secret location. Nothing's for free in life, and Animal Crossing is no different. Actually, that's not true. You can mail letters for free, save your game for free (no ink ribbon purchase necessary), talk to the animals for free... But that's about it. You've got to work for everything else. For example, as mentioned above, you're pretty lucky to even have a house. If it wasn't for the well-meaning Tom Nook, you'd be sleeping under a bridge. So even though Animal Crossing doesn't have an end or a quest per se, one of the things you should work towards is paying off the raccoon's loan. There are no guidelines as to how much money you should spend on paying off your debt, but you should at least strive to put aside some money every week to make payments.
Whether you design them on the GBA or the GameCube, your pattern creations can then be used on clothes, umbrellas, signs, walls, and floors.
The most "videogame-typical" way to make cash is by finding treasures. Unlike in games like the Legend of Zelda series, treasures don't sit around in boxes in dungeons or houses. As a matter of fact, anything that's in someone else's place is off-limits. You can look, you can touch, but you can't take. Treasures and things for your taking are either found on the ground outside in the forest, buried, or hidden in a tree. Spots where something's hidden in the ground are easily identified by a small crack in the ground. It gets problematic when you can't see the ground, like in spots that are obscured by a building or a tree. You need of course a shovel to unearth these hidden treasures and items. Trees are a completely different story. Unless a tree bears fruit, you can't really tell if something's hidden in its branches, or not. The only way to find out is to shake the tree, an action that you know from the very beginning of the game and that requires no tools at all. If you shake a tree and you're lucky, a bag of money falls out. These bags are rather small and don't contain much cash, but it's a start. Another way to make money is to run errands for your (non-human) friends. Some errands involve you returning an item that another animal in the forest has borrowed a long time ago. At other times, the animal may want a new fish for its aquarium, is looking for a certain beetle for their collection, wants to play ball, or needs your help to secure a specific item that you may or may not own.
Running errands can get old quickly if that's your only means of income. Sure, communication is fun, but man ain't happy unless he can chase down something. Well, sorry -- if you want to shoot something, you may be better off waiting for Perfect Dark Zero. But Animal Crossing sports its own type of hunting. Depending on what season it is as well as the time of day, players will encounter all sorts of different insects in the forest. For example, in early summer, large beetles and cicadas can be found sitting on trees. If you have a net, you can sneak up on them and catch them. Every time you catch an insect that you haven't encountered before, it is marked on your insect collection screen. As you've no doubt gathered from previous screenshots, you aren't just limited to catching insects. Once you have gotten your hands on a fishing rod, you can try and catch fish in your forest's river. Just like with insects, selling fish can earn you a lot of money. It just depends on the type of fish and its size. If hunting is too tedious for you, you can also gather shells at the beach or grown and collect fruit. At the beginning of the game, each town is blessed with one type of fruit tree. Here's the catch -- local fruit only sell for 100 Bell. Other fruit sell for more. So the challenge is to somehow get your hands on non-indigenous fruit and grow more.
But not everything revolves around money, of course. You can also go hunting for fossils and donate them to the local museum, along with insects, fish, and paintings. And let's not forget about the internal "communication" aspect of the game. Writing letters to the animals and making friends definitely pays off when you get presents and mail back in return. Which brings up to the whole concept of possessions. Not counting fruit and shells, there are a total of nine different item types in Animal Crossing -- and who-knows-how-many different single items. Whether you buy them in a shop, find them in the woods, or get them from one of the animals, there is tons of stuff to collect. In addition to the whole "collect 'em all" aspect, a sub-theme of the game is interior decorating. We kid you not. You get points depending on how nice your house looks inside.
And just when you thought you'd heard it all, how about this: Animal Crossing is not only a standalone simulation game, it's a classic NES game collection as well. From what we've seen, it looks like the GameCube version of Animal Crossing will include around 10 fully emulated NES games, from Ice Climber to the retro-gamer favorites like ExciteBike and PunchOut!.
Nintendo has actually added a new feature to the US version of the game that wasn't included in the Japanese release: you will now be able to transfer your NES games to the Game Boy Advance via the GCN/GBA link cable and play them there. At E3, we were able to play ExciteBike on the GBA -- and though the screen was slightly cropped, the game played just as well as on NES. Another new addition is the ability to transfer data from special trading cards via the e-Reader. Simply hook up your GBA/e-Reader combo, scan a card, and you'll end up with new texture designs you can use on your clothes and walls, new melodies you can play back in the game, and so on.
Although Sonic Adventure was technically the first game over here to incorporate link-cable support, Animal Crossing is the first game to really push it. In addition to playing NES games, you can also use the GBA to create your own texture designs on the go, then upload your creations to the GameCube and use them there to customize your umbrella and clothes, make signs, or apply them to your house's floors and walls. Furthermore, the GBA acts as a dongle of sorts to let players access a secret island. After making friends with the animal that resides there, you can transfer the island to your GBA and play with the animal there virtual-pet-style and receive gifts in return. When you're done, you can transfer the data back to your GameCube and reap the benefits. Best of all, absolutely no GBA software is required to make this work. Just hook up the handheld, switch it on and you can enjoy all the link-up goodies Nintendo added to this innovative game.
Nintendo did a bang-up job localizing the very Japanese Animal Forest + and turning it into a game US gamers would enjoy. It speaks for Nintendo's dedication that in addition to changing the pseudo speech synthesis to English and adding new US-focused furniture (such as the ever popular lawn flamingoes), it is giving gamers the ability to play NES games on GBA and update the game with data from the e-Reader. Sure, call it a ploy to make more money from trading cards -- but how cool is it to be able to expand games via simple paper cards?
Don't let the cutesy exterior fool you. As much as Animal Crossing will appeal to kids, it's really the perfect family game. As cliched as that sounds, there isn't an age group that wouldn't have fun exploring all the little adventures that are to be had in this charming and innovative GameCube game. Mark your calendars for this one.
source IGN Cube
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