I have a neighbor, Antonio, who recently asked me to help him pick out some new clothes, because he was concerned that he wasn’t as stylish as he perhaps should be. Wanting to be the helpful sort, I bought him something at the local boutique that I thought would suit him, and dropped by his house to give it to him. Not only did he not like it, he yelled at me and questioned my taste. I promptly wrote him a letter telling him that I hoped he moved away, then set a pitfall trap right out side his front door, hoping that he’d get the hint he was no longer welcome in my town. My Animal Crossing: City Folk town, that is.
City Folk for the Wii, the third installment in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series, is what The Sims would’ve been like if Will Wright had been less goal oriented and preferred adorable animals to people. Your new town is a cartoony and colorful place where the worst thing that’s likely to happen to you is being stung by a bee or catching a tin can while fishing. It’s a life sim set to Easy, with the cuteness sliders cranked up to Maximum.
The game begins when you move into town and buy your starter home, but how it proceeds from there is entirely up to you. There’s no job to keep, no love interest to romance, and you don’t have to worry about keeping your character happy, fed, or rested. Your first move will likely be to earn enough money to pay off your mortgage. You can’t expand your house until you do, and it starts off so small that you can barely turn around in it, let alone find spots for all the nifty loot you’re going to acquire. There are no real jobs to be had in the game, but there are plenty of ways to make money. Local merchant Tom Nook will buy practically anything you care to sell him, and there’s plenty of good stuff just lying around. Collect shells from the beach, raid the town’s recycling center for almost-new clothing or furniture, shake the fruit out of trees – it’s all cash in your pocket.
For serious coin, your best bet is to try catching fish and insects around town – they’re not particularly difficult to snare, and the more rare ones can be worth thousands of bells. If you’re in a more generous frame of mind, you can also donate them to the town museum, which is completely empty when you arrive. Tracking down all of the fossils, paintings, fish, and insects needed to fill its displays will keep you busy all year ’round, but strolling through the exhibits they’re up is an enjoyable way to appreciate your hard work.
If you’re not that civic-minded, there’s always your own little corner of town to perfect. Beautify your yard by planting a garden or some trees, or take your home improvement efforts inside by coordinating your wallpaper and carpet, collecting any of the hundreds of pieces of furniture, or designing your own clothing. New items can be bought in shops, be received as gifts from friendly neighbors, or even dug up out the ground. There’s always something to be bought, sold, traded, mailed away, or ordered from a catalog; you can even visit the town’s observatory to create your own custom constellations in the sky.
Animal Crossing devotees who sunk countless hours into Wild World on the DS will be happy to know that their labors were not in vain. After downloading the Moving Van to your DS – a quick procedure that takes mere moments – you’ll find that everything you ever owned in the game is now available from the catalog in Tom Nook’s shop. Well, almost everything. Special not-for-sale items like gyroids, fossils, and rare furniture won’t carry over and neither will any money you had stored in the bank, but it still gives you a healthy leg up on decking out your new digs.
There are some places where it feels as though Nintendo phoned it in during City Folk‘s development, though. Although your neighbors’ letter-writing abilities have improved dramatically, their conversational skills still leave much to be desired. Though there are many species of NPCs in City Folk, there aren’t that many personality types, so you may find yourself literally having the same conversation with different neighbors or visitors. The Animal Crossing series has always encouraged players to play together with real-life friends, but interacting with your neighbors is still an important part of the game, so it’s disappointing that they’re not more chatty.
The city in City Folk – where many of the characters who used to wander through town in previous Animal Crossing installments, like Gracie the fashion designer and Crazy Redd, have permanently set up shop – is also a bit of a letdown. There’s a nice variety of things to do, like learning new expressions (emotes, basically) to use in conversation, change your character’s hair and makeup, or find a bargain at the auction house. Unlike the rest of the game, however, there’s little reason to visit the City on a daily basis, as Gracie’s stock remains the same for an entire season, and at 3,000 bells a pop, you’re unlikely to change your hairdo all that often. Being able to change your appearance or see what new it-fell-off-a-truck merchandise Redd is selling whenever you like is certainly convenient, but in and of itself not a particularly compelling reason to pick up City Folk.
What sucks you into City Folk as though it was so much adorable quicksand is not just that it’s crammed full of things to collect, customize, hoard and covet, but that it gives you encouragement and incentives for doing so. Fill your house with the basic furniture you need to live – bed, chair, table, lamp, and so forth – and your rating with the Happy Room Academy gets a boost. Fill it with furniture from a matching set and your ranking goes even higher. Fill it with items from a matching set of rare furniture that you can only receive on certain holidays and…well, you get the idea.
Adding to the crack factor is that City Folk takes place in real time. Tom Nook’s store is restocked with brand new merchandise every day, and you never know what mix of clothing, furniture and carpets he might have. Particular fish and insects will only show up at particular times of day or in certain seasons, so you’ll have to vary your routine to have any hope of filling the town museum with one of everything. Certain items are only obtainable on specific holidays, such as the Franklin series of furniture you could only get during the Harvest Day Festival, or the Snowman furniture that’s only around during December.
City Folk‘s multiplayer options make it enjoyable for players who aren’t particularly obsessed with owning every last item of clothing or collecting all of K.K. Slider’s tunes, though. Up to four players can live together in a single town, and you can visit your other City Folk-owning pals, assuming you’ve done the Friend Code tango. Send each other letters, post rude comments on the town’s message board, go fishing together or be complete jerks to each other – whatever floats your particular social boat. You can buy City Folk either bundled with the Wii Speak peripheral or without. It’s meant to let you chat with your friends as you’re visiting each other’s towns, but I didn’t get the opportunity to try it out yet, so I can’t vouch for how well it works. I can say that typing by pointing the Wii Remote at an on-screen keyboard, while a bit tedious, works just fine, so even if you don’t spring for the Wii Speak, you’ll have no problem communicating.
Animal Crossing: City Folk is one of those deceptive games that looks harmless on the outside, but latches onto you with a iron grip and refuses to let go. There are just so many different things to collect, make, improve, or generally futz around with, that it’s easy to lose entire afternoons just puttering around town. If you’re an established Animal Crossing junkie, this is yet another oh-so-sweet fix of your favorite drug. If you’ve yet to know the torment of Tom Nook, give City Folk a try; you’ll know within an hour or two whether or not you need to join our support group.