I love combing my social networks whenever a new Animal Crossing game drops. The most unexpected people are outed as fans, people who I would usually assume are too “cool” for a quirky, younger-skewing game like Animal Crossing. I’m by no means someone who considers himself too “cool” for “kiddie” Nintendo games, but neither am I really the target audience for Animal Crossing. I like being able to complete my games in a linear fashion, make steady progress through the storyline or the dungeons or the stages or what have you, and then shelve it, knowing that I can enjoy the full satisfaction of having seen all there is to see. Animal Crossing, as sandboxy as game as they come, presents a problem for me in that I have to invent my own challenges if I want to consider the game “completed.” Of course, as many fans of the series will tell you, it’s impossible to truly “complete” Animal Crossing.
I remember the months leading up to the first game’s release in 2002. There was an issue of Nintendo Power where a few of the magazine’s writers kept a diary of their interactions within the game. My sisters and I read that article over and over again until the countdown to the game’s release became almost unbearable. We had planned out our individual towns, houses, and characters months in advance. When the game finally came out, we played it for a year straight without ever getting bored. To us, the general game concept was just that good. Usually, a game that “can be played infinitely” is code for “gets boring due to a lack of objectives real fast,” but to our young minds, this was the only game we needed. We travelled back and forth and visited each other in half-hour shifts ad infinitum. The the only thing that would’ve made the game better for us would have been splitscreen multiplayer, something the series still doesn’t have (although it received online multiplayer with the DS follow-up, Wild World).
A long time ago, neighbour had an all-nighter gaming bash for his 12th birthday, and since I was the GameCube guy, I brought my little purple box along with Super Smash Bros. Melee, Soul Calibur II, and F-Zero GX. I let someone else set it up on the upstairs TV, then headed into the basement to watch people play Gran Turismo (A-Spec, I think) and Devil May Cry on the PS2. People left the PS2 area every so often to check out the other systems on other floors of the house, but eventually I realized that they weren’t coming back. I began to worry that they had started the Smash Bros. tournament without me, so I headed upstairs to the GameCube room. What I found was a dozen preteen boys (yes, the same ones that would be pointing out your homosexuality on Call of Duty these days) huddled around a 13″ TV calmly playing the Animal Crossing disc that I had accidentally left in the GameCube. They had started a new file, with the player character named for the birthday boy (he was allowed to play five minutes longer than anyone else). You bet your ass these kids fought like hyenas over the controller before devising a hierarchy by which turns were taken, with certain players assigned certain roles (bug catcher, fruit collector, fisherman, etc.) according to their caste. It was a suburban Lord of the Flies.
I didn’t touch Animal Crossing all through high school and halfway through university. My mom was just getting into video games when the 3DS was about to come out, so I suggested Animal Crossing as a nice, calm game we could enjoy together. I gave her my DS Lite and preordered a 3DS (whoops), and I picked up the last two copies of Wild World that my local EB Games would ever see. We’ve been playing it about two years now, and of course, the best times are when we’re in the same town together. She likes to arrive at my gate dressed like a psycho, then she proceeds to hide crap all over town and force me to find it. Yeah, it’s a riot.
I don’t know why, but my sister wanted to play Animal Crossing the other day. I had been eying the Wii iteration, City Folk, ever since it dropped to $20 under the budget-priced Nintendo Selects label. It arrived last Friday, just before we would’ve had to endure a painful weekend without it, and we’ve been playing the heck out of it ever since. She’s already strip-mined our town and purchased her first house expansion. Me? I bought a watering can.
Now, New Leaf just came out, and it looks like the biggest leap forward the series has made since Wild World. I tend to be a generation behind with my Animal Crossings, so it’ll likely be a while before I pick it up. Deep down, I know that somewhere along the line, I won’t be able to resist its siren call of mortgages and weird animal friends. I’m sure I’ll try to pick it up when it’s just gone out of print (City Folk was a hassle to wrangle).