Still Playing: Animal Crossing City Folk

31st Dec 2012 | 11:41

New Year’s Eve: a day when past and future meet, briefly clink glasses and go their separate ways. It’s hard to think of a better choice to celebrate such an occasion with than Animal Crossing, a game which spends as much time looking back as forward. Admittedly, it’s the first time in a few months we’ve visited our quaint little virtual hamlet, but we wouldn’t miss the tradition of spending the holidays there. Indeed, returning for a nostalgic trip round our old stomping ground for the festive season has become something of a habit.

Still Playing: Animal Crossing City Folk

New Year’s Eve: a day when past and future meet, briefly clink glasses and go their separate ways. It’s hard to think of a better choice to celebrate such an occasion with than Animal Crossing, a game which spends as much time looking back as forward. Admittedly, it’s the first time in a few months we’ve visited our quaint little virtual hamlet, but we wouldn’t miss the tradition of spending the holidays there. Indeed, returning for a nostalgic trip round our old stomping ground for the festive season has become something of a habit.

Of course, time was when our visits were rather more regular; if not daily, then at least twice weekly. Animal Crossing has been a part of my family’s life since I emerged from the dingy confines of a local indie retailer triumphantly clutching a US copy of the GameCube original and Datel’s Freeloader to bypass the console's region protection. It was my first import title, this apparently wonderful Nintendo game I’d read so much about in Edge and NGC, but that the localisation gods had deemed me, a European resident, unworthy of playing. My wife and I were enraptured by this adorable, unfashionably mellow game, and we’d spend many a happy hour in the evenings and on weekends simply pottering around, chatting to villagers, indulging in a spot of fishing or fossil hunting, with the occasional Saturday jaunt to the train station to pick up a new tune from KK Slider, the busking hound.

We’d adjust the in-game clock to catch up on the days we’d missed, of course. AC purists would no doubt consider this heresy, but it was too easy for life to get in the way of important in-game events. That all changed with DS follow-up Wild World, which made it easier to fit in a bit of portable Crossing around real-world responsibilities: staying late at the office was a neat way of netting myself a few brownie points with the boss while allowing me to hang on for the start of Tom Nook’s latest sale. It kept my wife in particular occupied for a full 18 months after its release until interest eventually, inevitably, dwindled.

Let’s Go to the City, Nintendo suggested in 2008, the Wii game offering a disappointingly compact urban offshoot and online functionality as its new creature comforts, but by this time it was no longer just my wife and I playing. My son, almost three at the time, was fascinated, and we were secretly delighted, hoping that the game’s gently educational leanings would eventually rub off on him. Instead, it was the game’s reliance on routine that proved most useful. The repetitive responses of museum curator Blathers to gifts of bugs and fish – translated at first by enthusiastic parents – were soon memorised and parroted back. In learning to decode these strange, alien characters as they appeared onscreen, an early interest in words developed, to the point where Schilling Jr started his first day at school with the reading age of an eight-year-old.

Still Playing: Animal Crossing City Folk

Routine, of course, is crucial to the game’s appeal, not least because it makes special events stand out all the more. And for all that it’s an open-ended experience, allowing you the freedom to set your own personal goals at any given time, it’s curious how easily you can fall into patterns of play: tending to wilted blooms as soon as you step outside, before selling all your unwanted goods to Nook, then heading to the post office to send a donation to the Boondocks or to pay off a portion of your mortgage. I wonder if it’s the chaos of life as a freelancer that means I find particular comfort in a more structured, orderly virtual existence.

Either way, our annual festive trip began a little earlier than usual this year. The Pikmin removal service heroically transferring our files from Wii to Wii U weren’t just carrying save data: in Animal Crossing’s case, they were moving our belongings from one home to another, a symbolic transition that felt oddly literal in this instance.

Continue >>

Still Playing: Animal Crossing City Folk

As we arrive, it’s clear that Wii U’s upscaler has left the place looking a little sharper, even if it takes some explaining to my son that the quirks of Nintendo hardware design meant we couldn’t play it on the GamePad’s screen. Of course, the flora looks a little unkempt as we first step outside, our feet hitting the snowy ground with a delightful crunch. A full half-hour of weed-pulling follows: a reminder that while the world goes on without you, it’s a lesser place for your absence. Meeting up with old faces evokes that familiar, bittersweet sensation you feel during the festive season as you greet a distant relative you’d been meaning to spend more time with. “It’s been five months!” says Cousteau the frog, a smartly-integrated guilt trip that ensures we won’t leave it so long next time. But Crossing villagers hold no grudges, and we’re soon back in the fold, tricking Jingle the reindeer into giving us extra pieces of seasonal furniture, having stockpiled a week’s worth of disguises to fool him into thinking we’re someone else. Then we browse Nook’s catalogue for presents to send to residents for the big day - yes, even snooty Friga, who dumped our last gift in the recycling bin the day afterwards and thought we hadn’t noticed.

It’s not just the snow on the ground that makes us feel generous. This is such a warm, giving game that it only feels right to reciprocate. Sure, villagers might just be lines of code and screeds of randomly-selected dialogue, adjusted according to a handful of variables, but their behaviour and some sparkling writing help create a convincing illusion of personality, to the point where it’s easy to grow attached to them. They’re worthy of your virtual gifts, then, and (mostly) grateful, too. You might hear some stories once or twice too often, but that’s only in keeping with the spirit of the season: who hasn’t listened to an elderly relative relay a tale from their youth for the umpteenth time as the turkey is being carved?

As the days pass by and New Year’s Eve approaches, the mood naturally becomes more reflective. We visit the post office to re-read the farewell letters of villagers who left this year, the patches of ground where their houses once stood an environmental scar to remember them by. With no glass to toast absent friends with, then, we’ll ring in 2013 by pulling a party popper on their behalf, as we watch the digital countdown outside the town hall with a few village veterans and mayor Tortimer, and await the appropriately underwhelming firework display.

Still Playing: Animal Crossing City Folk

Swap a few of the faces, and it’s an identical routine to last year. Animal Crossing understands that while time moves on and things change, there’s comfort to be found in the familiar, and that may explain Nintendo’s unwillingness to adjust the core template. Complaints about a lack of series progression are entirely warranted, but playing a new Animal Crossing game is a little like visiting a favourite holiday destination: you notice what’s changed more than anyone who doesn’t know the place so intimately, but it’s what you do know that keeps you coming back. Well, that and the promise of new furniture, of course.

So yes, we’ll be moving into our new digs on 3DS next year, in a village full of familiar sights and sounds and a host of fresh faces, some of which we’ll almost certainly recognise from Crossings past. They won’t know us - a sad reminder of Nintendo’s unwillingness to let players transfer data from one game to another – but they soon will. In twelve months’ time, my family and I will likely be celebrating 2014’s arrival with a clutch of new friends, as past and future meet, clink glasses, and go their separate ways.

Still Playing featured
Share this Article
Google+
TopView classic version