Despite its humble beginnings on the N64/Gamecube back in the early 2000s, Animal Crossing has always felt truly at home on Nintendo’s portable consoles. Its cosy, welcoming atmosphere and hordes of lovable characters makes it the ideal pick up ‘n play experience no matter the circumstances – whether you’re stressed out on a bustling commute or completely at ease snuggled up in bed. There’s statistics to back up its dominance outside of the home console market, too – Wild World for the DS is the biggest selling title of the series with roughly 12.14m copies sold worldwide, whilst its 3DS iteration New Leaf sits snugly behind it with 11.23m units shifted. So when Nintendo announced an Animal Crossing game would be making it way to mobile alongside Mario and Fire Emblem titles, it’s safe to say there were a lot of happy people who felt like their portable gaming prayers had been answered.
As exciting as the prospect of a mobile version of Animal Crossing was, however, there was always going to be a certain level of apprehension given some recent developments in the franchise. Nintendo were very tight-lipped with details as to what their mobile AC title would entail – and the fear that it would emulate some of the more unconventional games that had emerged over the past few years was ever present. Spin-off title Happy Home Designer did away with the series’ communal aspect and forced you to work for Tom Nook’s home furnishing scheme, whilst the Wii U’s flunky Amiibo Festival felt like a huge misstep given that Nintendo were having enough trouble working out the kinks with their flagship tabletop game series Mario Party. Both of the games found respectable enough audiences within the AC community, but for many they only made the desire for a fully-fledged follow up to New Leaf burn all the more brightly.
It’s fortunate then that Pocket Camp retains a lot of the elements that made us fall for Nintendo’s masterstroke of a sim. The game puts the player in charge of a campsite – complete with a customisable RV that acts as your own personal home – in which they can craft furniture and use it to spruce up their abode to their liking. You can catch fish, bugs and perform various fetch quests to curry favour with a host of familiar furry faces before eventually inviting them to stay at your campsite. It’s every staple and mechanic from the series condensed down for your smart device, which ideally is what a mobile title should be.
Of course, the laidback nature of Animal Crossing meant a lot of the obstacles many franchises would face when attempting to break into the mobile market were already cleared. Its player base has always been encouraged to adopt a little-but-often approach when it comes to spending time with their towns and critters – courtesy of timed events, shop restocks and townsfolk that would actively get pissed off with you if you talked to them too much – and that style falls perfectly in line with the way mobile games are designed to be experienced. To say Pocket Camp absolutely embraces every aspect of mobile gaming culture in 2017 would be an entirely accurate statement – even the parts that a lot of generally frown upon.
Microtransactions do make an appearance in Pocket Camp – how could they not in a series that prominently features a hungry loan shark and a shady estate agent? Yes, you can spend cold hard cash to acquire ‘leaf tickets’ – special in-game currency that looks like a dollar branded with the Animal Crossing logo. Right now, there’s little use for them unless you want to impatiently speed up crafting or book a K.K Slider residency for your campsite. But once Pocket Camp truly gets the ball rolling, it’s likely it’ll be tempting you to part with your real life earnings for various tit-for-tat on a weekly basis.
But whilst the rise of microtransactions and their sometimes dubious implementation has steadily become an industry-wide concern for the gaming community, it’s worth noting that Nintendo haven’t pulled a complete Tom Nook and started demanding money from their patrons out of the blue. They’ve been slowly gauging whether the AC faithful would be willing to part with more than their in-game Bells for quite a while now. Alongside the release of Happy Home Designer, they introduced collectable amiibo cards. They’re character trading cards which, whilst possessing limited in-game functions, are mostly there to look pretty in a binder. There’s currently a whopping 450 available in total – packaged in blind packs of either 3 or 6 depending on your region – and you can bet that a huge number of people tore through packs until they could find their most beloved animal friend.
Sure, with the amiibo cards you’re getting something tangible – but when we’re talking about game companies taking advantage of their demographic commercially, you’d be hard pressed to justify that Nintendo’s catering to the AC fanbase is an instance of one of them. In a weird, roundabout way it’s almost like peddling extras for Animal Crossing is essentially the chancier video game equivalent of Sylvanian Families – except the character designs are more diverse and universally appealing, they actually interact with you and their tacky furniture doesn’t double up as a trip hazard.
With the world winding down for the Christmas season – well, mostly, apologies to all those out there working retail – the timing of Pocket Camp’s release couldn’t be more opportune for both players and Nintendo. With Switch stock bound to be in short supply per Nintendo tradition, players will at least be able to get stuck into the homely comforts of a new Animal Crossing title. For Nintendo, it could easily become the unsuspecting holiday cash cow should they keep giving reasons for consumers to keep spending. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how Animal Crossing Switch will turn out based on the success of its mobile predecessor – that is, if Nook ever gets out of that bath full of dollars and bothers to open up shop for it.