Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the latest entry in the famed life-sim series that sticks you in a new town, surrounded by a bunch of colorful animal friends. Like before, you start from very humble beginnings, without a penny (or a Bell, the town's currency), to your name, but are given a house anyways. It seems like the same old formula in this game, but does New Leaf have enough fresh features to keep us gaming year-round? Or should we pack up and move on to greener pastures?
At its core, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is about taking it easy and enjoying the little things. There are no epic quests to undertake, no villain to overthrow, and no cataclysm to halt in this little town. The only thing you have to worry about is living out your virtual life, interacting with your neighbors, and making sure your town remains a happy, prosperous place to live. If that sounds too zen for you, then you're probably better off playing Dark Souls or something.
You start out on a train, heading towards your new town. You, of course, get to pick the name of the the town, as well as its location. After arriving, you're greeted by the townspeople and welcomed as the new mayor! Wait, what?
That's right, folks. Thanks to some mix up, the people have mistaken you for the new mayor. And since the other guy who was supposed to take over the job never shows up, you're stuck with the title. But hey, at least you're no longer bound to Tom Nook, buried in miles of debt like in past games, just to own a home.
Of course, you'll still have to purchase a home in order to live in the town. I mean, what kind of town has a mayor with no home? Tom Nook will set you up with a tent while you collect a down payment of 20,000 Bells to build your home. The rest of the loan works out to 40,000, so it's not as bad as previous debts in Animal Crossing. In fact, if you work hard enough, you'll be able to pay it off within hours.
And how exactly do you work for money in New Leaf? Well, you can gather fruits, seashells, bugs, fossils, fish, and other goodies found around town and then sell them for Bells at the Re-Tail shop or Nookling Junction. You can also donate certain things, like fossils, fish, and bugs, to the town's museum, which will definitely help improve your standing with the townsfolk.
And since you're the new mayor, you get to take care of a few mayoral duties. You can start public works projects and enact ordinances to help customize your town. As you can imagine, these projects and ordinances are fueled by Bells, so it will cost you to improve the town. The trick is to slowly build up to these goals, since Animal Crossing isn't a game where you can "grind" or "farm" resources. It's all about taking it nice and slow.
In fact, you won't be able to start on any projects until you've built your house and gotten a 100% approval rating from the townsfolk. You can achieve the latter by cleaning up around town, talking to neighbors, sending letters, posting on the bulletin board, and just generally being an upstanding citizen.
Once you've gotten settled and started work as mayor, you'll be able to play the game in short bursts, getting a few things accomplished and then waiting until the next day to do more. This isn't a title you can just pop open in the middle of the night and expect to play until dawn. You see, New Leaf runs in real-time, and every shop has a set schedule. You might spend the night gathering seashells to find that you won't be able to sell them until the next morning. Of course, you can always change the time when you start up the game in order to suit your needs, but that's not really in the spirit of the game.
But with each new day brings new adventures and, perhaps more importantly, new items. Shops restock daily, so you never know when you'll find just the right piece of furniture to complete a set, or that one pair of goggles you've been waiting to equip on your character. You'll also be able to sell your own goods at Re-Tail, putting up pieces like at a flea market. Sometimes you'll net more Bells than if you sell it to any of the shopkeepers, but it's a bit of a crapshoot.
The Nookling Junction spells special fortune cookies with prize tickets inside at the cost of Play Coins. Many times, these tickets can be traded in for awesome Nintendo-themed items. In my few days of play, I managed to win Midna's Mask, the Master Sword, a pipe with a piranha plant in it, triple bananas from Mario Kart, and Mushroom Kingdom-themed wallpaper. Be sure to take your 3DS with you on walks so that you can rack up more Play Coins and get more cool, fan-service items.
If you get bored of just schlepping around town, you can head to a tropical island to enjoy paradise for a few days. Once enough time has passed in the game, Tortimer, the previous mayor, comes by and invites you to the island. A ship will be waiting at the dock to take you there, where you can gather exotic fruits, catch more bugs, go diving, and tons more. This is an ideal way to rack up the Bells, since the exotic goods are worth more on the mainland.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Mr. Resetti at least once in this review. Yes, he returns. Yes, he reprimands you for turning the game off without saving. Does he do it every time? Nope. Just once. But hey, maybe if you get some public works projects going... he might appear more frequently!
All in all, there are lots of wonderful things to do in New Leaf, but the key is spacing out your play time. The point of the game is to see your town grow and just to enjoy living in it. You'll burn yourself out if you try to do too much at once, so just go with the flow and let the magic happen naturally. In a month or so after starting, you might find that your town has changed for the better and that it's grown into a thriving little burg. You might enact ordinances that turns it into a party town, or one in which the economy's booming. It's up to you, good mayor, to steer the town in whatever direction you please. Just make sure you don't mess with time too much, lest you want to create some paradoxes.
This review is based on a retail copy of Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS.