Review: Animal Crossing: New Leaf (Nintendo 3DS)
by Crystal Steltenpohl on June 21, 2013

Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Life Simulation
Release Date: 05/09/2013

As with previous Animal Crossing games, Animal Crossing: New Leaf has you arriving in as a new resident in a somewhat established town. However, this time, it’s different: you’ve been chosen to be the new mayor! Isabelle, your secretary, shows you the ropes, and other residents will weigh in on what they think you should be doing. First, however, you’ll need a place to stay. You’ll set up a tent and speak to the town’s real estate agent (please have mercy on our towns), the infamous Tom Nook. He’ll set you up with a loan that I’m sure he thinks is a steal for you–just a small loan of 39,000 bells (the local currency) to get you started.

As mayor, you can set town ordinances that affect gameplay (for instance, you can make the town “beautiful,” resulting in less weeds) and set up public works projects like the Reset Surveillance Center (fans of Resetti will like this), benches, clock towers, fountains, and wells. Sometimes residents will ask you directly for things; other times you’ll just choose from a list that Isabelle provides to you. Your actions as mayor will influence how the residents feel about you and how often residents move to/away from the town. The atmosphere of the game is much the same: the character design is cute and not at all serious, and the music is catchy and generally upbeat. They’ve added some things to give even more quirkiness to the game, like introducing two new possible personality types for residents, adding nodding/shaking head animations to your character when you answer questions, and twenty new emotions to learn from Dr. Shrunk.

Those familiar with the Animal Crossing franchise will know that you can expand your house. This is the same for New Leaf. In order to fully expand–that is, to get the 8×8 main room, the 8×8 rooms on three sides of the house, the 8×8 room on the second floor, and the 8×8 basement–you’ll need to acquire and pay Tom Nook a paltry 7,595,800 bells. Yeah, you’ll be here for a while. You’ll also be able to customize the exterior of your house by purchasing chimneys, doors, exterior walls, roofs, mailboxes, and pavement. Once you have all the rooms of the house (not necessarily the 8×8 version), you’ll be able to purchase full exteriors, which currently come in castle, cottage, Japanese, and modern styles.

Once you’ve paid off your first loan and talk to Tom Nook, the next time you enter Nook’s Homes, Lyle from the Happy Home Academy will be there. The Happy Home Academy rates you home daily, earning you prizes. Depending on how you lay out the rooms in your house, you can earn bonuses or penalties. Things that will get you bonuses include having all the pieces from a furniture set (especially if you have the carpet and/or wallpaper as well, if that series has it); having “life necessities” like a chair, drawers, dresser, table, and bed, especially if they’re from the same set; event or special items; having three or more items from certain categories (e.g. art, musical instruments, fossils, etc.); using feng shui; using items of the same color; and using items from the same theme (e.g. modern, rustic, fairy tale, etc.). You’ll earn penalties if you put items on the floor that can go on a table or if you turn an item so that you can’t use it (for example, turning a television to face the wall). Experiment to get the best results.

There’s plenty to do in your new town to pass the time as features unlock and to gain bells: you can hit rocks to try to get gems and bells; shake trees for furniture, fruit, and bells (beware the bees!); talk to your fellow residents; save up bells to expand your house and fund public works projects; fish; swim (a new feature); catch bugs; dig up fossils; shoot gifts down from the sky; and much more.

You can invite friends to see your town or go to their towns and take a peek at their setups. You can communicate with friends in-game but it feels rudimentary; when typing, you only have about 20 characters to get your message across. If you’re just using the regular conversation menu, you can type as fast as you want, as the conversation box stays open. However, there’s no record of what’s been said, so if you miss something you’ll need to ask them to repeat it. Alternatively, you can add someone to your best friends list and communicate with them that way. Here there is a log, but the downside is that every time you send a message, the conversation box closes, so you have to reopen it, which is tedious for longer messages. I have to resort to text-speak, which I hate using most of the time, to get my messages across quickly. It would have been awesome if it had been possible to utilize the 3DS’s mic or something, because when explaining something more complicated it can get confusing.

You’ll also get special visitors from time to time. Crazy Redd returns to try to rip you off with fake paintings and sculptures. Thankfully, you can rotate the screen and look at the items and determine what ones are fake by noticing mistakes. On occasion, Gulliver will wash up on shore and will give you items from countries he’s been to if you can guess the country he describes to you. Joan still comes on Sundays to sell you turnips. If you’re out diving and find a scallop, Pascal will offer to trade the scallop for a piece of furniture from the Pirate Set. Blanca plays a game with you on April Fool’s. Sahara will decorate your home and sell you wallpaper and carpets. Katie will want you to take her to a friend’s town, Phineas will give you badges, and Katrina will tell your fortune. There are many surprises to be had from the people who inhabit and visit your town.

