"Animal Crossing: City Folk"
For: Nintendo Wii
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
By Billy O'Keefe
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
If you fell madly in love with "Animal Crossing" when it debuted six years ago on the Gamecube, you might want to sit down. Because while Nintendo still loves you and treasures your company, it wants to see other people.
For the uninitiated — which was everyone back in 2002 — the joy of playing "Crossing" is almost impossible to understand until you give it a firsthand whirl. You star as a human character living in a neighborhood full of talking animals, and the purpose of the game, which has no end goal, is to be a good neighbor while earning money to afford a nicer house and all manner of things with which to stock it.
The charm of "Crossing" — which "Animal Crossing: City Folk" unmistakably conveys — is a strange combination of relaxation and purpose. Beautifying your village takes work and there are goals to achieve and items to collect, but with no time constraints or threats of failure, it's easy to lose yourself in the idyllic ease that the game's visual design exacerbates.
Of course, if you played "Crossing" on the Gamecube or more recently on the Nintendo DS, you already know this — along with roughly 95 percent of what "Folk" has to offer.
"Crossing's" concept lends itself to boundless ideas, and the Wii's cursor-friendly control scheme is explicitly capable of rectifying the interface hiccups that hampered the Gamecube game, but "Folk" barely improves on its predecessors in either respect. The city hub, while certainly a new destination, recycles far too many characters and concepts to justify its status as a chief selling point.
The only solid step forward happens in the game's online component, which allows you to visit friends' villages and chat using the speakerphone-like Wii Speak peripheral, which sells separately for $20. Visiting villages also allows animal neighbors and crops to cross-populate, which is a neat touch until you've seen all the game has to offer in either category.
But this alone cannot justify the large expanse of time Nintendo has had to improve "Crossing" and take it to new frontiers. Fact is, Nintendo wants to sell Wiis to people who have never even seen, much less owned, a Gamecube, and "Folk" is for them more than it is for those who cared before it was trendy to do so. If "Crossing" is new to you, congratulations: It's one of the most novel experiences in all of gaming, and those of us waiting to be struck by that same lightning a second time are jealous of the fun you're about to have.
(Billy O'Keefe writes video game reviews for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.)
(c) 2008, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.