Animal Crossing: Wild World DS Review

Animal Crossing is an impossible game to review. Every game is different, every experience unique. Having realised this, I almost gave up trying to review it. Almost.

Animal Crossing first saw the (Japanese) light of day on the N64, which hardly comes as a surprise given the cutesy nature of the game. Unfortunately, it was released in the dying days of the system and didn’t travel to different shores until a year later, to critical acclaim in the US, released solely on the GameCube. Us poor Europeans had to wait a further two years for the release.

Thankfully, the DS sequel was only delayed four months (only) before European gamers got to savour its charming enchantment. Boasting impressive graphics, free-form gameplay and the ability to visit other players via Wifi, the game has much to recommend it.

You begin the game as a humble traveller to the town, a new human resident amongst the entirely animal population. After a short and amusing conversation with the frog taxi driver, you are dropped outside the town hall with nothing but the clothes on your back. Fortunately, the residents are expecting your arrival and Tom Nook, the owner of the local shop is prepared to set you up with a house and a job (which serves as a cunning tutorial for playing the game). Pretty soon, though, you exhaust the work set for you and Nook lets you go. After that, it’s up to you what you want to do.

In fact, the sheer possibilities of the game are bewildering at first. You could choose to decorate your house with all manner of funky and interesting furniture, strike up friendships with every animal in town, create a landscape worthy of a TV garden make-over or prowl the woods for bugs or trawl the rivers and sea in search of the rarest fish. Pretty soon, however, it becomes apparent that to get the most delectable of items and equipment, you’re going to need money and lots of it. In fact, you’ve still got that debt to Nook to pay off (You didn’t think one afternoon’s worth of work would pay that off an entire house, did you?). Money in Animal Crossing: Wild World comes in the form of Bells, and isn’t all that hard to come by. Selling fish, fossils and bugs to the ever-capitalist Nook will make up the majority of your income, but money (literally and figuratively) grows on trees.

A quick word of warning should be passed on here, perhaps. If you like your games fast and furious, don’t buy AC:WW. The player must invest hours of toil in order to build up a reasonable bank balance. If you don’t mind playing for hours, you’ll be hooked.

The game is immersive. Even when you’re not playing, you’re aware that time is moving in-game. AC:WW runs on a 24-hour real time cycle. The shops close at 23:00 every day and don’t open again until 8:00am the following day. Different bugs and fish will be around at different times of the day or night, and some are even seasonal, only appearing between certain dates every year. The in-game calendar is littered with a number of events and festivals, from fireworks displays to flee markets.

After a while, though, the constant fishing and bug-hunting begins to feel too much like real work. Then the constantly changing roster of animals living in your town, as well as a large number of special characters will provide you with amusing diversions. Wifi also helps out here, as visiting other player’s towns can be very entertaining and even a great way to boost your income. The general quality of players (in my experience) has been excellent, so long as you stick to gamers your own age. There’s certainly no shortage of people to swap Friend Codes with through forums, if you don’t have any real-life friends who play.

The graphics are excellent, with vibrant colours and relatively smooth 3-d graphics. Special mention should be made of the sound. From the town’s background music (which changes regularly) to the sound of the sea breaking on the beaches, everything is crisp and clean.

Also worth a mention is the fact that nearly everything in the game can be customised to your tastes. Don’t like the jingle that plays every time you pass through a door? Fine. Change it in the town hall. Don’t like the way the stars look at night? Visit the museum’s observatory to make new constellations. Think a particular area looks a bit bare? Plant trees, cut others down, plant flowers and breed hybrids to add different colours. The beautiful thing about the world is that its your world.

Which brings us on to a possible flaw. Each game cartridge can only hold one town at a time. Each town can have four different players in residence, though only one can play at a time. However, each player can change the other players’ items at will, destroy carefully nurtured plants or send nasty letters to residents to make them move out. It’s not really a game to let siblings share, unless they get along really well. I share my town with my girlfriend, and we’ve managed to quarrel at least once about carelessly ruining patches of flowers.

On that note, I’d like to point out to all of you despairing of your significant other’s complete lack of interest in gaming. My girlfriend never once played a game with me before I bought AC:WW. Whilst on holiday, she tried it out of boredom. She’s never looked back. If you want to get someone to start enjoying gaming, AC:WW is probably your best bet.

One reason for this, I suspect, is the simplicity of the interface. The touch screen is perfect for directing your avatar to do your bidding and the lack of a cluttered HUD means that the only on-screen distraction is a small inventory button. All the tools are used by tapping on the area on which you would wish to use them, whether you want to catch a fish or dig up a tree-stump. Also, the game will reward you whether you are a casual gamer or a more serious player. You never feel penalised for setting it down for a few days before returning.

If it’s a game to while away your free hours without having to get too stressed by end of level bosses or irritating puzzles, then AC:WW is your game. Whether you want to play for half-an-hour or more, you’ll always find things to do and always end with another reason to come back. The attachment that builds up between you and your town is something rare, and you’ll happily spend time improving life for everyone there. Wifi adds that little bit of extra interest to ensure that Animal Crossing: Wild World will hold your interest for a good while to come. Don’t be put off by the kiddie look of it. It’s as deep as any other DS game on the market at the moment, and twice as fun.