Review: Animal Crossing

November 13, 2002 12:37 AM PST

To play Animal Crossing is much like entering the carnival funhouse, where the mirrors twist and consort to fit their own whims, and the world transforms into a simulacrum of simple measures and childhood book animals with moon ball heads, of a pastiche that may vaguely resemble your own community. The town evolves along with the movements of time (if youíre celebrating a holiday in real life, the town is also celebrating it, and that is one of the very large joys of playing this game), but its representation of life is so bright, pliable and fun that anyone with respect for the idyllic qualities of childhood will find themselves irresistibly attracted and wholly at home in the comfortable amicabilities of the town.

The game can be explained in less than a heartbeat (live in a town and try to live it well) so if the all-rendering goal of the game appears diaphanous, itís because there truly is none to speak of. Talk to your neighbors and perform tasks for them, send out letters, collect fruit, fish, bugs, shells, plant trees or cut them down, dig holes, donate to the museum, decorate your house to your tastes, play some NES games, and trade items with friends, real life or not. To explain most of these further would be pointless considering who out there hasnít written a letter, or socialized at a convocation, or dug a hole and planted a tree? But the fact that these prima facie rudimentary tasks never cease to be a satisfying and endless source of fun, proves not only the skill of a company that could only come from decades in the business, but is testimony that they should never become anything less than important in our lives. Animal Crossing is not only a mirror of life, it is also about the simple things and a small celebration of them.

And of course how good can a communication game be without actual human communication? With the lack of an online component, trading items with other people seemed impossible but Nintendo has devised solution so simple and smart that itís incredible it hasnít been used before. Simply type in the town of where you want to send your item and its recipient and then youíre given a two-line tailored password, containing the name and town information. Up to four people can also take up a plot of land in Animal Crossing or you can visit someone elseís town through their memory card, so invite your friends, relatives, neighbors, chums, associates, and Kevin Bacon to play too. Thereís nothing quite like a little healthy competition as people rout themselves to find the best items in town or listen to the denizens ramble on and on about your neighbors.

When playing, I often ruminate, though can never pinpoint, about what specific element that makes the animals so saccharine. Maybe because of what they do, or how they do it, or maybe because theyíre just walking, talking, smiling animals. Thereís something ineluctably sweet, near nauseating, about a small creature that picks fallen fruit from a tree or shells that have washed up on a shore like theyíre the treasure of Atlantis, that itís borderline to something from the Sanrio collection. And certainly that overt cuteness is a negative aspect for those looking for more serious, stolid games that play with a poker face but it Iíd certainly take this over the sleaziness, however realistic, of something like The Sims. Enjoy the game for what it is, for thereís so much to do, and never mind that everything is just cyclical, and because itís a titanic game of the simplest proportions.

Considering the effusive mien of the review, it must sound like Animal Crossing has been a crown of a transcendental nature or some experience of salvation and epiphany. But this is just a game and is not capable of evoking such emotions. Its lack of delusions of grandeur thatís also free from heavy pretensions is whatís truly, piercingly astonishing. And thatís along with its soft childhood-like sensibilities, ones that are usually only retrieved from games by Ferry Halim, but to find it spread out across an entire game like a mass of quicksilver is something of a miraculous event. Like our lives that Nintendo is emulating, there is no ultimate reason why you should be excited to wake up every morning, as there is no reason why you should play Animal Crossing every day. But, like life, there is no reason not to.

Alex Vo

Pros: Creative and fiendishly enthralling..

Cons: Tedious...But the good kind of tedious.


















Release Date
September 17, 2002