Wednesday, August 28, 2013


2DS, Eh?

The initial response to the 2DS seems pretty negative.  The lack of a clamshell, removing the 3D... what was Nintendo thinking?

Well of course it seems ridiculous to us.  This isn't for us.  We're the tech geeks who always want the BEST version of everything.  We pay the extra $100 for the larger memory capacity, we trade in for the screen with slightly more pixels per inch.  We ran out and bought the 3DS on day one, then went out and bought it again for a larger screen.

(I say "we", but I'm just generalizing.  I didn't do any of that.)

Did you see the intro for it?  Look at that kid there.  All he wants to do is play the next Pokemon game. Maybe his parents aren't ready to spring for a $180 3DS.  The expense of the system has been one of the biggest marks against it since the beginning, especially now that people already own perfectly good supercomputers that go in their pockets and play Angry Birds.  Maybe if they can reduce the production costs with a 2D display and a monolithic design, they can push the price down closer to impulse purchase territory.

It's a smart move.  And honestly, I do like the look of the thing.  I'd even be tempted to buy one if I hadn't already bought into Nintendo's FUCKING RETARDED digital download scheme which would prevent me from playing my now-beloved Animal Crossing game on it.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out,


Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Animal Crossing: New Leaf Impressions

This isn't really a review of Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the 3DS primarily because I don't think Animal Crossing is something you can review.  For one thing, everyone draws a different experience from it, and for another, anyone who's interested in the idea has probably played one of the earlier games in the series already.

I have to admit, this new version didn't really grab me at first.  You start the game up, and it seems like it's just going to be the same game it always was.  Collect things, sell them, pay down your mortgage.  The idea that you've become the mayor of this town seems like it's just a reason to get you to pay even more loans than usual.  I've had a bad streak of buyer's remorse with 3DS games, and this seemed like it was going to be more of the same.

But I eventually dug into it, and I found a little something here that I wasn't expecting.  I haven't read any reviews that touch on it either.

Until now, all of the Animal Crossing games have begun the same way.  You move into town, Tom Nook hooks you up with a home, and then he tasks you with some odd jobs which are basically a tutorial for the sorts of activities and interactions the game has available.  And then the rest of the game is basically undirected open-world mucking about.  The whole game is basically there right from the start, and it's just a matter of what you want to do -- whether you want to make designs or fill the museum or plant a fancy garden or whatever.

New Leaf feels a bit... different.  Sure, it basically starts the same way -- you move to a new town, you get stuck with some home payments -- but the whole game isn't open right from the start.  For example, you can't even take advantage of those hyped-up Mayoral privileges until you've finished the first down  payment on your house.  Features you may have heard of -- the tropical island, the Dream Suite, Club LOL -- aren't available until you've met the conditions to open them.  Sometimes this means paying your mortgage, sometimes this means completing public works projects.  I was surprised to discover that this new Animal Crossing feels more like a traditional adventure game, with a linear path of progression, short-term goals to achieve, and material rewards for achieving them -- new locations to visit and new things to do.

And... I think this is the sort of thing the Animal Crossing series needed!  It's all well and good to say that your video game has enough content to last 50 years, as Nintendo did when the first Animal Crossing came out in the west, but if that content is just reskinned villagers that move in and out and a letter-writing system with no AI, you kind of feel like you've run out of things to do pretty quickly.  Based on my experience, and on experiences I've read online, it seems like this little town is going to continue to grow and evolve as I play with it.  All the little shops on Main Street are going to get bigger and offer new services and goods as I continue to patronize them.  The promise is that there are going to be new things to see and do into the future.

And speaking of new things to see and do, there's Tortimer Island.  There was a tropical island location in the first Animal Crossing game, but there wasn't much to do, was there?  The whole thing was kind of a gimmick that played up the GBA linkup.  I brought some coconuts back, planted them on my beach, and basically forgot about it.  This new island feels so much more robust.  For one thing, the fishing and bug-catching on the island are first-rate, offering much more valuable prey than you'll find on the mainland, and you get a 40-item dropbox for things to take home.

And for another, there's mini-games.

See, the undirected open-world thing in Animal Crossing is fine.  I love it.  But when you've run out of ideas for things you want to do, it's nice to have some directed activity to fall back on.  That's why the NES games were so popular in the original -- it's not that we bought the game to play Donkey Kong and Balloon Fight, but it gave us a game to play when we were tired of fishing and running errands.  The mini-games on Tortimer Island are fun.  They take the basic Animal Crossing mechanics and find new and interesting things to do with them.  And the games themselves seem to be in a rotation -- not every game is available every day.  So when you see your favorite game on the board, it's like an extra treat.

And the island gives the game something else that Animal Crossing really needed -- it's a different place to go.  It's somewhere away from the mundane world of your town.  If Animal Crossing is a life sim, then Tortimer Island is the vacation away from your normal life.  It's where things work slightly differently.

The last thing I want to say about the game, for now, is just how much I love its setup.  I love that they brought back the train station and the island from the first game, and the Main Street setup feels like a nod to City Folk -- a bustling commercial district that's separate from the quiet forest to the south.  I love how some of the character roles have been shaken up a bit.  I love the fact that Tom Nook doesn't force you into your next house upgrade once you've paid off your loan.

This may be the game that's proven the 3DS for me.  I feel like I'm going to stick with it for some time.


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