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Animal Crossing: Wild World is the DS version of the island life come friendship simulator that was previously acclaimed on the Gamecube.
Simulation games focus their efforts on creating an ongoing, usually organic, environment in which players can exist. The fun of playing these games is in working with the simulation model and the various happenstance events that occur because of this interaction.
They differ from Real Time Strategy games in that they are not overly concerned with production or manhandling of troops and resources. Instead they look to the player to influence events (often indirectly) to obtain the desired results.
Animal Crossing stands out primarily for in-game events that evolve over time - and in sync with real world, the ability to build friendships with a vast array of computer characters and impressive array of soft/hard furnishings that can be accumulated in your home. In fact you could see this as a capitalism simulator, complete with mortgage, nine-to-five job and an overly meaningful dependence on shopping.
The player's main task is to develop their wardrobe, homestead and the island itself. This involves buying and arranging furniture and outfits, planting and harvesting trees and flowers and a surprisingly addictive fishing activity in the tributaries and surround sea of the island.
Although this is well executed, and all in Japanese cartoon style, it is not dissimilar to other simulation titles. What makes Animal Crossing stand out from the crowd is the introduction of a complex calendar of events. At certain points in the real world day, week and month, particular visitors (people, fish, bugs, and produce) can be found on the island. This not only introduces a great connection between the game and real life, but also means the island carries on evolving even when it is switched off.
The DS version adds the ability to visit friends' islands via Nintendo's WiFi connection. This means they can exchange items from their own island with that of their friends. Because plants, produce and even furniture is different for each player, this offers a great chance to import those hard to find elements.
Players are attracted to Animal Crossing because of the incidental experiences that arise from the complexity and happenstance nature of the game. They may be walking along happily minding their own business, when all of a sudden they come across a tent that wasn't their yesterday. Entering, they discover a fortune teller who suggests they visit a particular character. Off they trot, only to discover that the friend in question is packing up and leaving because of a lack of attention.
This sense of the cause and effect of the players actions combined with the ongoing life on their island creates an experience that is full of unforeseen possibilities. Not only does each player play the game differently, to some extent they are actually playing a different game. Something pretty unique in video gaming.
Animal Crossing is a game that requires a considerable time commitment to play. As with other simulation titles, the open nature of gameplay means that there is always one more thing to do, collection, plant, meet, arrange or harvest.,p>Initial sessions demand more time, both setting up shop and reading tutorials. But once you are set you can get away with daily visits to keep things in order. Because of the link to real world time in the game you may find yourself getting up early in the morning to catch a particular person or event. Or maybe you'll stay up late to watch the sunset in the game.
Those who stick with the game over many months will get the most benefit. It's only then that you can appreciate the level of diversity programmed into each island.
Very young players will enjoy cruising around the island, although the developmental aspects of the game will largely be beyond them. My five year old still enjoys exploring my carefully created creation. There is a problem that the game must be saved before it is turned off. If you omit to do this, as my daughter is want to do, you have to work through a three minute berating from the builder mole character that pops up in the game next time you play.
Intermediate players may find the open nature of the experience a little daunting at first. Provided they spend time with the tutorial and attend to the various character's demands on the island things should fall into place pretty quickly.
Experts who enjoy a challenge will find plenty to get their teeth into. The game cleverly hooks into a number of different genres for the savvy gamer. There is the collecting mechanic of many Role Play Games such as Pokemon: Diamond/Pearl DS, the world simulation of the likes of Sim City: Creator DS, the sense of exploration found in Platformers even a bit of sports action with the fishing. Animal Crossing: Let's Go To The City Wii provides a fuller experience for those looking for that big extra.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: