Does It Hold Up is not a series about whether a game is good by today’s standards, but rather how close it was to getting things right, and what those things were. Which games innovated well for their time, and which games still hold up even in this day and age?
2001 Release Date
I dare say most people's first interaction with the Animal Crossing franchise was probably the same as mine, which was through New Leaf. Back then, I didn't have the same knowledge and understanding that I do nowadays, so the game was quite perplexing to me, especially as I went into it without knowing anything about the title; it was just a game my mother had bought for me.
For a beginner in the franchise, the emptiness of the first few days is quite jarring! There's little to do, the time system is a bit strange, and with the lack of tutorials, I didn't know the game would grow as I played it for several days. Despite all of that, New Leaf's charm kept me coming back again and again.
Animal Crossing wasn't the very first life simulation game, but it certainly made a mark on the videogame industry, revolutionising it by adding real-time clock gameplay. One might not be able to tell this by simply looking at the game itself, but the development team behind this title was actually inexperienced and had just regrouped after the release of Yoshi's Story, all the way back in 1997. Despite this, Animal Crossing was a hit — such a hit, in fact, that the first four main entries of the title continue being some of the best-selling games of their respective consoles, racking up a total of more than 30 million copies sold. This is without counting the latest instalment, New Horizon, which eclipsed all the others as it sold 37.62 million copies alone. It is estimated that the entry grossed a total of $2 billion (roughly £1.5 billion) in its first year.
It is safe to say that the choice to not make the game as it was originally conceived — a role-playing adventure game with a strong focus taking place in dungeons — was a good idea. However, because of the development being stalled by the failure of the 64DD, designer Katsuya Eguchi decided to go for a non-linear life simulator instead. He wanted to focus the game on themes such as family, friendship, and community, as well as have the title be friendly to non-gamers.
There's no doubt Animal Crossing has been a commercial success, both domestically and internationally, as fans all over the world eagerly wait for the next instalment, but are they losing sight of a gem under their noses? Could the original game be just as good and charming as the next new one? This is what we are here to find out, as we check to see if Animal Crossing holds up!
How did it feel to play it?
I started wanting to try out the original title when so many of the old fans were giving feedback on the latest game, New Horizon. The biggest complaint among them was that the villagers had become dull and uninteresting, as Nintendo has watered down their personalities to be more family-friendly, almost to the point of becoming cartoon characters. I personally thought they were delightful in New Horizon, aside from the endless repetition of the lines. Still, curiosity wouldn't stop chipping at me until I tried the game and... yes, there is absolutely a huge difference.
Upon booting the game up, I was charmed by the ugly graphics. I didn't think I'd like them, as New Horizon is one of the prettiest games I've seen, but there was something cute about my character’s polygonal hair and body. Even cuter were seeing all the furry friends I've come to know and love through one of my most played games: Pocket Camp. As I told my wife, it felt like I was inside a game based on Animal Crossing, which is a very strange feeling. And although I didn't get any of the villagers that are already my favourites, I did get Peewee, Mitzi, Hugh, and Nibbles, whom I am quite familiar with. I just wasn't that familiar with Peewee, I guess, as when he started abusing me I was taken aback!
You see, he is a Cranky (or Grumpy to some) personality type, which in New Leaf and Pocket Camp mean they're usually just more old men than anything; they'll complain about newfangled things and their back pains. In this instalment, Peewee was downright calling me his minion, and getting upset because Hugh had me doing a favour for him! This had me laughing and showing my wife, as I took picture after picture of their hilariously abusive reactions. Asking me if I was dense, if I was the mental runt of the litter, or even straight up mocking my name are just some of the few examples I can think of! I found myself getting disappointed whenever I’d speak to the animals and they wouldn’t say something sassy to me.
Another thing that I didn't expect to like about the original game was the lack of things to do. I figured that, after decorating an entire town with furniture in New Horizon, Animal Crossing would feel empty in comparison... but that same emptiness allowed me to enjoy the game the way I believe the developer intended: slowly. I get to boot up the game, go hunting for a few bugs, fishes, fruits, and shells to sell to Nook, talk to the animals, and leave. I had never been able to enjoy any of the previous titles at such a slow, intended pace, as I was always distracted by the gazillion insects or spending hours messing around with the layout of the towns. Not being the mayor, and all of that stress being on someone else, was nice for a change.
There are many features in the original game that I will miss when I go back to the newer ones, such as the Police Station — as it gives me random items to grab — the option to ask the animals directly if they need any favours, and the Able Sister’s clothing recommendations.
Does It Hold Up?
Despite the fact that the graphics are pretty hideous at times and some of the features from the newer games are missing (such as customisation of the character and town), I found myself quite charmed. The original game makes it easier to focus on it being a relaxing, short event of your day, as you pass the time collecting furniture and interacting; it's also a very nice title to experience once you've played the bulked-up new ones. I intend to try and see it through for as long as I can, as it's a gorgeous beginning to an almost perfect franchise. So, yes, I do believe Animal Crossing holds up, as the gameplay is simply endearing, the characters a joy to speak to, and it nails what a relaxing game should be.
This said, I can recommend that die-hard Animal Crossing fans go and experience the humble beginning, but for those that won't be pulled by their nostalgic heartstrings, I'd recommend just skipping to New Leaf or New Horizon, as I believe they would have more to do in the long run.