Love the One You're With

Love the One You're With
Playing with Strangers

Pat Miller | 14 Feb 2006 11:01
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Once you've gotten used to the Nintendo DS version, it feels like the perfect home for Animal Crossing. On the GameCube, it felt restricted in its confinement to the home setup; if you don't know anyone else who has a GameCube - as was my problem - you're just going to be wasting away in Margaritaville (or whatever you call your town), and it's pretty hard to get your friends hooked on the game when they see just how much fun you have fishing and catching bugs all by yourself. The DS version, by contrast, literally sells itself. After the Street Fighter tournament, all the Mario Kart DS-toting chumps who came expecting some Time Trial action instead found us running around each other's towns trading furniture. They were so jealous, they scoured the San Francisco East Bay Area for a store with remaining AC:WW copies. Up to four players can run amok in a town at once, and with the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, you can party up via the internet from any available wireless access point.

The sheer accessibility and ease with which Animal Crossing allows you to play with your buddies has allowed Nintendo to add all kinds of special multiplayer content. Profit motivates some of the socializing, of course; there's money to be had in buying turnips low and selling them high (the "stalk market"), or exchanging fruits with your buddies to grow your own orchards of non-native fruits that sell for five times the going rate. But mere commerce only scratches the surface of networked multiplayer Animal Crossing. The animal residents of your fair town are free to live where they wish, meaning an internet rendezvous with a friend will often yield a new neighbor or two. What's more, they come not only with their material possessions - including letters you wrote to them - but fairly detailed memories of their previous residence, including the town theme (which you compose) and whatever catch-phrases you may have taught them.

All of this, at first, tends to elicit the same reaction in the non-believers that the original Animal Crossing did: " ... so?" It's not easy to communicate the appeal of a game like either of the AC titles; though the goal apparent is to have a complete town with a full museum and a complete furniture catalog and the highest graded house possible (yes, people grade your taste in decor), all these goals are ultimately self-imposed. Animal Crossing demands nothing of you; it would prefer that you keep your town clean and pay off your mortgage, it encourages you to get out there and meet people and relax by the beach with the sound of the waves muffling the background music, but there is no magical endgame that will result in a final roll of the credits and a drawn curtain - that happens every Friday night at the Roost, if you catch the K.K. Slider performance.

Before, this was a problem. Playing Animal Crossing on the GameCube was a novelty - or as retailers put it, your girlfriend would love it - because, ultimately, it was a game about nothing, and nothing is an awfully boring thing to do by yourself. Once the novelty of having your own little world contained in your GameCube wears off, it's basically gaming busywork - catch fish, pick fruit, pay large sums of money to the wage-slaver raccoon, and so on. It feels like running the level treadmill of World of Warcraft or Diablo II, but at the end of the day, instead of an account worth $300 on eBay, all you've got is a memory card full of Classic Furniture, and that means precious little to most people.

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