This Review was originally written for a separate Blog, on 11 November, 2016. It’s included here for prosperity.
Originally released in Europe on 14th June 2013, Animal Crossing New Leaf broke new ground for the popular Life-Sim franchise, with fresh customisation and rewarding gameplay. Now more than three years later, the game has been given the most robust free update of any software in Nintendo’s history.
The ‘Welcome amiibo‘ update adds a wealth of new content as well as functionality for a new range of amiibo cards and past amiibo figures. At just over a third of the New Leaf’s original download size, the new additions aim to keep even the most hardcore fans happy whilst also bringing in new players.
The new set of 50 New Leaf -Welcome amiibo cards will launch in Europe 11th November (already available in Japan, 2nd December in North America), Animal Crossing New Leaf – Welcome amiibo will launch as a full physical game on 25th November.
Below, we’ll look into all the new content and it’s pros & cons, but first let’s quickly reflect on New Leaf, before the fresh additions…
NEW LEAF RETROSPECTIVE
As the fourth game in the franchise, Animal Crossing New Leaf for Nintendo 3DS made an honest attempt to revitalise the series…
At it’s core, the Animal Crossing series is about sharing your world with animal neighbours. You have a house to decorate and a town to maintain, which is populated by a variety of cute and needy animal friends. Helping them allows you to earn money, obtain items and build friendships. Innovatively, the game also utilises the time & date to match real world events, creating ‘once a year’ experiences which feel genuine and valuable.
However, the franchise had become stagnant in the decade between it’s original release and the 3DS game. It’s early Nintendo 64 and GameCube (2001) titles felt satisfyingly deep, but when it came to creating Nintendo DS (Wild World, 2005) and Wii (City Folk, 2008) instalments, Nintendo simply copied & pasted much of the original, adding very little new content. As a result the once comforting, homely experience began to feel overly familiar and cheap, without new ideas or further creativity.
Players expected more and the franchise was at a cross-roads, the next game needed to feel fresh if the franchise was to have a long life and New Leaf did well to deliver.
For the first time, players could take on the role of Town Mayor, and customise not just their homes but also the village around them by commissioning Public Works Projects such as a fountain, lighthouse or café etc.
Multiple new animal species were also added as well as a handful of new timed events and hundreds of new items for decorating house and home. Each town was also expanded with the introduction of a ‘Main Street’. This area contains all the staple shops and utilities, while adding a few new ones. This freed up more space in the core-town environment for personalisation.
Besides jump starting the series again, New Leaf has proven Animal Crossing is perfect on a handheld. Despite being centred around a home, being able to take your entire town wherever you go means you’re less likely to miss out on those real-time events the game is known for.
Animal Crossing was already something special to me before it came to 3DS, but New Leaf has definitely earned it’s place as ‘more than a game’ in my heart. A quick glance through the history of any Crossing themed online forums will show you several accounts from players claiming the game helped them through depressions, social anxiety or other life issues. New Leaf provided them with a safe, friendly headspace which also promotes communication with other Players through online and local multiplayer. In my experience, New Leaf has definitely helped me remain positive about life! In fact, on an unfortunate occasion my Mum suffered a serious injury, I gave her a 2DS and copy of the game. Despite being unable to walk unaided for several months, New Leaf gave her an important sense of freedom during her long recovery, and the town of ‘Teapot’ is still going strong long afterwards! I’ve also made a handful of good friendships with people all over the world thanks to this title.
So far, New Leaf has been a mega hit for the Nintendo 3DS, selling over 9million worldwide to date.
In short, it does what it says on the tin. Far from rehashing an old experience, the series felt fresh and revitalised. Nintendo listened to it’s fans and showed that they do care about the franchise and where it’s headed, and this couldn’t be exemplified better than with the new Welcome amiibo update.
WELCOME AMIIBO – UPDATE REVIEW
At the most, I expected this update would do little more than plicate fans with a few items ported in for other ‘current generation’ Animal Crossing games whilst also being offered the chance to buy more amiibo… Something I am tired of but also still give into from time to time.
