Circus Reviews - Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

When I was a teenager, I was not always the most fond of being dragged along on my parents' various shopping trips, but since these were the days before I had a smartphone, I was at least a lot easier to keep entertained. (Except at RV shows. Fuck RV shows.) If we happened to be going somewhere with video games, and I happened to have some allowance money left at the time, I was a bit more enthusiastic. One day, we went to a shopping center that had a store selling mostly CDs and various games, and it was here that I picked up the GameCube version of Animal Crossing, entirely on a whim. I ended up really enjoying it, but over the years I've played it less and less, and I never played any of its sequels. My interest was piqued again, however, at the announcement of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, the latest entry in the franchise.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, like the rest of the games in its series, has you play as the only human in a world filled entirely with colorful talking animals, most of whom like to ask you for stuff and heap praise on you for merely existing. You arrive at a campsite only for a dog named Isabelle to mistake you for the campsite's new manager. You, being a relatively cheerful and easygoing sort, decide to roll with this, and now, a campsite manager is you!

The bulk of the game is centered around befriending other animals and getting them to visit your campsite. The personality system of previous games is absent; instead, animals are grouped into what kinds of decorations and furniture they like the best. Each group has its own set of dialogue, and the animals themselves have a few personalized sayings here and there. There are plenty of noticeable repetitions, but the villagers are numerous and likable enough that it's not too frustrating to deal with.

Doing requests for villagers will reward you with crafting items, which you can use to make furniture or amenities for your campsite. You can also catch fish, collect bugs, pick fruit, or just sit around rearranging furniture all day, all of which are worthwhile pastimes. Crafting takes time and animals will only ask for so many items in a given period, but as you might expect from a mobile app, you can use real world money to buy Leaf Tickets that will allow you to speed things up one way or another. You are able to earn Leaf Tickets in-game too, thankfully, and the game itself remains very self-aware about mixing real-world money with someone like Tom Nook.

Slightly insidious microtransactions aside, the game does a very good job of evoking the Animal Crossing feel. There are plenty of little details throughout that happily reminded me of the original game, like the way the fish look in the water or the way that characters who see you catch something will clap for you. Certain elements have been streamlined or eliminated, like the museum and the shops, and while what's there instead generally works, there are a few hiccups here and there. The crafting system makes furniture relatively easy to access, but clothes crafting is conspicuously absent, and currently the only way to purchase clothing is through the randomly rotating shops in the Market Place (animals will also gift you clothing items at higher levels of friendship). Clothes crafting is "coming soon" according to a message in the crafting store, but I kind of wish it had been a launch feature, because one of my absolute favorite parts of the original game was the ability to design your own clothing, and the way that the series has advanced makes me think that it would be especially fun here.

One problem that inevitably comes along with the time-based, microtransaction-encouraging format is that it's easy to run out of things to do, putting you in a situation where you either have to fork over real dollars to get things moving again or go live in the real world for a while instead. I suppose games like this aren't meant to be played constantly at once unless you have a bottomless wallet, and regardless, I do still want to keep coming back. Another unfortunate but perhaps unavoidable issue is the constant server crashes; for me it takes on average three full restarts for me to actually get into the game, and the game will randomly give you error messages or force you back to the title screen instead of completing actions. Nintendo have acknowledged the server problems, and I can't say that they're at all surprising, but it isn't very soothing to my low pool of patience. To be honest, I don't play very many mobile games for this reason.

If you can deal with the above frustrations, though, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a worthy addition to the series. It builds on the existing structure in a way that evokes some nice nostalgia, but also keeps things fresh and updated for all the younglings running around with smartphones these days. It succeeds in making me want to devote my free time to a bunch of begging animals, though it has not yet succeeded in getting any real money out of me (mostly because I'm poor). It also kind of makes me want to go back and try the original game again. It's fun and it's cute and it's a good time. Besides, who doesn't want to spend their days on a permanent vacation in a world where talking animals tell you how wonderful you are?

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is available on the App Store and Google Play.

Final verdict: While it suffers the inevitable flaws of a mobile launch title, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp mixes nostalgia and new ideas into a sweet and fun little game that will keep you coming back.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is developed and published by Nintendo. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

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