Many features in the game have been greatly expanded from previous releases. Customization has gotten most of the pumping up. You can now customize your pants, for instance, which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you realize your female character isn’t stuck wearing a skirt or dresses if she doesn’t want to wear it. You can now also hang stuff on the walls in your home, like stained glass windows. Villagers throw parties on their birthdays now and you can give them gifts; they’ll return the favor the next day, which is kind of funny if you think about it. You can also purchase a megaphone once you have a convenience store (discussed below), which enables you to say the name of the villager you’re looking for, and, if s/he is outside, it will give you an idea where s/he is.

Your town has a lot of potential for expansion as well. New locations have been added to New Leaf: Re-Tail, a place that doesn’t rip you off as much as the Nooks do; The Roost, which isn’t a new place so much as now it has its own building; and the Town Tree, which is supposed to be the town center (it’s on the event plaza after all) and I suppose if you want to get mushy about it, you can say the tree represents the life of your town. The train station allows you to accept visitors or to visit another player’s town; there are also lockers you can use to store items as you travel between towns. In order to travel you’ll need to get an ID photo taken at the Photo Booth on Main Street.

Re-Tail also allows you to put stuff up in a flea-market, and you can customize some of your furniture if you manage to wake up Cyrus; the most popular set of instructions I can find indicate that you’ll need to have lived in the town for a week or more, sold 100,000 Bells worth of items to Reese, have had a hundred different pieces of furniture, and have had fifty different items of clothing. In order to get Cyrus to customize your furniture, you’ll need to have gemstones which you can get from breaking rocks with your shovel.

The Roost was in earlier versions of the game as part of the Museum, a personal favorite building of mine that I’ll get to in a bit. In New Leaf, however, it’s its own building. You’ll have to build it as part of your mayoral duties (it’s a public works project), and Brewster will run it as he has in the past. If you get three coffees from Brewster, you’ll be given the ability to take your coffee with you. Once you get six coffees from him, you’ll be given the option to help him out as a barista. Giving people their favorite drinks will result in you getting furniture from the Cafe series as gifts. Serving good coffee can also get you various types of coffee beans. Of course, special visitors also come to The Roost. See the list below for times and characters:

  • 6:00AM-6:55AM – Pelly or Pete
  • 8:00AM-9:30AM – Dr. Shrunk or Tortimer
  • 12:00PM-1:30PM – Don Resetti or Resetti
  • 2:30PM-4:00PM – Kapp’n or Phineas
  • 5:30PM-7:00PM – DJ KK
  • 9:00PM-9:55PM – Digby or Phyllis
  • 12:00AM-1:30AM – Gracie, Kicks or Tom Nook

Main Street offers a number of stores for your pleasure. When you first get to your town, you’ll be able to visit the Able Sisters, who will offer you clothing and accessories, as well as the ability to design your own clothes. Talk to Sable several times (once a day) and you’ll be given the ability to scan QR codes that belong to clothing in order to get that made for you. Spend 8,000 bells there and some expansions will be built that allow you to purchase shoes, socks, and new haircuts.

Nook’s Homes is also available when you first come into town, and it allows you to expand your house, talk to Lyle of the HHA, and purchase exterior renovations. Nook’s brothers run Nookling Junction, which functions as Nook’s Cranny did in the older games. Each day, two pieces of furniture, two tools, stationery, wrapping paper, and a fortune cookie are offered each day. The fortune cookie is a new item that you purchase with 2 Play Coins (earned by walking around with your 3DS; you can earn up to 10 coins a day) which allows you to get various Nintendo-themed items, like Midna’s Mask, a 1-Up mushroom, or the Triforce. Spend 12,000 bells at Nookling Junction, pay 10,000 bells to your house mortgage, and live in town for at least ten days, and it will upgrade to a T&T Mart (Timmy and Tommy, in case you’re curious). T&T Mart works like Nook ‘N’ Go did. It’ll have slightly more than Nookling Junciton did: three pieces of furniture, three tools, stationery, wrapping paper, two fortune cookies, two wallpaper and carpet, and one medicine (used for bee stings or to heal sick residents). There’s also a new Catalog machine for usage. There are three more expansions from here: Super T&T, T.I.Y., and finally, the T&T Emporium.

The Post Office is yet again its own building, run by Pelly during the daytime and her cranky sister Phyllis at night. Talking to them enables you to send mail, save mail you’ve received, and download presents through SpotPass. Pete delivers mail and you can sometimes run into him around town. You can also use an ABD (an ATM, essentially) to store and withdraw money, as well as repay your mortgage. I miss being able to recycle stuff here, as if you don’t own a trash can or something, you have to pay a fee to get rid of some items. There is, however, a community works project that lets you build a trash can for the community, so there’s that at least.

