Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Preview and Hands On

_MG_0046There is soft grass beneath your feet. If you close your eyes, you can pretend that the air conditioning is a cool, summer’s breeze and that the sound of the increasing voices around you are nothing but the cry of seagulls. The world becomes finite, contracted to a single point that soon becomes the focus of all experience.

There is no sound, there is no fury… there is only the acquisition of new furniture and the swift and hasty movements of bees following in your wake.

If you have not given your life yet to Animal Crossing, then perhaps none of this will yet make sense. If that is true then within the crowded hall of this year’s MCM Comic Con at London’s ExCeL Centre, there is a small piece of a quieter world awaiting you.

It is obvious from the start that a fair amount of love and/or consideration went into the construction of Nintendo’s stand for the forthcoming Animal Crossing: New Leaf title for the 3DS. Occupying a small corner of the company’s display area, the game stands are built upon a carpet of fake grass, the wall is decorated with the cardboard cut outs of faintly familiar characters and each 3DS is loaded up with a copy of the game in its earliest stages, a journey not yet started.

Whilst stepping back in scope from the broader in-game scale of Animal Crossing: Let’s Go to the City, this new title is ambitious in its attempt to bring disparate gamers together through the 3DS’ StreetPass function, a feature that will allow you to expand upon the features of your town with every encounter. 

When the game is released in Europe on 14th June 2013, players will be able to exchange data and information through chance meetings and incorporate different aspects of each encounter into their own experiences. An example cited by staff on the stand was the issue of each town’s characteristics or properties, a setting which will impact variables in the growth of the town and how this will alter what is shared, i.e. if Town #A is wealthy, goods from that town will sell at a higher premium when imported into your own domestic environment.

A further function involves the dreams of your character in which you are able to interact with facsimiles of towns and houses present in other data without interfering or altering the native environment.

Despite criticism from some for Nintendo’s decision to region lock hardware, it was noted that StreetPass data from the UK would potentially be able to exchange information with Japanese copies, a feature which goes a long way towards fostering the kind of global community this game deserves. It is this universal approach, this capacity for enabling an exchange between players regardless of nationality that the game hinges on. 

_MG_0048In terms of what is on offer from the available demo there is sadly little on view to really encourage prospective players to connect with what the game truly has to offer due to the pacing of the game. Whilst the opening provides ample opportunity to explore the town and interact with the randomly generated characters in residence, the gates of later more involving features are sadly closed. This scenario is not helped by the fact that the release date is still some time away and thus there is not the opportunity to offer downloadable content via  SpotPass.

Yet despite this there is still the heart of Animal Crossing, the town upon the shores of a fictional horizon populated by the anthropomorphic characters of a quieter world. Guiding your character amidst the green grass and the peaceful streams, it is easy to fall into the routine of an idealised daily life; of gentle footfalls around the houses of the town, through the gate and into the new shopping centre area where new features cluster about the improved premises of Tom Nook and the Able Sisters. As with the screening at the convention of an episode of Shinichiro Watanabe‘s Kids on the Slope, there is a sense of a life forgotten amongst the constant demand of the modern world, a nostalgic reflection upon the world we have left behind us.

Standing upon the green grass of the display, thumbs upon the smooth pads of the 3DS, the game suggests an alternative to the rigours of modern life. Like the best of Nintendo’s ventures, New Leaf is a step back from the conventions imposed both upon players by their daily routine and the target based focused of many other games.

Bright and colourful, the stand for Animal Crossing: New Leaf is as engaging and cute as the game itself. 

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