Animal Crossing Pocket Camp Review


By: Eric Flapjack Ashley (@flapjackashley)

It’s been a long four years since the last mainline Animal Crossing game has been released in North America. In reality, that is par for the course for the series: there were three years in between the GameCube original and Wild World on the Nintendo DS, and there were five years of waiting from 2008’s City Folk on the Wii to the most recent New Leaf on the 3DS (2013). But this wait just feels longer, and that could be because New Leaf was so good – and the highest selling of the series so far – or that the 2015 spinoffs (Happy Home Designer and amiibo Festival) were more insulting to fans than pleasing, and with Nintendo’s new Switch system selling like hotcakes, it makes our wait that much more painful.

However, that does not mean we are going to go without any new Animal Crossing content going forward to tide us over. A new mobile game, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, has made it to the Google Play and iOS App Store and has a lot of excitement around it. But will this early holiday offering be more of a warm cookie and glass of milk, or a lump of coal in our stockings?

Welcome to Camp

After starting up the game, you are offered an option to link the game to your My Nintendo account (existing or start a new one), and that is highly recommended as it will save your game data across your devices so you won’t have to start all over if you lose or replace your phone or tablet. It will also give you a bunch of free in-game goodies and such. Then, it doesn’t take long for the game to feel like a real Animal Crossing game as you’re led through a lengthy, unskippable tutorial – although, to be fair, it does cover a lot of new ground given this is a mobile title with different goals and objectives.

Seeing Isabelle greet you is like walking into a warm embrace. You feel like you are in good hands, and much like in New Leaf, she is there to assist you as you are the new Camp Manager. Her role, however, is greatly reduced – gone are the days of having to seek her permission to place something on your grounds.

Your goal this time is to build a small camp ground of your dreams and make it where villagers will want to come and camp forever, or at least until they have worn out their welcome and you give them the boot. If you are into the designing aspect of the series, this game will meet your needs and more. You are in charge of the theme the camp has, the kind of furniture and tents it will offer, and commissioning Cyrus to make and design new items to display. You can also design your own camper and expand it, much like you would your house in the main series.

Cyrus’s services, however, do not come without a fee.

Friends Forever

The heart of the game is building friendships with the villagers. The game separates your home screen into different, specific areas, where you meet a rotating roster of familiar animals. When going to visit them, they will ask you to find certain items for them and doing so will increase your friendship level with them. Finding the items they want is where a lot of the actual gameplay comes in, visiting different areas to shake trees, fish, or catch the bugs that they are looking for. The interface for these tasks are very user friendly on a touchscreen of a phone or a tablet, so no worries there. Once you build up enough of a friendship with them, they will tell you what their “style” is and if you want to invite them to stay at your camp, you must include items that they find appealing, so unlike the non-grading designing style of Happy Home Designer, how you choose to decorate and stock your campsite actually matters.

Everyone starts off with the same few animals to interact with, but once the player advances past level five in achievements, the available animals begin to become randomized. Choosing your camp’s style and matching that with villagers means that while the total (to date) available villagers may be somewhat small to choose from, there are still many different combinations and options so each camp you visit can be unique.

I’ll Be There For You

Interacting with friends is also a centerpiece in the game. You can add people via a friend code, or by connecting the app to Facebook and/or Twitter (much like Nintendo’s other mobile games like Super Mario Run or Fire Emblem). Handy is the ability to have your own little “storefront” of excess items you collect and want to sell, and your friends can buy them – you can set what you sell, for how much and how many. If I get bored of trying to find a Tiger Butterfly and I see that my friend Gabe has one for sale, I can just use my bells and buy from him.

You can also visit your friend’s camp and see their style and also browse in their camper that is customizable. Sadly, and obviously due to the nature of mobile games as opposed to a full console game, the interaction you have with your friend is extremely limited: you can’t talk to your friend nor his villagers and you can’t leave messages. It may actually be more of a safeguard for the younger players of the game, but it’s disappointing that you can’t leave a greeting like you could with typing a message for their message board in New Leaf.

What you can do, though, is leave a “kudos.” It is basically giving them a “thumbs up,” and the game will let you know who leaves one. The function also figures into the game’s daily goals which can lead to more bells and rewards…

Pay the Piper

…Which leads me to talk about the aspect of free-to-play games that is almost universally hated: microtransactions. They are unpopular, but there is no doubt that large numbers of people will buy upgrades and items – Super Mario Run opted for a flat fee to play and was much less profitable than Fire Emblem, which was loaded with options to buy things throughout the game.

The in-game currency is called Leaf Tickets. They function similarly to bells, and both can be earned with natural progression in the game, but for those of us who are impatient, you can buy them to speed things up. In some cases, leaf tickets are required alongside bells or in-game earned materials in order for Cyrus to make new furniture for your camp or camper.

Luckily, the game is pretty liberal with giving the player bells and tickets and materials. You get 50 free Leaf Tickets for the aforementioned linking of your My Nintendo account to start you off, and you can earn dozens throughout the day by advancing levels and progressing in the game. One of the things that I was really impressed is that while the microtransactions are present, you are not hit over the head with them, and you can certainly play and enjoy the full game without spending a penny – although at a slower pace.

Happy Camper

Mobile games have a real love/hate relationship with players. I have been pleasantly surprised with this game. The game could definitely be improved in areas such as more ways to interact with friends, more villagers to choose from and expanding their scripted dialogue, and the game even lacks an optional push notification feature to alert you of friend requests or when Cyrus completes a project. But those can all easily be addressed in app updates, and if there is ever any game that can benefit from updates and additions, it’s Animal Crossing.

This game also does something that has been extremely rare when a franchise dips its toes into the waters of mobile gaming: Pocket Camp manages to simplify the game into smaller, bite-sized pieces required of a good mobile game while keeping all of the charm and heart of the main games. If you go into the game not expecting the full console experience, I think you will find Pocket Camp a pleasing app that I look forward to opening up every day.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was a pleasant surprise and this is one camp I don’t want to be sent home from.

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