Retro Review: Animal Crossing

8 05 2009

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Animal Crossing (Nintendo Gamecube)

Original release date: 09/15/02

You are a loner; one who is moving to a mysterious land for no apparent reason whatsoever. You have nothing with you, no one to accompany you, and no past to speak of. While daydreaming of what awaits you at your upcoming destination, a mild mannered creature sits in the booth in front of you. Curious at where this poor creature could be heading to, the cat named Rover, asks where you are heading. You adequately reply that you are moving, but have no home to look forward to when you get there. Shocked by the poor fool’s response, he offers to lend you a favor in the means of a job. A little inspired, you look forward to a bizarre land that may offer something unique and intriguing, something that you have never experienced before.

Welcome to the world of Animal Crossing.

It is definitely a strange title that only the people of Nintendo could bring to America. It is also as far away from a “real” life simulation as possible, despite the fact that it plays like one. Borrowing from similar genre-related titles such as Harvest Moon, this game puts you in the shoes of someone just trying to make a living. Your mission is to get situated into a new house of your choosing, get a job going, and keep the money flowing. Things do not start off easy for you though, as you come in as a homeless bum. However, help does arrive in the form of a raccoon. Yes, the odd little mammal named Tom Nook starts you off with a job to get you situated. As with other titles in the genre, patience is required to play a game like this, so do not expect action right off the bat. There is much to do, and even more time to do it, which brings around a plethora of angles in which to approach this game.

Interactivity abounds, in ways that you will both love and despise. Unlike past simulations with their own time management system, Animal Crossing does not have a stop-and-go style. This game has a real time clock; which means that if it is 12:00 AM on October 12, 2006, then that is the time on both sides of the coin. It is ever flowing, and you will see other town members going about their day, doing their own thing. Though it is fun to stalk your computerized friends for hours on end, there is a slight problem to this design. Say you have a daytime job and can only get on at night. Well, you will find that most of your village pals are asleep and unable to help you put that money in your pocket. It can be frustrating, especially if you had a set task to do for that day. So, to sum it up in a simple phrase . . . you need to have a lot of free time to play Animal Crossing.

With that said, there are some convenient positives about this time clock. Holidays and special events like Christmas and Halloween all occur on their respective dates. That way you will be able to do all the special events of the game without forgetting the day you can play them. However, that leads you to a new thought, ”Lets see, go out with my blind date to the Halloween party, or stay home and get that cool looking jack-o-lantern.” Well, unless you are really desperate for companionship, park yourself in your room and get that rare collectors item, just don’t tell anyone.

Speaking of which, the town members themselves make the game what it truly is. They each have their own personalities, and depending on how you act toward them, will affect the way they act toward you. One such way of earning their trust is doing errands for them. You will find yourself running from house to house trying to return game boys, pieces of clothing, or missing pieces of furniture. At times you will even swear that you are some sort of vassal to these slave drivers. Anyway, while it does not sound very intriguing, it is surprisingly engaging, pulling you in closer to the virtual community. As you make friends you will get letters and sometimes invitations to special events. If you act like a jerk to them they will not talk to you and probably ignore you most of the time. So, basically how you act will affect the flow of the game, for better or for worse. From the thought of a large community, you must be thinking about the implementation of a marriage system. Well, unfortunately since you are a human surrounded by talking animals, there is none. Despite this, the town system is effective in the fact that it is constantly interactive, providing a much more enjoyable experience.

As you are playing along, you will no doubt be aware of the simple control scheme going on. Also, the main menu gives you a chance to play around with a varied amount of options. You have your pack; where you can carry and hold a certain number of items. There is also the wallet, which displays how many bells (money) you currently have on you. However, it is the interchangeable character model system that turns out to be the most interesting of the features. Using the menu you can switch your sexy outfits, choose different tools, and select different items to give or drop. Now if you are familiar with Harvest Moon 64, then you will be glad to know that you control the main character just like that. No quibbles or distorted camera motions to speak of either, which provides a major sigh of relief, as it is usually the antagonist in this genre.

Yet another option Animal Crossing sports is the handheld to console connectivity. Connecting the Game Boy Advance with the Gamecube, you can make design patterns on your clothes, unlock special items, and even access a new island. The most thrilling element though is the town song variance system. You can keep the lively little default theme or even create your own town song. Feeling particularly demiurgic, I put together a version of “Saria’s Song” from the Ocarina of Time. Ah, you got to love it. And even if your’ inventive spirit is a little doused; there are plenty of catchy songs the game provides, that you can use to make your own customizable theme. There is so much to do here, and the sheer amount of secrets the game hides is immeasurable.

Suddenly feeling a bit nostalgic?