However, while watching the Mini Direct on 2nd November it quickly became clear that this was something of a spotlight moment for the Crossing Development Team. Hosted by Series Producer, Hasashi Nagomi himself, the Mini Direct had a fun, quirky appeal that gave a strong message that this was something Nintendo’s team were proud to show.
The major additions in the update were the introduction of a campsite area, two mini-games, as well as some User Interface gubbins that was long over-due a digital patch. Overall fans got more than most expected, as although the pressure to buy amiibo is certainly present, there’s also a lot of content in the update which is free to anyone, no purchase necessary.
However, it’s important not to become part of an echo chamber for the series’ fandom, there are some downsides.
HARVEY’S CAMPSITE & MEOW COUPONS
The new Campsite area in Welcome amiibo allows players to interact with lesser seen characters such as Jingle the Christmas Reindeer, Jack the Pumpkin, or Pascal the Otter. Most of these are only seen on rare special occasions, but meeting them here helps expand their personality and also allows players to access some of their special items more easily.
As well as those characters, a new set of amiibo cards can also be scanned in, introducing new exclusive animals to visit your camp with some new items which you can buy (a lot of which are taken from Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer).
Items can be bought from the Campsite using MEOW Coupons (Mutual Exchange Of Wealth), a new currency in New Leaf – Welcome amiibo. At first, I rolled my eyes at this, as this brings the number of currencies in New Leaf to at least four! Multiple currencies is something of a reoccurring issue for Nintendo, which cause artificial game elongation, and are just outright confusing for some players. However, the logic of the Coupons does become clear once you start earning them.
You acquire MEOW Coupons by completing Town Initiatives, such as ‘pick fruit’, ‘plant trees’, ‘catch bugs’ etc. Basically the usual everyday stuff you would do in Animal Crossing, but now it has it’s own extra reward on top.
When spending the Coupons, you may only order three campsite items per day. Each camper van can hold multiple rare items, which can lead to your collecting lasting several days or more with every amiibo. The Campsite shop run by Harvey only stocks two items per day. This is drip feeding but it’s also something veteran New Leaf players will be aware of. When you start a new town in New Leaf, you can often only access one new feature per-day, and although it can feel like it’s own ‘artificial elongation’ as a I mention before, in this case it helps to keep new players from being overwhelmed! There is a lot to learn in New Leaf, but any new buyers picking it up post-update should find these additions seamlessly integrated into the original game.
As for the new Villagers, they’re entirely made up of past Crossing cast members who haven’t previously appeared in New Leaf. Some of them haven’t been seen since the GameCube, so it’s wonderful to be reminded of old favourites. On top of the Crossing cards, you can also use the older card sets to invite original villagers too. Outside of the Animal Crossing range of amiibo, Zelda and Splatoon amiibo allow you to invite some brand new crossover characters from those games.
It’s these crossover characters I find the most exciting at the moment, as it’s a totally new concept for the series. Japanese players can even introduce Felyne from the Monster Hunter series (the line is current exclusive to that region, but are not region locked…).
Having character crossovers has the potential to water-down the core Crossing experience, as too many foreign introductions could strip the game of it’s own personality. But here it’s the Zelda and Splatoon crew who have been made to bend to the Crossing way of things and seeing characters like Ganon in the Crossing art style is just too cute.
That being said, I don’t know if I would have rushed out to buy a Splatoon amiibo for this, had I not already owned them, but it’s a great feature for any hardcore fans of these multiple franchises.
DESERT ISLAND ESCAPE & PUZZLE LEAGUE
Welcome amiibo introduces two new mini-games to New Leaf as well, however, they aren’t 100% original. For starters, Desert Island Escape is lifted directly from the Wii U ‘party game’ Animal Crossing Amiibo Festival. Itself, a cynical amiibo cash grab, Desert Island Escape was possibly the only valuable asset in Amiibo Festival.
Accessed via an in-game Wii U, you choose three Villagers to be stranded on an island with a limited amount of time to escape. These Villagers are taken either from your town (at the cost of 2 Play Coins each (3DS currency earned by walking)) or by scanning in amiibo (at the cost of real money). Each animal has different stats and abilities based on their species, which means building the right team for each environment.
