Animal Crossing: City FolkESRB:
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Wii Speak Compatible
Animal Crossing has been a staple sim-like game for Nintendo. It first saw a release in Japan on the N64 in 2001 and the series was eventually brought to North American shores in late 2002 on the GameCube. Of course the Nintendo faithful was hooked from day one and Animal Crossing was a huge success. A follow up to the GameCube version was eventually released on the DS in late 2005 called Animal Crossing: Wild World. The addition of some new gameplay elements, most importantly online play, made this portable addition a great sequel of sorts. In July 2008 at their annual E3 conference, Nintendo announced to the world that a Wii version of Animal Crossing would be coming, and once again there would be some additions made to the series. Well that time has come, and Animal Crossing: City Folk has finally been released to the masses. Unfortunately not all is good in Animal Crossing this time around as there is way too much of the same to have the faithful come back and do it all again.
Visually speaking City Folk can best be described as a somewhat pumped up version of the original Animal Crossing on the GameCube. The style remains the same as the game consists of simple characters with simple animations and simple environments with simple textures. Although everything is very simple, when all of these are combined the result is a very cute and stylistic game. There is no need for detailed lighting or shadowing algorithms nor is there any reason for the game to employ a bevy of special effects. Surprisingly that doesn’t matter here though as the game’s visuals have a certain allure and the simplicity is major part of this charm. Colors manage to pop off the screen and you can truly see the Nintendo flair that has become evident in this series.
Technically speaking City Folk definitely does not employ the full power of the Nintendo Wii as the machine is capable of so much more. The game runs in widescreen with a solid framerate throughout. This is evident when you are visiting the city and there are a relatively large number of other characters milling about. This should not be surprising though as the game is, as mentioned in the preceding paragraph, simple. My biggest disappointment in the visuals is that Nintendo did not take advantage of what they have in the Wii, and City Folk could have truly looked even better with more work.
Most of the sound is City Folk is what you would expect from a game like this. If there is one word that keeps coming to mind here, it would be cute. The sound matches the visuals and gameplay to a tee. The music is what I have coined as “typical Nintendo”, and definitely reminiscent of past versions of Animal Crossing. What is pretty neat is that the music does change from hour to hour, and it suggests that the game is aware you may play it for long periods of time so it tries to keep things fresh. As for the rest of the sound effects, from walking around your village or town, to fishing or catching insects, the sound is very appropriate for the stylized theme of the game. In some ways people may tire of the cute approach and look for more, but you can’t help but laugh as the sounds match the on screen action perfectly.
For those new to the Animal Crossing experience, City Folk follows the same tried and true formula of the first two. It is a social simulator that is open-ended. You are a new resident to the town of Animal Crossing and you live your life as you see fit. There is really no goal in the game as you can basically do what you want to do. You can choose to complete specific tasks or you can just mindlessly wander about your surroundings. An interesting point of the game is that it plays out in realtime. What this means is that your Animal Crossing world is in sync with the internal clock of your Nintendo Wii. There are holidays to be celebrated like Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas (although they have their own names), time of day to be considered, seasons of the year to enjoy, and even night and day to contend with. You’ll find yourself fishing, gardening, shopping, collecting fruit and talking to your neighbours in your virtual life. City Folk is a game that you actually live, not just play, to enjoy.
In a nutshell, if you have played any of the two Animal Crossings that have been previously released then City Folk will seem too much of the same. As seems to be the way with the Nintendo Wii, the release of this game seems to be aimed at the new Nintendo console owner and casual fans of games alike. Don’t get me wrong, City Folk is a good game if you have not played any of the previous ones, but there is too little innovation in this Wii release for veterans of the series to do it all over again.
In City Folk you are given the option to import your game data from Animal Crossing: Wild World using the DS/Wii connect feature. Of course only veterans to the series will have this ability. If you have data on your DS version you can transfer over your Wild World character as well as items that you have opened up in the stores. You don’t import anything else though, including your fully furnished pad or money.
Should you be starting fresh, your first task it to create your on screen persona and it is a simple task. Upon doing this you meet Tom Nook who puts you to work right from the get-go. You will do such tasks as delivering packages, advertising Nook’s shop, planting flowers and even writing letters. You’ll be somewhat puzzled as to why you are doing Mr. Nook’s bidding, but what City Folk is doing is providing you with a training ground of sorts to understand what you can do in the world of Animal Crossing.
Tom Nook is more then just a teacher though. He is also the provider of your living accommodations, as well as where to go to sell items you collect in the game. First off he has given you a home, but you have to pay Mr. Nook back, and each time you do he always adds on to your home and you have to once again pay him off for the addition. In order to gain the currency you need to pay your debt, you sell items to Mr. Nook at his store that you find in the game. Here you can sell such items as fruit, mushrooms and even seashells. As you progress in your Animal Crossing life you can also purchase items from Mr. Nooks store, such as shovels, nets and fishing poles, all of which are used to find even better and more expensive items. All in all Tom Nook is a much needed character in the game as he is the provider of your home, provider of your equipment, and buyer of your items.