Happy Homes Showcase is a new feature in New Leaf which enables the player to see the houses of people they’ve encountered using StreetPass. Up to 48 houses can be showcased, and 16 can be favorited so they are not deleted as new houses replace older ones. Players can tour these homes and even order up to five pieces of furniture per day if they see something they like. As someone who lives in an area where nobody apparently brings their 3DSes around with them, this didn’t initially appeal to me, but Nintendo has announced that they will be doing things to make obtaining StreetPasses easier for North Americans, so this may end up being rather useful for obtaining furniture you haven’t been able to get your hands on.

Lastly, my favorite building is the Museum. Blathers keeps a watchful eye (well, during the night anyway–during the day he just sleeps, but he is an owl) over the museum and will assess fossils for you and take donations of bugs, fossils, fish, and art pieces that they do not already own. The Museum can be expanded to have a second floor, where you can create four exhibits of your own. I miss having the Observatory and am not really sure why they didn’t put it in this game, though.

Through doing various things in the game, you can also unlock Club LOL, which is a place that allows you to learn emotions from Dr. Shrunk during the day and to see K.K. Slider/DJ K.K. perform at night. If you go to see K.K. Slider when he’s not DJing, he’ll give you a copy of the song he just played, which you can use to play that song in your house or as album art decoration. If you’re there when he is DJing and not controlling your character, s/he will dance. (You can also dance using the D-pad.)

Additionally, you can get the fortune teller Katrina to open up shop; obtain a gardening store (that eventually gets integrated into the Nook brothers’ stores); and open the Dream Suite, which allows you to access dream versions of other player’s towns. It’s not quite like visiting someone’s town because you aren’t interacting with that player at all. There doesn’t seem to be a point to the Dream Suite other than possibly obtaining patterns if you really want them. Overall, there’s a nice selection of stores and the like. A couple of them could really stand to stay open a bit later, but there is an ordinance for that if you are a night owl.

At some point, you will be visited by Tortimer, the previous town mayor. He has retired and moved to an island (called Tortimer Island) that you can visit for 1,000 bells per round trip. Kapp’n will take you to the island, singing silly songs and making comments to the player. If 1-3 friends are visiting you when you go to the island, you can elect to take them along as well. You can’t take anything with you to Tortimer Island, but there is a box for storing things you find on the item (up to 40 slots) and a gyroid that lets you borrow items like a wet suit, fishing rod, shovel, etc.

Tortimer Island doesn’t use bells as currency; instead, you can earn medals by participating in mini-games. (I wouldn’t recommend selling anything at the island, as Leila will only buy them at 5% of their actual price.) The mini-games are fun, especially when playing with other people. You can do things like fish, catch bugs, scavenger hunt for furniture, hunt for fossils, and many other activities. I love the mini-games, especially when you get to play with friends. It’s become an almost nightly thing for me.

Depending on how well you do during the mini-games, you’ll get a Tortimer Award and varying levels of medals, assuming you at least complete the minimum requirements. Of course, you can always forego even trying the mini-game and run around collecting fruit and flowers, or talking to the gyroid next to Tortimer to rent equipment. Regardless of whether you meet the minimum requirements, so long as what you’ve collected has nothing to do with the mini-game, you’ll be able to keep it (e.g. you can’t keep fish you catch in the fishing mini-games). It’s a decent way to nab items to sell back home or to get rare fruit that you can then take home with you and plant at home so you don’t even have to go to the island for extra bells.

A word of warning for those who don’t have very strong internet connections: the mini-games are a lot harder with friends, especially with more than one friend, if you have a slow internet connection. This is especially true for the games that involve using the shovel and anything where you have to avoid holes in the ground. It is incredibly annoying to try to dig up an item for the item match mini-game and watching your shovel spin endlessly. It’s also incredibly annoying to be running around trying to shoot balloons out of the sky and run into someone or make a turn too slowly and get shoved into a crack that takes forever to get out of. For the former, there’s nothing much anyone can do about it. For the latter, it would have been better for the developers to just up the amount of balloons to pop and forego the cracks entirely.

The island is pretty ripe with ways to make a decent amount of bells. At night, high-value beetles inhabit the island, and you can dive for sea creatures like lobsters. Of course, you can always elect to ignore the mini-games and steal a bunch of fruit, as well. If you fill all 40 slots in the box with stacks of nine fruit, that’s 360 pieces of fruit you can sell. Tropical fruit sells for 250 bells each, so that’s 90,000 bells a dedicated player can get for little to no effort (though it will take time). Beetles range in value for 1,000-12,000  bells if you ignore the fruit beetles, so that can net you somewhere around 40,000-480,000 bells for a full box. This will take probably more time and effort than fruit, but the gains are much greater if you catch the right kinds of bugs, namely giant stags, golden stags, Goliath beetles, horned atlases, horned elephants, horned herculeses, and scarab beetles; each of those sells for at least 5,000 bells each, which brings your minimum earned for a full box to 200,000 bells. Not too bad for a 1,000 bell round trip ticket, huh?

