All this brings us neatly to Let’s Go to the City’s other problem: expectation. When Nintendo first announced the game, the talk of Animal Crossing and the Nintendo WiFi Connection service led a lot of us to put two and two together and make five, with the assumption that Animal Crossing was going to become some kind of MMO or Nintendo’s take on Second Life. It isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong; there are online features in there. You can invite people using friends codes or your Wii friends list to visit your town, with up to three visitors wandering around at once. You, in turn, can visit theirs. Some clever side-objectives involve you collaborating with a friend with their own town, and there’s an auction house in the city where rare items will periodically go up for sale. All the same, this is rather less than many of us hoped for.
I can understand the concerns Nintendo has about online gaming – profanity and adult content are always going to be issues when the company courts a family audience – but being able to share a larger town with a wider community could have taken Animal Crossing to a whole new level. You can even see the potential of the city square as some kind of hub. We can’t really blame Nintendo for not taking this direction, but what we’ve got isn’t nearly as exciting.
That said, if you have kids and a Wii and the same goes for your grown-up friends or siblings, then Let’s Go to the City has the potential to make a nice family experience. You, the other parents and the various little blighters can meet up and explore each others towns and basically hang out, and there’s enough fun in the various activities to make it an enjoyable way to spend a rainy day together, in a virtual kind of way.
To make this more personal, you also have the option of buying Animal Crossing with a bundled Wii Speak microphone. It’s a small box that can be placed on or near the TV and connects up to the Wii via USB, and can be used for voice chat either in Animal Crossing or using the dedicated Wii Speak channel. It’s a neat little unit, easy to use and setup, and it also does a fine job of eliminating background noise – including the game’s own soundtrack – from the mix. All the same, you need friends with the same setup to really make it worthwhile.
In the end, this is a very hard game to score. Anyone with Wild World on a DS is at risk of being disappointed by the lack of major new features, while newcomers to the series could easily be underwhelmed in the first few hours. At the same time, there is something oddly compulsive and yet relaxing about the whole thing; in our household it’s become part of the daily ritual, with tales of new discoveries swapped over breakfast and evening meals, and weird little practical jokes (damn those quicksand seeds) being played on hapless family members.
Arguably, the Harvest Moon games (not to mention WiiWare’s My Life as a King) offer a similar but more goal-oriented experience that might suit single players better, while the DS is perhaps a better platform for a game you might want to quickly sample whenever you have a spare moment. All the same, if the lure of cutesy, quirky, smalltown life sounds appealing, then Animal Crossing will give you weeks – even months – of gentle pleasures.
Let’s go to the City is an entertaining game for Animal Crossing newbies who can adjust to the relaxed pace of its world, but not a major step on for those who have played the game before. The online features are mildly disappointing and, arguably, the dip-in, dip-out gameplay is better suited to the DS.