It’s been nearly 15 years since Nintendo birthed Animal Crossing into the world. It, along with other a few other risky new IPs such as Pikmin, has become a mainstay in the Nintendo line-up of franchises. We’ve seen regular main series titles for every Nintendo console since it’s release, the last being 2012’s New Leaf. These titles brought a new gaming dynamic to the scene. It allowed players to play casually, without goals or expectations. It held friendship and friendliness above all things. Instead of competing aggressively the best you got was a little of a friendly rivalry. It was, and in many ways still is, a dynamic shift from what we regularly see in the gaming landscape. We saw it go from risky IP to cult classic to powerhouse Nintendo title. It provided a low-stress meander and affable charm that some would argue heralded a shift in the gaming community’s DNA.
It’s been so long since New Leaf’s release fans like me have been itching for some Animal Crossing charm to fill that need. Rather than satisfy with a full main series experience, Nintendo has been teasing with apps and spin-offs. Happy Home Designer left me hungry for a meatier experience, and I was hopeful when I saw the variety of game modes available on Amiibo Festival. Even though I’m still ready (and sometimes even doubting, as the Wii U is near the end of it’s lifecycle) for a main series entry on the Wii U, maybe Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival would keep my need for cutesy animal friends at bay.
The Ol’ Animal Crossing Charm
That wonderful, quirky, and many times random humor is back with each of the animals you invite to live on your game board. The Treehouse really did great with keeping the townsfolk alive and charming. You’ll find all the animals you love (granted you have the amiibo cards to show for it) and they’ll all be as witty as you remember. This is great for everyone, because it ultimately means the thing that make the series what it is translates well across mediums. The scenes for each of the spaces you land on are cute and provide a tiny bit of intrigue. With that said, I don’t think the ‘ol Animal Crossing charm can save this game from it’s own underachievement, which I’ll explore further down.
I had a hard time deciding whether the graphics were important enough to mention. How hard is it to get Animal crossing graphics right? It’s not like there’s a huge amount of complexity in the character models and the town’s landmarks. I eventually decided that I would because there is space for improvement here. Everything looks just fine and that’s a bit sad to me. Nintendo had the opportunity to show us why we needed an HD Animal Crossing and it didn’t exactly deliver graphically.
I mean, look at that moon in this picture. It’s pixelated as hell. Why is that?! There shouldn’t be a reason for this. And why isn’t there a nice shiny effect when it’s raining? Plenty of other games implement nice visual effects for different types of weather, and Animal Crossing is built on the day to day, including the day to day weather, it seems that having a bloom effect for sunny days or shiny grass for rain would be relatively simple ways to add some polish to the series graphically.
In the same way that that I debated whether or not to include graphics, I wasn’t sure whether the music in Amiibo Festival was important enough to mention. In the end I thought that in the same way that the graphics didn’t deliver the music and sound design didn’t particularly stand out either. The Animal Crossing series isn’t known for commanding and grand soundtracks, but instead for memorable background tracks that you only fall in love with because you spend so much time living through each hour with them. 5 and 6 PM from the original (among other greats). 7 PM from New Leaf. It’s a shame that these didn’t make cameos in Amiibo Festival, in either the original’s glory or even in a remixed format. Instead the game board has a single song, and outside the holidays and special events it doesn’t change.
Ignoring the musical shortcomings, the sound design is typical Animal Crossing fare. It includes the Animalese and the little jingles we remember. Not much else to say about that. It gets the job done in a familiar fashion.
Shallow, Totally Random, Luck-Based Gameplay
There is so little to call a game in the main mode that I don’t even like having to call it a game. It should just be called “Tap and wait”. Because that’s what you do. Tap your amiibo, then wait for your next turn. There’s no skill involved. No Mini-games. I wish it would have just played itself… but it still forces you to press ‘A’ for computer players to proceed through their turns. Having played many sessions solo I knew all the scenes that would play out as you traveled around the board. Sure, they are charming as heck the first time… but you’ll see repeats well into the first play through so the charm wears off quickly.
Like I said, the game runs pretty linearly. You tap your amiibo, and move spaces. You either gain or lose happiness or money depending on the space you land. Every few days a character like Redd or Katrina or Katie will show up to offer dice cards to help you during gameplay. They will change a spattering of tiles into their own. It’s fun meeting them the first time, but after the third person or so steps on their tiles it’s becomes chore. The dialogue doesn’t change and just like the cute dioramas the charm quickly gets lost in the repetition and monotony. The holidays you might encounter in different months on the unchanging game board mixes it up a bit, but never change the fact that this game is entirely random and requires no skill.
