‘Animal Crossing: City Folk’: Slow, Boring, Lonely

Among the titles Nintendo highlighted during E3 this year, “Animal Crossing: City Folk” stood out. Previously a bestselling franchise on the Nintendo GameCube, the updated Wii version, Nintendo said, would take advantage of the console’s Internet connection and new Wii Speak microphone accessory to connect gamers with other players near and far.

The purported ability to take part in voice chats while interacting with other players in the game sounded intriguing; however, after playing the game I am more frustrated than impressed.

What I had thought would be a really interesting game is instead just plain annoying.

Where’s the Action?

The “Animal Crossing” series of video games isn’t exactly action-oriented. There are no princesses or princes to rescue, no fiendish plots to foil, no demons to blast away. The series instead presents a virtual world in which the player can explore, interact with others and build a customized environment.

I’ve never considered myself an action junkie. In fact, my gamer friends frequently rib me about my affinity for “Sim” games. I like having a mission to accomplish, to build things up and create a world that functions and meets the needs of its inhabitants. However, even for me, the action in “Animal Crossing: City Folk” is too ponderous to make the game interesting.

Everything about the game feels slow. The transitions from scenes inside buildings to outside during which gamers are presented with a dark screen? Slow. Conversations with other characters in the game? Tedious, because gamers have to continually click the Wii Remote’s “A” button to keep the convo going.

And the game fails to take advantage of the Wii’s most interesting feature, its motion-sensing remote. Movement on screen is largely accomplished by pressing the “A” button as you move the remote controlled hand across the screen. When it’s time to pick something up instead of motioning, gamers simply press the “B” button. Need to dig a hole, it’s the “A” button — again no motion required. Even fishing and hauling in a catch happens without even a flick of a wrist.

And while real-time setups can be a cool feature when used just right in some games, 24-hour days in “AC:CF” are tortuously long. Shops close at 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., after which there is apparently little to do save wander around the darkened landscape.

It’s a Too-Small World

While as many as four players can create characters and move into the same town, it’s a fairly small world. Time in town is spent talking and visiting with neighbors, shaking trees, fishing, picking up shells and digging holes looking for hidden items like money and furniture. For a break in the sameness, gamers with full pockets can take their loot to Took’s Cranny and make a quick buck.

Gamers looking for some action might think of heading to the city for a little fun and frivolity. A bus trip later, however, and the excitement of exploring someplace new is over in about four minutes. The so-called city consists of a city square surrounded by buildings — a theater, a salon, a psychic, a high-end furniture and clothing store, an auction house and the so-called Happy Room Academy, where players can earn points based on their home’s decor.

The salon, Shampoodle, will give your character a makeover so you can look like your favorite Mii. At the theater, you learn how to emote when talking with other characters. The psychic, Katrina, tells you your fortune and gives you a charm.

Once you join the Happy Room Academy, there is little left to do unless you have an invitation to Redd’s Shop, a members-only furniture joint, or the Auction House. Action at the Auction House only takes place on certain days, and while being able to unload unwanted items and pick up others at prices better than those available at Nook’s, the whole city experience left me largely unfulfilled.

The biggest disappoint, though, has to be with the communications component of the game. To speak with another player, visit their town or host them in yours, not only do you need the Wii Speak microphone accessory, but you also need to already know someone with a Wii and “AC:CF.”

Without that, you cannot register friend codes and are trapped in the limited environs of your own town. Basically, talking to “strangers” is not allowed. That’s probably for the best if the game is being bought for a child, but anyone hoping for a social networking sort of experience should know that you won’t meet anyone new through “AC:CF.”

Launched Sunday, “Animal Crossing: City Folk” is currently available and priced at US$49.99. The Wii Speak accessory, sold separately, will cost another $29.99. There are bundled versions of the game available which sell for $69.99.

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