Two things bother me about Tortimer Island. The first is that the island itself is incredibly small. If you’re by yourself, this isn’t a huge issue, but if you’re with friends, it can make it feel incredibly cramped, especially if you’re doing the same activity (e.g. bug catching). Even if you aren’t doing the same activity, since I can’t tell where my friends are on the island unless they’re directly in my line of sight, if my friend is bug catching and I’m walking to go fish somewhere, it is incredibly likely that I’m going to ruin her/his chances of catching some beetle or rare bug by scaring it off. I wish there was a way for us to expand the island or have it be bigger in the first place.

The second thing that bothers me about the island is more important: you can’t manually save. The only ways to have your game save is to start a mini-game or leave the island. This… is kind of a design flaw. I mean, I guess what the developers didn’t want was people saving and staying all day on the island or something, but what ends up happening is that if someone’s internet cuts out or their battery dies or something and they didn’t just play a mini-game, they’re out of luck. If you’ve been playing for two hours and haven’t saved and something happens, that’s on you, but when the game forces you into a position where you can’t save, even if you wanted to, I don’t know that I can feel comfortable with that. For instance, my friend Dee and I were playing on my island because we both wanted to buy a mermaid wardrobe, and my internet cut out (like it tends to do) and we both had just purchased the wardrobe and were getting ready to get into another mini-game after walking around outside. We lost the wardrobes we purchased, as well as some of our medal progress toward the piece. I… was not a happy camper. I would be okay with some kind of compromise, like I’m able to save whenever, but if my game does somehow get interrupted, I start back in the town and have to travel back to the island. That way I’m not ripping the game off by traveling to the island and staying there all day, reaping the benefits of being there during different times of the day, but I’m also not completely screwed if something goes wrong.

The game also offers free downloadable content through the 3DS’s SpotPass feature. So far I’ve been able to snag a rainbow screen and from what I’ve been able to gather, that will be available for the rest of June. In July, a palm tree lamp seems to be what’s on the menu. Additionally, stores are also offering items for people who stop into their store. Here are the items Best Buy will be offering, for example, along with the dates:

  • June 16th-June 29th – Raccoon Wall Clock
  • June 30th-July 13th – Cat Tower
  • July 14th-July 27th – Rolling suitcase
  • July 28th-August 10th – Double-neck Guitar

Don’t live near a Best Buy? No worries! I live about sixty miles from the closest Best Buy and all you have to do to get these DLC items (at least unless Best Buy changes what they’re doing) is change your SSID to “Bestbuy” (case sensitive) and set up a connection on your 3DS for that SSID. If you’ve done it right, the 3DS should tell you that you’re near a Nintendo Zone. You don’t need to actually access the Nintendo Zone; just start playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf, go to the post office, and ask about a present. I can confirm that this works as this is how I got my raccoon wall clock today on the 18th. This has even been said to work in Quebec, where if I am understanding correctly, this offer wasn’t available, though I don’t know about other areas. If you’d prefer to actually go to Best Buy to get the items, however, you can look up your nearest participating store here.

This game is far more addicting for me than its predecessors were. As much as I thought the series was cute and had appeal to the right people, it wasn’t really something that I spent a lot of time in, even on a weekly basis. Part of that problem was that I didn’t really know anyone else with the game; most people had moved on by the time I had gotten to Wild World, for instance. Since getting this game on the 10th, however, I have put in 50+ hours and had several friends from various countries visit my town. It’s been awesome. While the game certainly has its charm, it’s its ability to let you interact with other people and to see what the vision they have for their own town that really reels me in. Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of having complete and total control over the growth of an entire town, but it’s only interesting if I get to share my ideas and compare them to what other people have done. It’s also great to have a friend who just started the game come over to my town and for me to show them the ropes. Those kinds of interactions are going to be what makes this game great in the long run.

Only time will tell if I stay as interested after I’ve purchased almost everything I need in the game, but if they can continue to find ways to keep me engaged with the game through DLC and other events, I definitely want to keep these in my list of 3DS titles.

Short Attention Span Summary
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is, along with Fire Emblem: Awakening, one of the best 3DS games so far this year. If you’re even remotely a fan of life simulation-type games, or think you might be, this is worth the investment. The characters are cute, there are even more options for customization than in the past. Though the game has its faults, it should say enough that I put somewhere over fifty hours into the game so far.



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Crystal Steltenpohl

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