When Nintendo announced their most prominent franchises were finally coming to mobile platforms, I’ll admit that I got swept up in the excitement. This was a company known for its console innovation and first-party power, so bringing major characters like Mario and Marth to mobile was ambitious and potentially ground-breaking for the mobile game market. Perhaps, this was finally the time when we could get a proper Kirby for mobile, or we could get ports of classics like Super Mario World and Fire Emblem. Or even a new Animal Crossing! That’s a well-loved series whose graphics haven’t changed very much since its inception on the N64. Surely, they could just recreate the original, and the general public would lose their minds. Instead, we’ve been given Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, a major slap in the face to Nintendo fans the world over.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp starts off with some promise. You create your standard Animal Crossing human and immediately meet with Isabelle, the assistant character from New Leaf onward, who asks you to pick a theme before going to check out your new residence. So far, so good. After that, you go through the tutorial to learn how to do the basic tasks from previous games: you catch bugs with a tap, you catch fish with a couple of taps, and you harvest fruits with more taps. It’s painfully simple, but this is Animal Crossing, and simplicity is somewhat expected for these activities. These tasks are separated on the map, meaning you can’t just wander around the area and pick what to do, which is a bummer but understandable.The first red flag goes off once I shake a few peaches free from a tree in the fruit area, though, as a timer immediately appears above the tree, designating that it will be three hours before the fruit grows back.
To be fair, the trees have always had timers, but it’s something about the prominence of these timers that just screams “shitty design.” Animal Crossing has never been about efficient farming or timers. It’s always been about the freeform experience where you create your own goals and build friendships with the residents of your town. There was never any rush to get things done, yet somehow this free-to-play model has suddenly infected the happy camp with microtransactions. Now I’m painfully aware that eventually, these timers will be taking the place of actual gameplay, and that sucks a bunch. But at least they got the animals right.
Except they got the animals completely wrong. It may just be me, but I always loved how the residents of your town were always unique to you. Most of the animals were randomly selected to live in the town, and it was fun to compare and exchange them with real friends. No longer is that the case, as all players receive the exact same roster with the exact same personalities at the exact same moments in the game. The only portion that’s unique is that you select which to receive first depending on the style of your camp. Other than that, everything else is equal. Oh, and those animals are complete douchebags.
The premise of befriending the animals has now become the focus of the game, since it’s the only progress that’s actually tracked. However, it’s also become the most hollow portion of Pocket Camp, since that friendship is defined by how many gifts you crank out when an animal visits an area. Upon reaching level three with him or her, you’ll get the distinguished opportunity to invite them to your camp, at which point they’ll tell you how much they appreciate the sentiment, but demand you decorate the camp to their liking. That’s right, your best friends in this game only like you if you get that sweet drum kit for the camp. This concept is so empty that the game actually offers to decorate and subsequently de-decorate everything so that the punk will come say hi. If you don’t like my football rug, then you can go right to hell, Apollo.
The straw that broke the proverbial back, though, was the scarcity of resources that actually matter: cotton, wood, and metal. Being the building materials, you can only pull in neighbors to your camp by using these resources to create the furniture they so desire. However, the only ways to get these items are through giving gifts and a special area that’s only accessible through using friends or premium currency. Gathering metal quickly devolves into a miserable chore where you gather three separate items, give them to an animal and maybe receive three scraps of metal. You usually need 30 for the important items on your neighbor’s wishlist. I can hardly hold back my excitement for this gameplay.
The best part is that there’s really no motivation for any of this. The only rewards you get are increased friend levels, which net you such great items as a t-shirt or a self-portrait of your favorite animal. None of this has any effect on the gameplay, but I guess you can put it up in your camp now? At least in the proper Animal Crossings, you were working to pay off debt and increase your house size. Not to mention, you could fill out a museum with all the exciting stuff you found around town. Here? You’re just trying to impress other players with a sweet campsite. There’s no ranking or anything, but you can spend real money on it to feel cool.
Animal Crossing has always been a game with plenty of heart and none of the rush, yet Pocket Camp managed to completely miss that legacy. Instead, we get a game all about long wait times and standard microtransactions. There are a thousand games out there doing the same thing, yet offering some form of competition or engaging gameplay. I’m actually offended by the people who support this game since that indicates to Nintendo that this product is acceptable mobile gaming fare. It’s hot garbage, demonstrating once more that Nintendo is more obsessed with microtransactions on a Free-to-Play model than releasing a proper mobile entry for their beloved franchises. I’d gladly shovel out 15 bucks for the original Animal Crossing on my phone, but that may never be something we get. Instead, Nintendo will continue taking the easy route, using their big games to create uninspired mobile money grabs.
Welcome to the future, guys. I hope you love paying for success.
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