Well be sure to check out the many classic NES titles hidden within. Games like Balloon Fighter, Tennis, and Pinball have made great transitions over to the cube and are a great break from a long day of errand running. You, of course, have to earn them by finding them in special shops and events. There are a lot more available old school games than the ones listed, and all of them provide more of that delicious, old-school experience. Well, if anything it prevents the couch potatoes from having to switch systems.

The visuals of the game are dated, seeing as this was originally a 64 bit title; easily noticeable due to the simple environment, blocky displays, and occasional blurry textures. Alternatively, the sprites are cute, and the backgrounds blend well with this style, but they just do not take advantage of the system’s graphical texturing. Going a little more into character models, there is plenty of expressionism to be found, and the emotions of the characters are very light hearted and funny. If a character is sad, he or she will frown, and there will be a little rain cloud above their head. If you make them happy, they will laugh, and little “Ha Ha Ha” symbols will circle around their body. It is just the simple humor and rambunctious critters that increase the charm and provide a flipside view from the norm.

Improvement definitely occurs in the audio department. Character discussions involve familiar mumble tones, as the text displays what they are really saying. The sound effects of the game themselves are right on as well. Throwing random items in the lake and banging an axe against a tree all sound like they should. Musically present are some traditional chimes and, of course, the changeable town song that pops in here and there when you enter a certain area. As said earlier, there are plenty of great tunes that come along later in the game, so good things come to those who wait.

Repetition occurs in all sims and it will come early to some folks, which is my only small irk. One such example would be the flow of the game. Since this game is in real time, it can definitely be hard to get certain items or meet particular people. There is also only so many times that you will want to fish, do odd jobs, and search for that one unobtainable treasure. Neighbors will also often bug you with familiar tasks again and again; providing frustrating moments that will make you wish you were the only person living there. Though the traditional reoccurring style of simulations may turn off some folks, there is still some hope. Using unique codes corresponding to certain items, you can trade these sequences with people from the Internet. By doing this you can snag that obscure trinket or hidden piece of furniture you have been wanting for so long, motivating you to continue along.

At the end of the day, you are exhausted and ready to crash, knowing you have another engaging day ahead of you. It is bizarre Japanese style simulating at its finest, and provides enough twists and turns to keep the “Average Joe” comfortable for a while. There just happens to be something in simulations that puts you in the shoes of your character, more so than most role-playing titles do. Take that unique character creation and put it in an ever moving land, and you have something remarkable. This distinct world is ever moving, and it is this factor that can make or break it for those full time workers. Nevertheless, time is always progressing, and even if you are constantly occupied in life, your virtual world awaits you on the other side.

Verdict – 8/10

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Retro Review: Wario World

28 04 2009

Now, for a while my retro reviews have been for solid games.  Today, I look at a game that didn’t quite measure up to that standard.  Oh, what am I talking about, it sucked.  Bask in the negativity as we delve into Wario World of the Gamecube.

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Wario World (Nintendo Gamecube)

Original release date: 06/23/03

Alas, there is someone who has always been in Mario’s glorious shadow and it is not his brother. No my friends, that spot belongs to the plumber’s unfortunate and obese rival, Wario. From the early days of his ventures on the Game Boy to his release on the Gamecube, the tubby gangster has always been a part of an incredibly simple and linear based game-play style. One such example would be the immortality that he possesses through most of his titles. However, Wario World ditches the “live forever” aspect, but in turn takes in another attribute; that all too familiar feeling of just plain sucking. It is quite a shame because I really wanted to like this game, but it let me down in every way imaginable.

In a land of gluttony and greed, poor Wario has lost his fortune due to a curse from a horrible black gem. The gem’s power has turned all of his gold into monsters and expelled him from his kingdom. It is up to this man, clad in purple and yellow, to simply take out the opposition, destroy the essence of the gem, and reclaim all of his treasure. From this generic aspect of story-telling, we are eventually lead to the main view of the game, which ends up being another platform-based collect-a-thon. Now, in your mind, picture the collective themes of Super Mario Sunshine, but factor in many more incredibly boring item themes and an inescapable repetitive nature. What made other percentage-based platform games a success was the free roaming exploration, which is unfortunately absent in Wario World. For encompassing this strange land is a set of 3D environments in a linear 2D side-scrolling fashion.

As soon as you begin the game, you will notice four worlds, with only one being accessible at the beginning. Within each of these worlds are three stages, each with their own treasures, puzzles, and bosses. Your main objective in each stage is to collect treasure, after treasure, after treasure, along the way having to fight incredibly stupid AI, and going through a series of mind-numbingly easy puzzle sequences. From tedious platform hoping to hitting switches a couple feet away from their resultant, it is quite obvious what age group Nintendo was aiming at. The difficulty of the game hardly ever improves and some of the later tasks could best be described as time consuming. Primarily because a large chunk of what you are collecting in this game is absolutely pointless and only goes toward getting a perfect score (which you will never have the desire to complete anyway.)

