Animal Crossing (Nintendo GameCube, 30 hours)

Animal Crossing is probably the dopiest game that’s ever been made (not counting the sequels). But the dopiness is exactly what’s appealing. A typical day might have you fishing for barred knifejaws, digging for buried treasure, and sending a letter to one of your neighbors. The game takes place in real time, based on your GameCube’s internal clock. If you play the game at night, it’s night in the game. If you play the game on Halloween, it’s Halloween in the game. There’s no central objective, so there is no real strategy for winning, as the game doesn’t really end. But you can make up ways to win the game, such as running out of things to donate to the museum, or paying off your home mortgage. Animal Crossing is an utter delight, and manages to be 100% non-violent while not being a total bore or too much of a kid’s game.

To start the game, you are on a passenger train, striking up a conversation with the animal sitting across from you. The animal takes the time to ask what your name is, only to laugh at it. You input the name of the town you’re going to, and that is the name of the town for the rest of the game. When you arrive in town, a nice bear by the name of Tom Nook gives you a home, but you are over 18,000 “bells” in debt to him as a sort of mortgage. You do little odd jobs for him, like greeting your neighbors, or putting a sign up advertising his store. Eventually, you pay off your debt. Deciding what to do for the rest of the game is entirely up to you.

You can spend your days any number of ways. You can pull weeds, stop by the dump where people leave old clothes you can wear, or you can plant a pear tree. Your town has a lot of neighbors. There’s a museum where you can donate fossils. Again there’s no main objective. Just figuring out the fun things there are to do is what’s great about Animal Crossing. You can even visit a friend’s town by having your friend bring his memory card over. Be sure to write your friend a letter, or plant a tree there. It’s all so innocent and charming.

The text of the game is brimming with jokes. When you talk to the woman at the post office, she says under her breath “I’m missing my soaps!” There’s a pun every time you catch a fish. If you catch a carp, it says “I hope I don’t get carp-al tunnel.” This is all part of the game’s charm. Sometimes when a game comes over from Japan, the comedy gets lost in translation, but they did a great job keeping the humor. You get a lot of letters in your mailbox, including letters from mom, and advice on how to redecorate your house.

Animal Crossing started life as a Nintendo 64 game, and it made the leap to the GameCube with no problem. The GameCube is capable of a higher visual fidelity – Animal Crossing does look like a ported N64 title – but I never minded the simplicity of the look. The music is very easy to listen to. It’s the sort of music you can listen to for 100 hours and not grow tired of. The use of the internal GameCube clock is really clever. Animal Crossing keeps track of what day it is, as well as the time. Actual holidays are observed in game. Of course, there’s no real-time weather (the GameCube wasn’t necessarily network connected) but it does rain on occasion, and there are seasonal changes, like fall leaves.

Animal Crossing ended up a surprise hit for Nintendo, and spawned a whopping seven sequels, though some are spin-offs. The game really appeals to women, and for that reason was probably responsible for expanding the video game market. It really is fun to poke around, shopping at Tom’s store, sending letters at the post office, or just fishing to see if you catch something rare. You can truly lose yourself in all the nothing there is to do. I haven’t played the sequels, but they all look pretty faithful to the first game’s simple look and design. I wholeheartedly recommend Animal Crossing for people who like harmless, innocent fun.

5/5

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