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Review: Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
Sam Nason reviews Nintendo's third official mobile game, the addictive Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
Hot off the heels of what has been an incredible year for Nintendo, comes Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. The third smartphone game from the company. This time, based around one of their most famous and accessible IPs. When the first Direct came out I briefly wrote an impressions article on my hopes and apprehensions for the title, but the bottom line was that I was excited for what seemed to be a very optimised take on the Animal Crossing franchise, all on the comfort of my phone. Now that the app has been out for a few days, has it delivered? Mostly yes!
There are so many things to love about this game. Graphically it is actually incredibly beautiful, capturing the charm and wholesomeness of an Animal Crossing game on a device that one would imagine would have difficulty comprehending it. As soon as the game begins there were some opening establishing shots and I remember being rather surprised at the quality of image I was seeing. The visuals are colourful, striking, and certainly do the franchise justice. Not quite as impressive as New Leaf but then that’s unfair to expect on a smart device (There were a few instance of stuttering on my device - I was playing on an iPhone 5S so maybe it was as a result of it being an older model, but that’s still something to bear in mind).
Something else falling directly in line with past instalments is the music; some fans may be disappointed to discover the absence of the unique 24-hour themes, replaced instead by a handful of different themes for sunny, snowy or rainy afternoons, mornings or evenings. Personally I think this is a fair compromise - you probably won’t, after all, be playing Pocket Camp for the length you may have played one of the main series titles. The themes themselves however are so peaceful and just scream Animal Crossing - they’re such a joy to listen to and really encapsulate the tranquil nature of the game.
Mechanically the game strays from the main series formula, but for smartphones this is not a bad thing and makes for an enjoyable experience. Right off the bat you’re finding resources to craft furniture items - a new feature where you gather materials to create objects for your camp. This is done mostly by fulfilling villager requests, which can range from fetching them a specific fruit to giving them a selection of bugs or fish. This is where friendship levels are also introduced, giving you a more personal connection with the animals you meet along the way - completing requests gives rewards and friendships points, providing a bit more of a linear ‘goal’ than Animal Crossing games of past.
The furniture items you need to craft, particularly those in the early game, usually only take one or so minutes to construct, meaning your progress isn’t impeded by what one may typically expect from a smartphone game. On the other hand, abiding by smartphone conventions fruit that grow on trees need time to regenerate - about 3 hours - before you can pick them again, not too big an issue but still annoying when you want to fulfil a villager request.
Rewards in the game are given out rather generously - I don’t know whether this was just because I connected MyNintendo account, but I was probably completing a goal (essentially the game’s version of achievements) every few minutes I played at first, giving me a nice boost in the early game in terms of funds and resources. The goals cover all kinds of bases so it’s rather easy to reap the benefits from them, no matter how you play the game. This means a player can feasibly get through the game at a nice pace without having to spend a penny, always good for a smartphone game.
There is also a large degree of familiar customisation, nice for a game that spreads a message of personal identity and uniqueness. The very first thing you’ll encounter in the app is a customisation tool for your character’s face, giving you a larger degree of freedom than previous titles where your appearance would be based on a selection of questions you answered. You can come back to this screen at any point during the game, too, meaning if you’re not satisfied with your eyes (I picked the weird, stalker-like Villager eyes from Smash Bros at first which was a bad choice), you can change them with ease.
Customisation is also present with clothing (a little restrictive, but we’ll get to that), your campsite and your camper van. The latter two are akin to house customisation in games prior, using the grid-based system introduced in Happy Home Designer. This is a really efficient and easy way to personalise your spaces in the game, the almost drag-and-drop mechanics ensuring rearranging furniture is effortless. It also increases the accessibility of the game, meaning those younger can easily manage their campsites without being too bombarded by menus or anything.
It’s also key to note mechanics returning from traditional games, like fishing and bug catching, are also adapted seamlessly for the phone. Fishing works as you’d image - tapping like crazy when a fish bites on the line - and catching bugs becomes a simple tap to approach, and another to catch when the time is right; Nintendo did a great job transitioning these to a device with a substantial lack of buttons.
I was also happily surprised to be right about Leaf Tickets, the premium currency of the game. Their function, at least in the time I’ve played, is to speed up any waiting times, supplement materials or buy items that can help you catch bugs or fish easier. It’s refreshing to know that they are not absolutely necessary and the game doesn’t require you to break your bank account just to progress. They’re also given out rather plentifully when you raise friendship levels or complete goals!
All things considered there is a lot to do in the game - customising your camper van, making sure your camp is all nice, interacting with villagers, completing requests, acquiring resources - for a smartphone game there is a lot of content here that will keep players busy and coming back.
These are all the great things about the app - however there are a few things that brought it down in my estimations. The first issue is the nature of the gameplay in that it’s simply quite repetitive. A large amount is picking fruits, catching bugs, catching fish, completing villager requests to get them to come to your campsite. Eventually it becomes a bit of a chore and might demotivate players from coming back when there’s not really much fresh content for them to look forward to. It’s different to main series Animal Crossing games in that there isn’t much sense of progression - due to the small space of your campsite you never really get the satisfaction of it growing and flourishing like you would your town in any other title. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this - since it’s a smartphone game you’d naturally expect it to be smaller in scope - it’s still something that’s a little disappointing and unsatisfying.
Another issue I had was the Marketplace, the place where familiar vendors from previous Animal Crossing games gather to sell things, like the Nooking brothers, Kicks or the Able Sisters. There are only ever two shopkeepers at a time of whom cycle every four hours, and when they appear they usually only have a very small selection of items to peruse and buy. This is what I was talking about earlier with restrictive customisation; it’s not a massive issue but it’s annoying when you’re high on character customisation and are restricted by not being in the right place at the right time. While it encourages players to keep coming back, it’s more a chore than incentive.
As the game progresses as well resource demands for certain furniture items become more plentiful, and in that sense you could understand why players may grow frustrated or tired of the same old chores and not want to carry on. There were points where I progressed a level, got access to more animals to meet and was given a massive lists of items they wanted before joining my camp and just shut the app with a sigh.
All in all, I did genuinely enjoy the app - I’m still playing it now, in fact. However it’s not perfect and could probably benefit from a few quality of life updates. Obviously the game is still in very early days and such issues could be rectified - we will have to wait and see. That being said, the beautiful graphics, the familiar charm and the rich customisation options all cement the title as a very enjoyable experience. Overall I believe Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a lovely little instalment to the Animal Crossing franchise and will provide plenty of bite-sized joy to all kinds of players.