I can say one thing though; originality among adversaries was never a primary objective for the developers. In each level you will usually come across about two or three enemies and they are among the most intelligent devoid creatures I have ever seen. For example, in the first stage there are these small dinosaurs that will try to attack you by slashing. I ran up to and stood in front of this creature for a few seconds and then walked behind him. And to my astonishment, he was still winding up his fist for an attack in the direction I was previously standing. The enemies also appear extremely calcium deficient, as the majority will usually take one or two quick slugs each to drop.

The repetitiveness, however, comes from the usage of identical enemies in later levels. That’s right they are the same enemies with the same traits, but in order to make them seem different, they gave them each a graphic change. In world one, we have the slow witted lizard-like “magons,” and one level later the generically named “clowns.” Point is, they move exactly at the same rate, have the same attack patterns, and are taken down in the same amount of hits. You will go through the game constantly confronting characters who are practically the exact same thing as previous level foes and sadly there are very few of them.

Being plump has to have some advantages, eh? Well, old Wario certainly knows how to throw his weight around, as you have a couple of various moves to implement upon your dim-witted challengers. Using the B button will allow you to throw a couple of quick punches, while holding it will let you do a linebacker style charge. Meanwhile, the shoulder buttons will prove useful in ass-slamming your foes into the dirt. Moving Wario himself around is relatively simple and he controls well for the most part from stage to stage. The only thing that throws a wrench in the whole system is the previously mentioned 2D game-play in a 3D environment. You will constantly find yourself jumping incorrectly off cliffs and ledges and running right past your enemies. The loose controls and unmovable camera angles will definitely grate on your nerves after a while. To make matters worse, the unrelenting challenge of keeping the power of your Gamecube turned on, with this game in it, is the only difficulty to speak of.

Sad I know.

As said before, treasure hunting would be a lot of fun, if this world was expansive. Unfortunately with everything moving in a side scrolling environment, it is just a matter of time before you run into everything. Small sprites, regular treasure, coins (which you can use to buy lives and continues), and lastly red gems, sum up the available loot. Earning said gems will force you to take on “puzzle challenge” stages, which could have been something unique. Yet they pale in comparison to the challenge levels in similar platformers and require no more than the IQ of a hair dryer to complete. One mission actually required me to pull a lever and then jump up just three platforms to reach the item. Others required simple timing of hoping over slow moving obstacles. The sad thing is that even if you fail there is no consequence, but to jump back down and try again.

With the lack of effort put into the enemies, obstacles, and puzzles, the boss confrontations have to be worthwhile right? Well, yes and no. I did find the boss fights to be somewhat entertaining, but their premise is shallow as expected. After the first few attack exchanges you will know their pattern and proceed to wail on them, while confidently laughing at your full set of hearts.

To complement the rushed game-play, Nintendo decided to humor everyone with outdated visuals as well. Everything looks very bland and the textures on objects like bridges and trees look extremely muddy. The character designs are very generic and as said before are merely cosmetic to hide similar enemy patterns throughout levels. Hell, it looks as if they just copied and pasted character models and environments, did a color change, and called it something else. Practically every puzzle level looks the same and the majority of obstacles such as the spike-balls are used over extensively. All of this barely compares though to the look of the individual world entry levels in the main lobby. Notice the adequately cardboard cutout shaped design of the backgrounds and how they resonate in front of the motionless sky.

As terrible as this sounds, it is the very sound itself that remains one of the few positive features to Wario World. The game is filled with some catchy beats and the same thing applies to the boss music samples, however, both are short and repeat quite a bit too soon. The puzzle level samples are repetitive as well and offer nothing special to the already empty table. To top it off, Wario is terribly annoying and his fake Italian accent is enough to make you want to pull that little white plug out of your television’s audio socket.

Beneath all of the trash there is one feature included that is quite interesting and that is the Game Boy Advance compatibility. If you have an SP on hand, you can connect it with the system in order to transfer a sampling of WarioWare Inc. to it. The fun little mini-games here are humorous and interesting, but you are better off just picking up the full version. Quite sad when the only credible factor in a game comes from something that has nothing to do with it.

At the end of the day Wario World is as an empty serving that leaves you with nothing but high cholesterol. The most this game encompasses is about ten hours and that is if you can stomach the first few stages. With the simplistic graphics, repetitive game-play, and bogus challenge, it is obvious that the game was intended for young audiences. However, I would not recommend this pile of garbage to even the smallest adolescent out there. It is a shame that Wario’s first outing in his own advanced console game was such a poor one, resulting in being nothing more than a dusty old box in the corner of my drawer.

Verdict – 2/10