At first, the mini-game doesn’t present much challenge, but with three difficulty levels containing 10 islands each, things get quickly get tricky. Your success is based on how you choose to explore, and your chance of overcoming problems you find is decided by a spinning wheel of fortune on the touch screen. Your chances in each scenario vary based on what items you have, or what kind of animal you’re exploring with.
As I said, Desert Island Escape feels ‘fun but shallow’ at first glance, but once you get deep into things you’ll soon realise that only the right team will lead to great success. Every time you visit an island, resources are moved slightly but occupy vaguely the same areas, so you have a chance to memorise locations and beat your high scores over and over if you wish. The fun of replaying old stages with new teams is quite addictive. This calls into question which town residences are more valuable than others for team building or… if you’ll be tempted to buy more amiibo cards to attain specific Villagers. Hitting a high score on any given island will grant you some MEOW Coupons or a congratulatory item from Nintendo (island themed gubbins), so it pays to do well.
I’ve found Desert Island Escape very engrossing so far, but I’m concerned later stages may become more and more difficult until you’re forced to build the perfect dream teams, by buy amiibo cards. I have a few cards as it is, but some players might find this potential ‘pay to play’ concept a bit harsh, especially if their towns are populated with a weak variety of Villagers.
This concern continues when playing Animal Crossing Puzzle League, which is also lifted from the franchise of the same name. you access this via an in-game New Nintendo 3DS item. This is your basic colour matching/tetris clone, but it’s addictive qualities aren’t to be underestimate. By matching identical fruits horizontally and vertically, Players can earn high scores resulting in rare furniture as a reward (a custom set based specifically on Puzzle League).
There’s a Story Mode to work through as well as four other highscore modes with various limitations. Time Attack, Score Attack, Garbage Attack, Candy Mode.
As you play through Story Mode you’ll be introduced to extra obstacles which make up the content for the other additional modes. The Story tasks you to beat the ‘League’, made up multiple Animal Challengers, some of this will be your own residents. The game has a great aesthetic and great music with satisfying sound effects. However, there is a strong element of luck involved. Although you will need to master the game to beat it’s harder stages, unless you get a good selection of tiles to match, you will find yourself getting ‘Game Over’ quite a lot. Fortunately, there are unlimited continues, but sometimes it’ll just be a case of replaying the same stage over and over until you get that ‘perfect storm’ of good tiles and you own skill.
To make the game a little easier, you can scan in an amiibo to assist you. But unlike all the other modes of Welcome amiibo this feature is only for Animal Crossing amiibo Figures. So even though I have a lot of amiibo cards, a lot of which duplicate characters found in the Figures set, I can’t scan them in for help.
The addition of these two mini-games, Desert Island Escape and Puzzle League, came as a major surprise to New Leaf fans. But it’s their focus on amiibo which puts the spotlight on more cynical motivations. I would have happily paid £5 a piece for these as DLC, but given most fans will likely be tempted to buy cards or figures to play them fully, Nintendo will probably make plenty of profit regardless.
OTHER ADDITIONS AND CONCLUSION
As well as the more obvious additions, there are also some nice behind-the-scenes updates included in Welcome amiibo.
Players can now expand their homes storage by adding in a ‘secret storage’ locker. This is accessed on the bottom screen, and can hold up to 360 items (four times more than the standard closet). By upgrading to this, you’ll also be introduced to Lottie, from Happy Home Designer. She’ll give you a quick tutorial on how to organise your home’s interior using the touch screen! This is a new feature in New Leaf – Welcome amiibo, which has been directly lifted from Happy Home Designer. This is a fantastic addition as it makes decorating your rooms about a thousand times faster, and it’s also respectful to fans, as having this feature in one 3DS title but not the other didn’t make much sense. It does however, effectively nullify Happy Home Designer as a worthwhile game. HHD still offers fans some unique opportunities such as creating an Animal Crossing school or hospital, but speaking as a serious fan… I can’t honestly see myself playing it again after this. The new set of amiibo cards aren’t compatible with it either.
