Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Piffman2 Reviews- Animal Crossing: City Folk

The final written review of 4 games 1 cup takes a look at Nintendo's biggest title for Q4 2008

Also be sure to check out my now functioning staff blog on the link to the write

Animal Crossing: City Folk- Review

In order to get the most out of an Animal Crossing game, one has to invest a lot time in its deep, Second Life style of gameplay. It’s understandable that someone who has put a lot of time into one game would be frustrated that the sequel is the exact same thing as before. That appears to be the problem many are having with Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Wii. However, I cannot review the game from that perspective because even though I own the DS version, this is the first time I’ve really sunken into an Animal Crossing game. I started my second life for the first time.

Despite what Reggie might tell you, Animal Crossing is a casual game. You assume the role of a human that has moved into a town full of talking animals. With the economy so poor after the stalk market collapse, mortgage is cheap but you still need to work for the shady storekeeper Tom Nook to pay it back. Although you do break free of his grasp, you are still stuck in a cycle of payments and house expansions. Meanwhile, Nook upgrades his shop from a cabin to an upscale department store. He may be called a raccoon in America but Nook is a tanooki and according to legend tanookis have giant balls. That explains a lot.

Every Animal Crossing so far has had that tutorial but after it’s finished, you are free to do whatever you want. Luckily, there are plenty of things to do. You can buy things, write letter, farm fruits, celebrate holidays and interact with other animals. You’re free to go at your own pace and even change the clock and skip through time. However, while the freeform gameplay is relaxing, players should at least have the option of more structure. From what I’ve observed, when core gamers play Animal Crossing then tend to create pretty strict objectives for themselves since the game itself doesn’t present any. These objectives range from hearing all the secret K.K. songs, to acquiring all of the golden tools to just finding all the amusing Easter eggs throughout the game. In the beginning Tom Nook gives you some missions and some animal have requests of their own but if players had the option of receiving mission throughout the whole game, Animal Crossing could become Nintendo’s strange counter to GTA.

There are multiple ways to control City Folk but I prefer to use the wiimote by itself. Moving is controlled Zack and Wiki style and motion is used for fishing and chopping down trees. I find that one-handed control is preferable for slower games like this that require less attention. Also, the A button can be used instead of waggling.

Detractors like to say that City Folk looks indistinguishable form its DS counterpart. Those people need to go look at the DS game again. The graphics are simple and low-poly but they are brighter, smoother, more detailed, and run faster than even the Gamecube original. City Folk uses the tighter, scrolling camera from the DS game and the closer view of the world shows off the improved graphics. Seasons gradually go by bringing snow or flowers. Your character leaves a trail of footprints in his wake. The music also remains good but familiar. The acoustic guitar in the opening theme sets the relaxing mood perfectly. All of the K.K. songs are still varied and fun to listen to and you can still compose the theme songs for your town. (Hear Mii theme FTW).

City Folk looks and sounds like a mildly improved Animal Crossing game and all of its features that I’ve mentioned so far have been standard for the series. City Folk does offer some intriguing new features though. First there’s the eponymous city but calling it that is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s more like an outdoor shopping plaza. The new characters are appropriate for the urban environment like the stuck-up cats and the shoe-shining orphan skunk. However, with a few exceptions, the shops are just shops that used to just come into your town in the old games. From Redd’s shady black market to Gracie’s over-priced furniture, we’ve seen this all before. Some of old shops do have some new tricks. Shampoodle’s now gives you a Mii makeover. I absolutely love constantly rocking a Heath Ledger Joker face. Also, it’s nice to have these once occasional stores available full-time. New shops include an auction house and the secret headquarters of Mr. Resetti. As an aside, having a character scold you for resetting is pure genius for game like this. However, the ratio of old shops to new ones is very lopsided, favoring the former. That’s not the only problem with the city though. This was supposed to be the new big feature for this game but it feels like an afterthought compared to the town. In order to be called a city it should have been as big as if not bigger than the town. If they had to take away classic games in order to resell them to us, maybe they could have made some new ones and stuck them in an arcade. Tom Nook could have had a franchise in the city once he made enough money. Maybe you could have been able to rent an apartment and live in the city if you want but no. After a few minutes you’ll be ready to take the bus back to your town, the real hotspot of the game sadly enough. All the potential of a new environment, wasted.

Finally, there the matter of that little blue logo on the top-left hand corner of the box. City Folk might not be the MMO we were hoping for but it does have online. It’s the typical Nintendo friend code hassle and even when it works it’s still pretty limited. However, there is one new feature that put it above the other online Wii games. Using the wiispeak peripheral, players can talk to friends in their town over the internet. My connection isn’t that great but I did get it to work and the sound quality is more than acceptable. Sure it’s fun to mock your cousin because she sucks at fishing but wiispeak is more exciting because of what it can offer for other games, not because of how it is used in City Folk.

Animal Crossing: City Folk has so many problems. It also could have been so much more than what it is here. But the core game is still such a fun, addictive and engrossing design that it’s hard to be angry at it. Beyond the obvious features like the city and folk chat, there are numerous subtle nuanced improvements that take days and days to notice. Still, that’s no excuse for laziness. If Animal Crossing has consumed your life before, feel free to skip City Folk. However, if you are a core gamer new to the series or better yet one of the millions of casual gamers looking for an enjoyable, original and accessible game for your Wii Sports machine, I wholeheartedly recommend Animal Crossing: City Folk.


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