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Nothing new to see with 'City Folk'

Dec 15, 2008

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Animal Crossing as a series is officially the Seinfeld of video games. It's a game about nothing, and as boring as that sounds, it worked wonderfully in the original on GameCube and even moreso on Animal Crossing: Wild World for DS.

Anyone expecting a leap forward in terms of gameplay, graphics or features in Wii's Animal Crossing: City Folk is in for a major disappointment though.

Animal Crossing: City FolkFor those who have never experienced the world of Animal Crossing, it's a Sim-like game that has you living out the life of a cutesy boy or girl in a small town. Everyday life consists of all kinds of inane activities, from talking to other members of your town (all of them a different species of animal), to digging up fossils to be put on display in the local museum, to shopping at the local stores for new household items or clothes.

We say inane, but for the first two versions of Animal Crossing, all of this stuff was still all oddly compelling to be doing these daily tasks and routines. The series has always been brimming with charm, and it's usually nearly impossible to ever get frustrated - though City Folk manages even that (we'll get to that in a bit).

This third entry in the series really is a disappointment though, because we've done almost everything before. There is absolutely nothing new about the way you catch fish, mail letters, or grow fruit trees. We've seen Nintendo borrow from itself before (just look at Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy or Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess), but for the most part it's a developer that knows how to successfully change things up enough to make something new out of a masterpiece.

Problem is, though Animal Crossing can be fun, the games in the series have never been masterpieces, so rehashing a fun-but-somewhat-forgettable game not once, but twice, is something that people will notice.

City Folk throws a few new things into the mix. For the first time in Wii's two-year lifespan, gamers are able to talk to each other in-game thanks to the new Wii Speak microphone. Unlike the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3's wireless headsets, the Wii Speak mic is hooked up to the Wii console via USB and sits on top of your television. It allows anyone in the room to speak while also emitting voices from the other end. It works quite well, muting most background noise while clearly playing the voices of those you're chatting with. It turns on automatically when you enter another town or someone enters yours, and even if someone you're playing with doesn't have the microphone, they can still hear you talk through their television (and they can always reply using the in-game text chat).

There's also a new central city hub that players can visit now, but this feature does nothing to enhance the Animal Crossing experience. Everyone you meet in this city is an NPC, so if you're hoping to meet players from across the world here, don't hold your breath. There are a few places where you can change your hairstyle, buy expensive furniture, or learn new expressions, but why all of these things couldn't be included in your town (like most of them were in Wild World!) is beyond understanding.

The multiplayer portion of Animal Crossing for the most part is a letdown. Just like in Wild World, if you want to visit another town or invite some to your own, you have to exchange friend codes and go through the often tedious process of opening your town gates or searching for friends with their gates open. There are no automatic alerts to tell you when friends are online, and we would have loved to see a feature that would automatically open your gates every time you turned the game on.

Oh, and worst of all, despite up to four people being able to move into a town on one Wii, those players can't play simultaneously; it's one-at-a-time or nothing. To add insult to injury, every player in a town uses separate friend codes.

As an aside - be sure to save often when friends are visiting from other towns. When we mentioned frustrating aspects of the game, there's nothing worse than hanging out for a half hour with a couple of friends online, having the game disconnect, and losing everything you've achieved from the last time you saved. Depending on how your Wii is set up online, this could happen more often than you'd like.

Animal Crossing: City FolkLike the other games in the series, there is quite a bit to do on any given day and those who are new to the series especially are sure to find things to like in City Folk. One of the most addictive aspects of the game is upgrading your house. It's a simple process: the town's shopkeeper Tom Nook will give you a house at the beginning of the game and as you to pay it back at your leisure. Once you pay it off, he'll upgrade it for you (by upgrade, we mean make it bigger) and have you pay off another larger debt. There are several upgrades available, and though earning money in Animal Crossing can almost be considered a form of grinding, it's always fun to decorate the different rooms in your house.

There are a few nice gameplay tweaks in City Folk as well. Instead of going into your menu every time you want to equip a new tool like your fishing rod or shovel (which are used quite often), you can switch between them all by simply pressing left or right on the Wii Remote's D-pad. The menus themselves are slick and writing letters in particular is a fairly painless process, something anyone whose had to write something using a dual analog controller can attest to.

Despite these miniscule changes though, Animal Crossing: City Folk is still the same as the series has ever been. It's not without merit - especially to anyone who is new to the series - thanks to its laid back style and charming look. But it's still nothing more than a step sideways. Nintendo didn't embrace the social possibilities that City Folk could have offered, and because of that, it's nowhere close to the must-have game it could have been. We won't blame you if you decide to drive right past Animal Crossing altogether.

 

Animal Crossing: City Folk
Format: Nintendo Wii
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
Official Site: http://www.animal-crossing.com/cityfolk/

Rating: 6 / 10

 
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About G4 in Canada
G4 Canada (formerly TechTV Canada) launched in September 2001. G4 is the one and only television station that is plugged into every dimension of games, gear, gadgets and gigabytes. Owned Rogers Media Inc., the channel airs more than 24 original series. G4 is available on digital cable and satellite. For more information, see www.g4tv.ca.