Exploring the City Limits
August 7, 2008 – It’s been a couple of weeks since Animal Crossing: City Folk for Wii was announced at the E3 Nintendo Press Conference. Most of us weren’t surprised with the announcement, but rather pleased with the confirmation of a game that thousands of Animal Crossing fans were anxiously waiting for. While checking out Nintendo’s new product line, I had the opportunity to sit with some representatives and play Animal Crossing: City Folk. I was mostly pleased with the new title, despite a couple of gripes, which thankfully aren’t too important.
Animal Crossing was a success on the GameCube, and the DS version of the game (Wild World) expanded the game even further, taking it where it had never gone before and increasing the addiction levels. The biggest innovation of the DS version was the online capabilities, allowing users to connect to other friends via Nintendo Wi-Fi. Voice chat wasn’t there, but at least an on-screen keyboard would let players communicate. The beauty about the new Animal Crossing for Wii is the voice chat feature. Thanks to a new peripheral also announced at the conference (WiiSpeak), players will be able to talk while visiting each other’s town. This sleek microphone sits on top of the Wii sensor bar and seems to be quite sensitive, because even sitting several feet away from the microphone, other players were able to hear us.
Slowly but surely, Nintendo is catching up with the competition. I’m glad about that, because I have lots of friends and family living far away and I consider voice chat extremely important. For those who prefer not to use it, they will still be able to type messages on the onscreen keyboard or directly plug in a USB keyboard.
However, that’s not the only innovation added to the title. The biggest addition is the city. Your town is no longer the only place where you spend your time. As long as you’re not online playing with others, you can go to the bus station and take a ride to the metropolitan area. The city is full of new surprises, but one of the coolest is the Auction House. We all know the Animal Crossing community is huge, and they’ve been selling and auctioning virtual in-game items for quite a while via the Internet. Seeing this implemented in the game itself is a big plus and, while I don’t doubt many will continue to use forums for their daily Animal Crossing trades, having it right in the game will make it that much more interactive, dynamic, and community-oriented.
Tom Nook will continue to be the big daddy in town. The savvy raccoon will once again have his own store and help players grow their home and object collection (while he grows his own establishment). Gracie will have a retail store as well, and she will sell special items that aren’t available all year long. Harriet’s saloon is also located in the city. Players can get their characters a new haircut or a complete makeover. You can either keep a classic, Animal Crossing-style visage or use a Mii. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities. For example, there were three other characters visiting my town when I played. Two of these were instantly recognizable: Mario and Luigi. To my surprise, one of those special guests was the actor who makes Mario and Luigi’s voice. It’s-a-meeee! Maaaaario!
Another interesting location in the city is the theater. It will have music and comedy shows. We don’t know how deep they will be, but it sounds like a fun time. The Sable sisters are still open for business and now doing better than ever. Their clothing design workshop will allow you to create all front, back, and sleeves of your new shirts. Then you can easily take and save pictures of your character and show off your creations (via WiiConnect 24 or SD card).
Other special characters include Jingle, who always comes home for Christmas, and a new Easter visitor who will hide eggs all over town. The real-time factor is one of the best things the game has to offer, keeping the gameplay fresh and new characters coming. I’m sure we’ll see many more familiar faces and won’t be missing anyone from the GameCube and DS versions. Or so we hope!
The game will include hundreds of new objects never seen in previous versions. Much like in Wild World, players will also receive special items from Nintendo once in a while via WiiConnect 24. Those who can’t get online with their Wiis will still be able to play with their friends and exchange items by downloading their town into the DS and then loading it into their friends’ Nintendo Wii.
Graphics wise, the game hasn’t changed a whole lot. I’d dare to say it basically looks the same as on the DS, except this time it’s on a big screen and with 480p resolution. Textures have remained intact and typical objects like trees, rocks, etc. haven’t changed either. This issue, coupled with the overly simplistic controls, is my biggest complaint thus far. I would have liked to see a visual upgrade. Instead, we’ll continue to get the almost two-dimensional, top-side view, which isn’t always the most convenient. I also hate having to go all around the edge of a hill and look for stairs to go down instead of being able to jump to the lower level. Luckily, my town on the DS only has one level!
The controls are very simple and work well. The only problem is that motion-sensing hasn’t been implemented for activities like fishing, digging, or catching bugs. This will still be done with the push of a button. If you play without the Nunchuk, you can use the pointer to tell the character where to go and then use the face buttons for different actions (running, using an object, entering menus, etc). When you attach a Nunchuk to the Wii Remote, the control stick will move the character, A will be used for actions, and B to speed up.
The inventory screen is almost the same as in previous installments, which in this case is a good thing, since it’s what players are used to. Also unchanged are the typical sounds of the game and the funny gibberish talk. Decorating your home and getting a good score from the Happy Room Academy (now with city headquarters) will also remain one of the main goals. It’s important to keep a good balance between tradition and innovation, and I think better visuals and motion-sensitive controls would have sealed the deal. However, everything else is very exciting and there’s no doubt in my mind that this game will completely satisfy Animal Crossing fans and keep them busy for years to come. Yes…that’s it! Years!