It’s also possible to receive some other bonuses if you have both New Leaf and Happy Home Designer. Linking your save file will unlock some new ‘giant’ items in New Leaf, which is a nice little bonus for those who own both games. I own both digitally, so I’ve not been able to test if giving your Cartridge to friends would allow other players with New Leaf to benefit, or perhaps it’s a one time event for each pair of games.
There are also a number of little tweaks to the game to make things more fun. You can now sit on rocks, Villagers give you more notice before the move out, wearing a Mii Mask changes your Player Character’s body skin colour (not just face) etc.
The best of all though, is that Villagers moving into town via the Campsite will not place their houses on top of town paths. This means, by laying path textures in undesirable locations, players can determine where new Villagers will live and protect other areas from damage! I’m in the process of shifting Villagers around to more pleasing locations, but as I choose not to time travel (changing my 3DS System Clock to speed through the Animal Crossing calendar), this could take some time.
As well as having this ‘backdoor route’ to choosing where Villagers live, having a new Villager move in from the Campsite will give you to options to choose who to kick out of town! This only occurs if you already have a full town of 10 Villagers, but it will let fans weed out the more undesirables. A little oversight in this mechanic, however, is if that the new Villager will build their house in the exact location of the old Villager’s house. Meaning, if you’re trying to kick out a resident to reclaim a spoiled plot of land, you’ll have to do it the old way and just wait for them to leave naturally.
Overall, the Welcome amiibo update is something special. No one would have foreseen such a thing happening for such an ‘old’ title. For most fans it offers a lot of new features that will help to extend their New Leaf experience without feeling too artificial or overwhelming. However, my biggest gripe with it is that it can create a divide in players who have amiibo and those who have none. Yes, they’re optional, but there are many cases, such as in the new mini games, where the suggestion that amiibo would improve your enjoyment is quite strong. This could be especially gritty for fans playing on the Original Nintendo 3DS model, which requires a pricey external accessory to scan in amiibo at all.
Before, New Leaf was a simple Life-Sim in which all players had equal chance to experience the full depth of the game. Now, for those who can’t afford or chose not to buy amiibo, you effectively have a group of ‘second class citizens’ in Animal Crossing, who will be constantly reminded that amiibo are a thing and you should want to buy that thing. You could choose simply to not update if this is something that would irritate you, but that has the potential to castrate the game’s online and multiplayer features.
But as I said, I think the update adds enough that most people won’t feel the burn if they still choose not to use amiibo. As a fan who already owns New Nintendo 3DS and a lot of amiibo, I’ve been fully enjoying every new aspect I discover. I don’t intend on buying any Animal Crossing amiibo Figures, but I did order a few packs of the new amiibo cards for the Campsite. So despite the update being free to play, Nintendo certainly still has a hold of my wallet.
In the case of Animal Crossing New Leaf – Welcome amiibo as it’s own game, I find it hard not to recommend it very highly. I do have a sense of regret that the update could push fans to spend money on something they might not fully want, but overall New Leaf was a spectacular game before, and even with some cynicism, the update has added enough new features for free that it’s hard not to give it a pass. I would definitely recommend giving it a go if you enjoy Life-Sims, or if you just want to relax and play something more slow paced.
It’ll be interesting to see what effect this has on Animal Crossing in the future. Will the next instalment launch with these features? If so, will amiibo become an effectively mandatory tool for customising your town? And does being able to pick & choose Villagers cheapen the ‘real world’ feeling of the game?
Personally, I think Nintendo will always try to keep things simple for Animal Crossing. They tried once before the push the Figures on fans with Amiibo Festival, and it simply wasn’t wanted. So long as the inclusion of amiibo is smart and valuable I’ll be happy to take part, but I also assume Nintendo will keep functionality reasonably optional in future, as a safety net for any marketing ideas that don’t quite work out.
What do you think of the update? Has it brought you back to Animal Crossing? Or are you an entirely new player feeling tempted to try New Leaf for the first time? Let us know your thoughts.
Until next time!
PS: Despite pre-ordering more than a month in advance, AmazonUK wasn’t able to supply me with the new amiibo cards at launch. Nintendo Online Store is also sold out. Another ‘controlled shortage’ on Nintendo’s end, I think.
This Review was originally written for a separate Blog, on 11 November, 2016. It’s included here for prosperity.