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With Animal Crossing: New Horizons almost here, let’s look back at New Leaf on 3DS

We’re just a few months away from Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Switch. For fans of the franchise, it’s a good time to look back at Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the Nintendo 3DS.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf brought all the life-simulating fun of the franchise to the 3DS handheld back in 2013. It came loaded with online/social connections. The result is largely the same Animal Crossing experience, although it has been enhanced a great deal with all of the social and sharing options in the game.

To be honest, before I actually downloaded New Leaf, I wasn’t thrilled about the game. The last time I really played a game in the series at any extended length was Animal Crossing: Wild World, which failed to capture my day-to-day attention in the same way that the original GameCube game did. I felt like the only issue I ever really had with Animal Crossing was the lack of accessibility when concerning the multiplayer components. With New Leaf, these problems have been all but eliminated.

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The game definitely still demands a certain level of commitment, and those who aren’t familiar with the Animal Crossing series might find it to be as bizarre of a concept as when it originally launched on the GameCube. Those who do end up getting into it might find themselves sucked in pretty quickly, as the game is definitely addictive and highly entertaining.

The gameplay in New Leaf remains largely the same as previous Animal Crossing games. This time, however, you immediately assume the role of the mayor when you move into town.

From the get-go, you have a lot of control over the development of your town, and it’s as simple as visiting the town hall and sitting in the mayor’s chair. You don’t even have to waste a bunch of time doing pesky part-time jobs for Tom Nook, although you’ll still ultimately owe him a bunch of money for anything you happen to do to your house.

Of course, there is still a large focus on customizing your house with various objects that can be purchased, found, or obtained from residents around town. It’s a lot of fun to collect all of the different items – especially the ones based on classic Nintendo games.

Among the items to collect, there’s the Virtual Boy, the Piranha Plant Pipe, and the swirling fire bar. I even bought a phonograph one afternoon that could play songs obtained from other players.

You can change your clothes, accessories, and even pants, socks and shoes. And, as always, you can visit the Able Sisters’ shop to purchase your own custom patterns, which can be easily created on the touch screen. I made a shirt that looks like Gengar’s face and ended up setting it as the town flag.

You can customize a lot more than just the objects and arrangements of your house. As you build up more money and take on bigger home development projects, you can also choose new doors, fences, roof textures, and more. There is a great deal of personalization that fans of games like The Sims will immediately enjoy.

The idea goes further still, allowing you to fund projects for the town, such as new fountains, bridges, benches, and more. As the mayor, you also have direct control over the town tune, which greets friends visiting your town and also plays as the hourly alarm tune in the background.

I never actually got a chance to check out all of the features and events within Animal Crossing: New Leaf, especially some of the multiplayer content. But I did explore a friend’s town and scour it for new items that I couldn’t access in my own town.

For example, in my friend’s town, there were cherries growing in the trees. I had pears in my town, so cherries were more valuable to sell at the shop. Naturally, I stopped by to check out his house and all of the goodies he had collected over the course of his experience.

That is just scratching the surface of what New Leaf offered. I really haven’t gotten around to everything, but many of the ideas hold true nonetheless. The game kept me busy with all of the daily/weekly/monthly events, many of which are based around holidays – even birthday parties.

Generally speaking, there is definitely something cool about showing off the town that you’ve developed over time, sending messages to friends with ease, and sharing images of your experience with the Image Share feature. It allows you to immediately upload snapshots of your game to social networking sites like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

My main criticism concerning New Leaf isn’t much different than what I’d hold against previous Animal Crossing games, but it’s a flaw nonetheless. The game just doesn’t allow you to have the same experience unless your daily schedule permits a lot of playtime during the day.

As an example, the two major shops in town close by 10 pm. If you happen to have a work schedule that doesn’t allow you to get around to playing games until later in the evening, it makes it difficult to participate in most of what the game has to offer.

Daily events like the Bug Off competition were all but impossible for me to enjoy. Even the turnip-trading mini-game (the “Stalk Market”) can be difficult to experience, especially when you have to purchase the turnips from Joan the warthog on Sunday and then try to re-sell them at the store for a profit at some point throughout the week. It can be tough (and potentially result in going bankrupt) if you miss a day with big profits simply because you didn’t have the time to take out of your real life.

Interestingly enough, I feel like this struggle to get back to playing New Leaf is what made my decision to download the digital version many years ago feel so much more satisfying. At the very least, the game is always available to boot right from the Home Menu, and playing it day in and day out is that much less of a hassle. Also, the fact that it feels like such an obligation to get back to your town and tend to its needs really speaks volumes about well it succeeds in doing exactly what it intends to do – pull you into a digital life simulator and dig its hooks in deep.

Although Animal Crossing: New Leaf isn’t intended for everyone (particularly nocturnal people and those who feel the urge to shoot at something every few seconds), it definitely has an undeniable charm that seems to pull you in long before its life-sim gameplay sucks you in for good. As far as Nintendo 3DS games go, there haven’t been any with such an impressive ability to connect to other players.

With the connection between your town and the towns of your friends being more seamless than ever before, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the definitive installment of the franchise up to this point and one hell of a 3DS game. Let’s hope that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is able to improve on this template on the Nintendo Switch!