If there’s one thing that Animal Crossing never gets enough respect for its personality and humour. Normally, a game this cutesy would be enough to turn most adult stomachs, but there’s something really strange and off kilter about the inhabitants of Animal Crossing that keeps the game interesting. These guys have neuroses, obsessions and emotional issues that you wouldn’t believe; it might look like Sonic the Hedgehog, but it’s actually closer to Twin Peaks. On top of this the game features some great referential wit. Will the kids understand that Old Lyle is an escapee from Glengarry Glenn Ross or chuckle at the grumpy asides from Phyllis, the night postal clerk? Probably not, but it makes the game surprisingly amusing for those of us over the age of ten.
In other words, what was good about Animal Crossing before still holds true now. So what does Let’s Go to the City bring to the Animal Crossing experience? Well, here we come to the game’s first problem: not a great deal. The graphics are a little more sophisticated than the DS or GameCube versions, but the big-headed character models retain their old, slightly primitive style and there’s not a lot of detail in the environments. Nobody buys Animal Crossing for visual splendour, but you can’t help thinking that Nintendo could have tried a little harder.
What’s more, Wii remote functionality is limited to a point-and-click interface and some isolated bits where you can shake the remote. In fact, the gameplay remains incredibly simple. You’ll spend most of your time wandering around, clicking on your neighbours to have a chat, clicking things in and out of the inventory and using your tools. Regular tasks like fishing and digging have no real complexity. To fish, for example, you merely equip the rod, face the water, click near a fish to cast your line then either press the A button or flick the remote upwards when the float sinks to show your catch is hooked. The only real element of skill is in the placement of the cast and in the timing. In short, if you’re looking for sophisticated gameplay, you won’t find it here. This is both the game’s strength and weakness. Either you settle in and enjoy the relaxed vibe and the amiable feel, or you don’t.
If you do, and you haven’t played Animal Crossing before, then you’ll probably get a lot from Let’s Go to the City. If you have played Animal Crossing, then you may be a little concerned about how little has changed. The town isn’t really much bigger than it was in previous incarnations, and new features and facilities are short on supply. If you have Wild World, you can even import your existing game and essentially treat Let’s Go to the City as a Wii extension. In fact, those changes which do exist are mostly irritating, like the addition of huge cliffs that force you to take circuitous routes where you would previously have walked straight from one place to another. Up to a point, this is fundamentally the same game.
Of course, there is one major difference, and the clue is in the title. At any time you can now hop on a bus and take a trip into the big city (actually, more a medium-sized town square) where you’ll find a new range of shops and establishments to check out. We get a theatre, where – through the medium of some excruciating jokes – you can learn new expressions for your character. We get new, high-class clothing and furniture shops, a fortune telling and a physical version of the old Happy Room Academy where a fast-talking salesman introduces you to the latest trends in room design and décor.
Best of all, there’s a new beauty store where you can either equip your character with fashionable hair and make-up or give him/her the face and hairstyle from your own Mii. All of this stuff is great, but anyone expecting the city to be a major extension to the Animal Crossing world is going to come away disappointed; it’s a refinement rather than a revolutionary feature.