I don’t get Animal Crossing. Never have, probably never will.
If you were anywhere on mobile last week, you probably saw that Nintendo finally released its long-awaited Animal Crossing Pocket Camp as a free-to-play title. It quickly became THE hot game download of the week, and roped me in out of curiosity more than an actual desire to play it.
I never really connected with this series. I played the original on Gamecube back in the day, spending more time puzzling out why any of this was supposed to be enjoyable than actually enjoying it. It was a glorified task simulator with sickeningly cutesie graphics and some very bossy animals. I messed around with it for a few days, changed the Gamecube clock to make different stuff happen in-game, and quickly moved on.
But perhaps, I thought, this time would be different? Everyone seems to go bananas for this series, and when you lay out some of its features on paper, they line up pretty closely to game elements that I enjoy. Housing. Life simulation. Um… a laid-back mellow vibe. I guess that’s it.
From what I can tell, Pocket Camp is a pretty bare-bones version of Animal Crossing (which wasn’t THAT deep to begin with) coupled with an online element and F2P microtrans. You are sort of building up a campsite — which has a large wooden floor and no walls, for some reason — and to make best friends with animals by throwing gifts at them left and right. In reality, the animals are a fence, turning your useless apples and cod into useful crafting “rewards” like cotton and perfume. Then you craft items to attract more animals, pretty up your campsite, make money, and… yeah, that’s about all I see there. The game does hint at being able to throw parties and do some other things with amenities, but to tell the truth, it kind of lost me after the second session.
There’s just not enough meat on the bones here. I’ll go through grind and do silly activities if I feel like they’re worthwhile to progression, but here it just all feels like meaningless busywork. After one round of shaking down trees for fruit, catching bugs, and fishing, I could see the future of doing this a million times and not finding that terribly compelling. I wasn’t thrilled with how many transition screens existed and how many times I had to keep clicking on prompts to make things happen, such as visiting friends’ campsites and crafting.
Another significant issue is that, like with previous versions, I really cannot get into the art design. The human characters in particular look like creepy Raggedy Ann dolls that scream to me that this game is meant for those ages six and under.
In the end, Pocket Camp made me yearn for a game that did a lot of this just way, way better — Stardew Valley. There is a lot of points of comparison between the two, but Stardew’s pixelart is easier to get into, its farming system offers a great core gameplay loop, and there’s a far bigger town full of residents to get involved with. Now why isn’t THAT on mobile already?