"Demands" is likely too strong a word for a game that takes such a relaxed view of the social and town simulation genre. But more than any series out there currently, Animal Crossing asks you for a dedication that's measured in the months rather than days. If you're edgy about long-term relationships, you may need to look elsewhere.
As it is with every game in the franchise, you begin as a new arrival in a town populated with animal folk, get yourself setup in a small house, and start exploring the surrounding town to find residents to converse with, and a series of activities to get involved in. The game's synced in with your handheld's internal clock, and so town, shops and neighbours stick to routines dictated by the 24/7 day and night cycle.
It's a title that makes no demands of you, yet you'll feel compelled to go back to it multiple times a day. You'll feel guilty if you don't - and you'll worry you've missed something.
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There are travellers that appear in town only on certain days, catchable insects and fish that only appear during certain seasons. The calendar scales up from individual encounters to town-wide events, festivals. DJ nights. Even exotic getaways. If you're not checking in every day, exploring and chatting, you'll miss out on one of the most attractive features of the title. It's a game that revels in its tight schedule, no matter how outwardly random it makes some of those occurrences out to be.
Continue engaging neighbours in conversation and your relationships will gradually evolve, the odd blip of seeing a repeated phrase a small niggle given the game's overloaded with masses of original dialogue and easy humour, and residents will recall past answers to previous conversations weeks later.
You can even voyeuristically watch them converse, argue, swop jokes and presents with each other. They'll ask your opinion on clothes, catchphrases. Catch a fish as they stroll by and they'll stop to applaud. They'll stop you if you're carrying something they want, and try and trade. Even if residential chit-chat and relaxing were the only things the game offered, this still wouldn't be an experience in which a 100% completion ratio could be measured in months. There's good reason only one Animal Crossing game is released per Nintendo generation.
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The vibe is languid; bright primary colours, breezy music and a heavy hand in puns and one-liners. Nothing's ever forced on you: even the initial loan taken out to erect your first house can be paid off whenever you like. A series of simple tasks can map out a relaxed schedule - fishing, digging for fossils, catching insects, collecting fruit or objects washed up on the beach. Head to the local reseller and pocket some money. Donate fossils to museums. Spend cash on new clothes or household items.
Yet somewhere in all this you find New Leaf has clawed its way into your brain, your thoughts. As much as social media has seen us become far too heavily attached to people we may not meet in real life, so to you'll find yourself flipping your 3DS on during the day - first thing in the morning, during lunch, before bed - just to check in with everybody. Run through a few messages, make sure the town's clean of weeds. Chat with that crazily excercise-obessed new neighbour. And unlike social media, at least they'll remain civil to you no matter what. It's likely that welcoming atmosphere that stops you dismissing it and filling your time with something else.
New Leaf brings Mayoral responsibilties (again, fully optional), letting you choose to turn your town into a night-time haven for shopping, focus on altering the town with publicly-funded works, or keep it buzzing as an early-bird retreat. While you choose a randomly generated town to begin, you can take an axe to trees and plant others elsewhere. Kick out residents that annoy you. The flexibility, to both the town's look (to make it more personal to you), and your real life schedule is a weclome one. Sure you can fiddle with the 3DS clock, but you're missing the point of the game (and retailers even warn you of time paradox issues if you attempt to do so). The daily clock gives your time in the game a framework, and the friendly nature a continued sense of mellow accomplishment whatever your pursuits are.
Flick the system's wi-fi on, and there's the option of inviting friends into your town to explore and see what you've built, and there's a Happy Home Showcase just off the town's High Street that pulls in player information via StreetPass to display their home interiors, letting you place orders for items.
Once you've paid off your loan, you can take out another to expand your lodgings. Pumping money into the town and the businesses will see your home and its surroundings grow, pulling in new business ventures as well as new faces. The game keeps scaling up, offering incentives just out of reach if only you had the cash, but you never see the harsh grind that you know exists beneath the sugar-coated surface. You just keep plugging away happily.
Think of it as less a video game, more a life choice. It's a twee game, but don't mistake it for a childish one. It's an addictive, warm-hearted title that deserves to be on your 3DS. (And given how often you'll be playing if you do get the addiction, it's the first title we'd heartily recommend going digital for).
9 / 10
+ a simulation that just keeps going + new stuff everyday + rebuilding the town + multiplayer options
- slow and steady mightn't be everyone's cup of tea