As you live a life in the world of Animal Crossing you will have lots to do. You will find yourself gardening, fishing, furnishing your house, and even collecting various items (e.g. fish, fruit, fossils, and even art) for yourself and other townsfolk. As noted earlier on, City Folk plays out in realtime. This results in a lot of items in the game being only available at various periods or seasons. So you will have to play the game at certina times in order to collect these items. As much as playing in realtime encourages one to play at varying times, I see this as a bit of a weakness. Players who do not have the ability to fire up their Wii at anytime may feel punished as they cannot access the world of Animal Crossing during the specific times they may need to in order to collect the time specific items. I don’t think it is fair to punish those who cannot get onto their Wii at the times needed.
To alleviate the aforementioned time specific issue, Nintendo has made sure to include online play in City Folk. This online play is very similar to that found in Animal Crossing: Wild World. You need your friends City Folk specific 12-digit code, and they need yours. Once codes are shared and entered you only need to find a time for you to hop online with your friend and viola, away you go. Overall the technical side of the online experience is pretty smooth. Veterans will find that villagers now stay outside their houses, and you can speak to your online buddy via the Wii Speak mode and new Wii Speak perpherial which is a microphone and speaker all built into one unit.
It is my opinion that Nintendo implemented the Wii Speak software and hardware to stay true to its online and gaming philosophy. For one, putting the communication for online in an all in one device allows for parents to monitor their children’s online interactions as they have the ability to hear what is going on much easier then if their child was using a headset. Also, a unit like this allows everyone in the room to get involved if they want as they can all hear and all chat with those on the other end of the online connection. Wii Speak is a great addition to Animal Crossing.
Going online allows you to visit other villages which might work on a totally different clock and calendar then your village is which can make it easier to get some time specific items. As well, each village is most likely growing different fruit then you, and you can get some of this to take back to your village, and start to grow on your own and sell it for more money at Nook’s store. So as much as the realtime clock encourages lots of play, there are a few ways that you can access stuff if you just don’t have the time to play when you need too. As well, after some online play you may find yourself in a conversation with one of your village neighbours and they mention one of your online friends that you played with and how they like them. It is this kind of little touch that shows how single play can be further affected by online play.
Much of what I have just described is pretty much known to Animal Crossing veterans. Except for the inclusion of the Wii Speak capabilities, many are most likely asking what else is new. Nintendo has added some Wii Remote specific capabilities, such as imitating the motions of casting your fishing rod or swinging your insect net. This is kind of cool, but in the end really only serves as a bit of a gimmick as using the Nunchuk’s analog stick and the Wii Remote’s buttons is just as easy and useful as trying to pull off motion sensitive control. But the biggest addition to City Folk is something in the main title, a city.
Past Animal Crossings have limited your adventures and interactions to a village. However this time around you can leave your village at any time and take a bus to the city center for more things to do. The city is pretty much a central hub for City Folk as you can access some much needed items and areas. For the really curious, I have taken some time to sum up what is available in the city center:
- Gracie Grace: A high-class furniture and clothing shop run by Gracie and a hedgehog named Labelle, who is the third Abel Sister.
- The Marquee: Here you pay a fee to watch a performance by Shrunk in order to learn emotions to use during online chat.
- The Happy Room Academy Office: Run by Lyle. Here you can view how other members' homes rank via Wi-Fi. You then can view a "sample room" to see what the style of the month is.
- Katrina's Shop: Katrina the psychic cat will tell you your future.
- Redd's Shop: After acquiring an invitation, you may enter Redd's shop and buy furniture and paintings (real and forgeries). Some of the furniture is rare, but some of it is normal furniture sold for much more than it is normally worth.
- An ABD (Automatic Bell Dispenser): Here you are able to deposit and withdraw bells (City Folk’s currency) from the ABD much like an ATM.
- Kicks: A shoe-shining skunk. For a fee, you can get the colour or style of your shoes changed.
- The Auction House: Run by a Gyroid named Lloid, you can trade over Wi-fi and visit auctions. The limiting factor here is that only players on your friends list can buy from or sell to you. I should also note that you can only bid on one item at a time and the auction house is only available at certain times.
- The Shampoodle: A hairdessing salon run by Hariett. Here you can somewhat randomly change the color and style of your character's hair or apply a mask resembling a Mii stored in the Wii. However, whenever a mask is on your character you cannot wear another accessory with it.
There are also two bonus areas that are accessible in the city during specific times. I am not going to disclose anything about them but their names, which are Phineas and his Cart and Resetti’s Surveillance Center. Accessing these two areas will allow for some really neat bonuses.
What is actually new about this city is the fact that everything is now centralized. In past Animal Crossing games a lot of the areas in City Folk’s city were actually scheduled occurrences around your village that one could plan for. However, this time around you can now head to one specific area to access everything that would have taken time in the other games. The city acts as a one-stop-shop for Animal Crossing players. Some may appreciate it, while others may find it takes away from the actual Animal Crossing experience.
Also new to City Folk is an upgraded art program that lets you create shirt designs that you can put on the front, back and the sleeves of your characters shirt. This is pretty cool and you can be somewhat creative even given your limited tools. It adds a bit of your own personality to the game.
So did I have fun with the game? I would have to say yes and no. The game retains that Animal Crossing feel, but it was so much of the same that I found my attention waning quite quickly. This is too bad as the game has lots to offer, but for anyone who has played the other two they will find that it is just way too much of what they have done before. That being said, I can see how new gamers to the series will fall in love with what so many others already know.
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