Ever since Nintendo decided to join the mobile gaming industry in 2015, their apps have risen to the top-downloaded charts on the App Store and Google Play. With Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Nintendo was back in the top ten again, with the game being downloaded over a whopping 15 million within the first week. We decided to see what all the fuss is about and started our own camp.
The Animal Crossing franchise is known for its charming simplicity: in earlier games you move to a charming little town where you can live out a quiet, relaxed life collecting fruit, planting flowers, catch bugs and fish. Granted, you owe a business-orientated raccoon named Tom Nook a whole load of money as he sells you a house whether you like it or not. But unlike real life, the debt is yours to pay off whenever you want. You can buy furniture and clothing and decorate both your house and your character to your heart's desire. Anthropomorphic animals move in and out of your town, and by pawning off whichever treasures (or just everyday items) you find about town will make them befriend you. Ultimately, they will give you a photo of themselves as the highest award for winning their friendship just by giving them stuff. Easy, right? Of course, the game is packed with lovable characters, (social) events, more than enough stuff to collect, and is the perfect, relaxing environment to escape from the stress of day to day life. This simple yet charming game structure has won the hearts of many, and with Pocket Camp Nintendo hopes to do just that once more.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp builds on the same tried and tested structure, yet simpler to accommodate the platform; instead of a whole town, you now have nothing more than a quaint little campsite. You can still collect furniture, but decorating a barren field with sofas and beds does seem slightly strange.
Instead of a house, you now have a mobile home: a rad camper is now yours to pay off. Instead of a slightly greedy raccoon, there are now three Italian (don't ask) penguin siblings you are in debt to. They can expand and paint your camper - for a price of course. You can buy furniture and redecorate your camper, but we found ourselves not overly compelled to do so - whereas, in previous Animal Crossing instalments, you may spend some time hosting animals in your home, nothing really interesting happens in your camper except your own lonely self, lounging around in it.
You can visit little islands and beaches around your campsite, with little being the keyword here - there isn't much to see or explore. On each of these islands and beaches you can either catch bugs or go fishing. Both bug catching and fishing is a breeze - simply tap on the animal you wish to catch and tap the screen when the word "TAP!" appears. It could not be any simpler, and missing out is rare. You can also collect different fruit and seashells.
Each island will have two different visitors, rotating every 2 hours or so. Visitors consist of a random player which you can opt to visit their campsite or give 'Kudos' to. Perhaps your parents warned you about not getting in strangers' vans, but in the happy world of Animal Crossing you can do so whenever you please. New in Pocket Camp is the introduction of a Market Box where players can sell fruit, shells, fruit or bugs. However, since all players can catch and collect the exact items, there is little to no use in that. In fact, none of the options and interactions with other players do anything to enhance gameplay other than just being fun. Players don't have to be online for you to see or visit them so the interactions aren't 'live' unlike previous Animal Crossing instalments. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though, as you can visit your friends whenever you want. However, you can't do anything at their campsite other than giving them Kudos, which are not actually used for anything.
Other island visitors are of course the well-known anthropomorphic animals. They can be befriended the same way previous instalments let you befriend them: give them stuff. Luckily this goes both ways: when you do an animal a favour, they will reward you with materials you can use to craft furniture at the local blacksmith which is a blue alpaca named Cyrus.
Other familiar faces from previous games also make an appearance: the Able Sisters sell their clothing at the local marketplace and you can purchase furniture from Tom Nook's nephews. You can also invite Tom Nook himself to your campsite, but only if you're willing to pay the hefty price of 250 Leaf Tickets.
In Pocket Camp, you can now see your friendship level with each animal. Once raised enough, you can invite the animal to your campsite. The animal will give you a list of demands before he or she will visit; each animal has a personal taste in furniture themes ranging from 'cute' to 'sporty'. Decorate the campsite with their personal favourite furniture, and they will reward your effort with their presence. Once invited, animals will hang around your campsite indefinitely. You can dismiss and re-invite them whenever you want.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is free-to-play, but as with many mobile games there is an option to exchange real money for in-game currency. With Leaf Tickets you can speed up furniture orders and make up for missing materials to craft certain items. Whilst you can collect Leaf Tickets fairly easily in-game, it certainly becomes tempting to buy them as waiting times for crafting amenities increase and crafting materials grow scarce.
Whilst the mobile version of Animal Crossing has a lot of elements from its predecessors, it fails to provide the same vibe we have come to love and expect. It doesn't hold the same charm as previous games, instead making it a rather repetitive mundane maintenance game. Instead of being a fun and adventurous camping trip, it feels like doing work. Granted, mobile games can easily get expanded and updated - we hope Nintendo will add fun events, the ability to interact 'live' with others, and some of the charm and surprise we saw in previous games. So far the game feels limited, but we see the potential.
The biggest pro with Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is that it is very easy to pick up; you literally carry the camp around in your pocket, and the game optimisation is great, so not many loading screens. The graphics are cute but not heavy. Unfortunately, there is no option to skip any cinematics, which doesn't do the repetitive feel of the game any favours.
Despite their immense popularity, some if not most of these apps peak at launch only to silently fade away from our memory - is anyone still visiting their alter ego in Miitomo, and when was the last time you were throwing balls at pocket monsters? Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp could go either way - if Nintendo tweaks and expands the game, there might be hope for it yet. If not, we predict a lot of unhappy campers will remove the camp from their pockets.