Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Look to the Past: Games of the Years 2002 - Animal Crossing


Animal Crossing (GameCube)

I've never played another game quite like Animal Crossing. The most commonly compared series is Harvest Moon, but the farming sim is a totally different animal (pun!) than this odd, little GameCube game (and not half as charming, which is saying a lot). Animal Crossing has something very, very special to it. As what I guess is one of my more controversial choices, it did battle with giant monsters such as The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Metroid Prime, and Warcraft III. Although 2002 offered sophisticated experiences like these titles and more, I always find myself drifting back to that sleepy town inhabited by half-crazy animal denizens. At first glance, Animal Crossing seems like a bubbly casual game created for kids; cute perhaps, but ultimately boring and simple-minded. But spend a little time poking around and you will discover some genuinely funny writing, a vibe of relaxing amusement, and about-- at last count-- four zillion things to do. Honestly, there are too many activities to properly write down. A real-time clock keeps things moving at all hours of the day, year round, passing through all four seasons and highlighting special events (whether you're playing or not). Every town is randomized too, ensuring that you'll never visit another village exactly like yours. You can fish at the local river or ocean, collect hundreds of different items for your house, design your own clothing patterns, obtain tons of music tracks for your radio, randomly walk around and talk to and/or annoy the fellow villagers, and a boatload of other things. Needless to say, with a bit of creativity and imagination, you'll have plenty to keep you occupied every time you pop in to have a look around. And the true beauty of it all? There's no point whatsoever to any of it.

The best part of catching a fish is the glorious fact that it's always followed by a groan-inducing pun!

Animal Crossing exists for the pure reason of being Animal Crossing. Sure, you could call paying off your debt to the business-minded raccoon Tom Nook as an ultimate "goal" but that by no means ends the game. If you want to live in a big house and have a shiny statue crafted in your honor, go ahead and return all your borrowed money; otherwise, do whatever else you want. Because of the all-important real-time clock, as your real life goes on, so does your character's. Your insect collection will slowly grow as the dragonflies of summer yield to crickets of autumn and checking Nook's shop every day just might earn you the nifty TV you've been waiting for. Chat with your neighbors and you'll be exposed to their sheer oddness and likability, eventually leading you to either cheer or sob when one moves out, only to greet a new face the next morning. As you watch your town evolve bit by bit over the months and years, a sense of nostalgia becomes attached to your second home. The route from your house to the post office becomes second-nature, your living spaces's layout starts to settle into an image of your personal taste, and your daily routine of whacking that super annoying pig over the head with a bug-catching net is a great comfort. The graphics might not look like much, but the cartoonish village is a pleasure to look at and fits the game's style very well. More impressive is the music, an off-beat collection of songs for every hour (AM and PM) of the day. The music is impossible to dislike, often emphasized with drum and bass tracks, and has a wonderful way of conjuring up optimism and memories of good times. In fact, playing Animal Crossing is sort of like experiencing the happy days of childhood again. No stress, no worries, and lots of time to mess around and chase fireflies. It's a pure, simple joy (and really, life needs more of those), making it one of the most original and downright lovable games I've ever played. It's unconventional in the very best of ways and, in its uncomplicated fun and originality, rightfully remains as the greatest game of 2002.

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