It’s like they built the skeleton of a board game, put on some cute animal crossing cosplay, and totally forgot to put the meat on it! There’s no meat! It’s bare bones and it really bummed me out! The only “strategic” part of the game comes through Animal Crossing’s famous Stalk Market. Joan will visit the game board every Sunday and, just like in the main series, you sell Turnips any other day of the week. Prices vary depending on the space you land on, and can rise or lower randomly. You can choose to sell low and play safe or gamble a dice toss to maybe land somewhere to make a higher profit. Unfortunately the randomness of the dice toss doesn’t particularly help the game here either.
On a positive note, you never actually lose?
The Single Game Board
I feel like it needs to be said: There is only one game board. There aren’t variations. At first I thought “Ok, so maybe my game board is specific to my game, just like my town would be to my console…” but no, it’s the same game board (as far as I can tell) for everyone. It’s a real shame because I feel like a lot of what gives Animal Crossing games character is that everyone’s town is unique. I can’t really fathom why they didn’t make this happen here. It seems that given the very personal experience of the Animal Crossing series it would have been a no-brainer to include it here.
That being said, there are ways to make your board a little more personal. By scanning amiibo cards you can add residents to your board and choose where their houses are built. You can spend the tickets you earn with happy points to build public works projects. All of this adds a little bit of character, and each unlocks new cute scenes and sometimes paths to add to your main game. But it’s so minor that even that inclusion becomes moot. Not having different game boards in some way cuts the replayability (not that there was much in the first place) down a LOT.
Unlocking Game Modes is a Chore
I wouldn’t have played the main part of the game nearly as much as I did if it wasn’t the most reliable way to earn happy points to unlock the slightly more interesting mini-games. From the start everything is locked except for the main board game, and as you earn happy points you earn tickets to unlock more mini-games. The amount of time I had to put in to unlock these things was mind-boggling. What’s more is that most of the unlocks weren’t worth the time I put in!
On average I can get about 160 Happy Points per session. If each session lasts about an hour and fifteen minutes, and I get one Happy Ticket per 100 Happy Points thats… a little less than an hour per ticket. If we need five Happy Tickets to play a guessing game, that means it will take me about four hours of mind numbing tedium for one game! IT’S TOO MUCH GUYS! Why was this game made like this?!
Along with getting Happy Tickets to unlock mini-games and expansions for your game board, Happy Points also level up your amiibo. It’s mostly a useless mechanic, but it’s cute to see Tom Nook and Isabelle in different outfits. I dress up my Tom in a fetching Polo in the summer and a warmer sweater in the winter. It’s cosmetic and useless and it doesn’t seem that there’s any other function to leveling up than that. I guess that’s nice? Maybe it’ll be used in the main game somehow. That would be nice I guess…
The Mini-games are the best part of Animal Crossing: Amiibor Festival but that doesn’t isn’t particularly high praise. Of the mini games available, most make sloppy and difficult use of amiibo cards. I was forced to throw down cards like crazy for most of them, making collectibles that I would have preferred to keep pristine into cards that are now bent out of shape. The games were often sad distractions from the chore that the main portion of the game became. It makes Amiibo Festival feel like an avenue to sell amiibo rather than a well thought out and loved game. In my mind I don’t want to believe Nintendo would do that sort of thing.
The best mini-game included was something that has been related to Settlers of Catan, though the only real similarity is the hexagonally shaped tiles you traverse during the game. Desert Island Escape provided the most stimulating experience on the disc, having you control three unique villagers (which you chose via amiibo cards) across an island in search for the materials for a boat. Each character you chose had a special ability and number of moves available making this game substantially more strategic than anything else on offer. I considered including this as one of the great things about the game, but having a single good single-player mini-game on something being sold as a party game isn’t a good thing. I really wish that the entire main game would have been more like this than the bare bones that we got instead.
In a lot of ways Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival was designed to fail. Not because the developers wanted it to fail, but because the way they interpreted the ideology behind Animal Crossing didn’t let it grow into what it’s being sold as. We knew it was going to be a luck based game since it’s showing at E3 this summer. We knew it was going to rely heavily on amiibo and amiibo cards. This game could have been something but instead of wanting to try something new, which is usually Nintendo’s calling card, it decided to be Mario Party Light and just ends up being a disappointment.
The fact that it is deep in the Animal Crossing universe meant that it had to shy away from the traditional competitive spirit that most party games embrace. Nintendo pushed the Animal Crossing charm and personality so much that I think it forgot that it also had to make a game that was fun! There’s no way I could recommend this to anybody. Even as an Animal Crossing fan, this game just doesn’t have enough real gameplay to appeal to anyone. I played it so you don’t have to.