Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp delivers the core mechanics and gameplay of Animal Crossing while engineering a quality mobile experience.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp came out last week, and I’m not going to lie, I was concerned when I first heard the announcement. It could only go one of two ways:
- They would ruin one of my childhood games.
- They would get it right, and my soul would be lost to my phone no matter how far I traveled from home.
I am happy to report that it was the latter.
In fact, my whole family hopped on the Animal Crossing hype train with me. I had more than five friends by the end of the first night, with more around the corner. Ask anyone who has tried to put together a raid for Destiny 2, finding six IRL friends to play the same game is hard.
But now that the hype dust has settled, one question remains: how is it?
Personally, I loved it. My few friends who hate the game are already past level 16, so I’m not inclined to believe them.
Allow me to elaborate.
It Feels Like an Animal Crossing Game, But With Clearer Objectives
Every Animal Crossing game boils down to the same formula: get into debt with Tom Nook, meet new animal friends, fish, shake trees, catch bugs, collect furniture, decorate your home, pay off your home, expand your home, get into more debt, repeat.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp has all of these things, with a few minor tweaks.
For one, debt is optional. Shocking, right? Instead of Tom Nook, the player can visit OK Motors, and instead of expanding a home, the player is expanding their camper. Plus, the first cosmetic upgrade is free to show the player how it is done, and you don’t have to opt into and improvements beyond that. You could play the entire game without getting into a loan.
Of course! I can’t look my friends in the eye if I don’t have the biggest camper.
So the camper is essentially your new home, which you can expand and decorate as you choose. But you also get to run a campsite, which you can also decorate as you choose. It gives quite a bit of creative freedom for a mobile game.
Catching bugs and fish follow the same mechanics as in the main games, albeit the bug catching has been updated slightly to make it more friendly for mobile. Instead of manually sneaking up on a bug and choosing the moment to drop the net, you simply click on the bug and the character automatically sneaks up for you. From there it is just like fishing: wait for the exclamation point. Too early or too late and the bug will be gone.
However, due to the restrictions on mobile players can’t catch bugs and fish in the same area. Instead, the map has been broken up into discrete areas for each activity: an island for catching bugs, a beach for seashells and sea fish, a river for river fishing, and an orchard for fruit. At first glance, this may seem like a pain, but don’t forget, this is a mobile game. As they were, these activities wouldn’t be sustainable on a limited mobile device, but the developers behind Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp found an ingenious way to keep these core elements in the game without sacrificing the game’s performance. More on that later.
Talking to animals is the same as ever. They are full of puns, goofy animations, and odd errands. Except these errands and interactions have been streamlined and turned into a core mechanic of the game.
Each animal has been given a level, and interacting with these animals increases that level. By increasing their levels, the player increases their own level. In fact, it is the only way to level up in the game. This has turned animal interactions from aimless shots in the dark to get some bells or furniture into clearly measurable investments that give clear rewards.
Personally, I am a fan of the new animal system, but it has caused some contention in the community. More on that below.
Building for Mobile is Hard, But Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp Got it Right
Building a game on mobile is hard, which is why many franchises sacrifice much of their core gameplay to deliver a minimalistic spin-off. (I’m looking at you, Mobius Final Fantasy). Which is why game fans are so afraid of failure whenever a new mobile game is announced. It’s almost as bad as gaming’s track record with movie spin-offs.
When it comes to Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Nintendo definitely did their homework before making a mobile game. Where most games don’t handle being interrupted very well, causing freezes or lost progress, AC:PC handles these events like a champ. Whether I hop out for a phone call, or I exit the game to save battery life, the game is right where I left it the next time I reopen it. My character is standing in front of the same tree and everything.
In fact, they took the mobile aspect to heart in everything from game design to overall theme. The campground setting makes everyone mobile, from you with your camper, to your animal friends with their tents. An on-the-move world for an on-the-move game. I love the thematic cohesion.
As far as game design, the developers were smart to bear in mind that players wouldn’t have the sit-down time to manage things like tiny inventory space, so they gave players 100 slots instead, space which expands further as the player levels up.
Interactions are fun, yet brief, so I can choose to slow down and enjoy the banter, or rapidly click through before putting the car into gear at the green light. (Don’t drive and play games, kids.)
And through it all, it is still the same Animal Crossing. As I said before, I can catch bugs, catch fish, and shake trees same as in any of the previous games. I can choose to grind bells to pay off my loans, or aimlessly toss my fishing pole in the ocean a hundred times. Whichever fits my mood. It is wonderful.
The Dark Side of Mobile: Microtransactions, Networking Issues, and Compromises
Let’s Start With Networking Issues
Networking issues plague any freshly released game. Just ask For Honor or Pokemon Go. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was no different, but they handled it excellently.
For one, the networking issues were rare. During day-to-day play, my family and I had no issues playing it. The only time we encountered an issue was during the nightly reset. This was the time when Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp kicked every user out of the game in order to reset log-in bonuses, etc. for the next day, at which time you had the entire player base trying to log back in at once. Twenty minutes of loading and freezing and booting ensued.
Doesn’t seem very smart, but I imagine they did it for anti-cheating purposes or some such logical reason.
Luckily, the developers behind AC:PC recognized the issue and jumped on it quickly. The next morning my in-game notification box had a note saying they were aware of the issue, and by the afternoon it was accompanied by a second note describing the details of a fix. They would stagger the reset timers by ten minutes, essentially cutting the number of logging-in players in half. Doesn’t seem like much when you’re talking about a player base of millions, but it seems to have worked. I haven’t had an issue since.
Of course, I don’t live in a major city with obscene network loads, so take my experience with a grain of salt.
The Bane of Gaming: Microtransactions
Everyone is allergic to microtransactions these days, but I am a firm believer that there are good ways to do microtransactions and bad ways to do microtransactions. Fortunately, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp fell on the good side of the fence.
They pull the usual MT tricks, giving a new user piles of MT currency at the beginning only to slow the flow later, all the while tempting the player with shortcuts that can skip a five hour wait, or allowing the player to craft something they don’t have the materials for, so long as they can pay the small fee.
As of this writing, I am level 22 and I have accumulated 587 Leaf Tickets without spending a penny. That is plenty of tickets to buy the two limited edition chairs that bring KK Slider and Tom Nook into your campsite, and then some.
Speaking of limited edition items, this is another common ploy to get players to separate with their money. But with the KK Slider and Tom Nook chairs, they give the player 45 days from the time they start a game to acquire these limited edition items. Plenty of time, even if you are limited to the 10 Leaf Tickets per level. And they make it clear that these items will be available again in future events.
If that’s not bending over backward to tell players not to bother spending their money, I don’t know what is.
Of course, the little banner at the top promoting all the notifications, including Leaf Ticket deals, is a bit much. But fortunately, the banner hides away any time you move or do anything meaningful, so it’s pretty meek as far as ads go.
Of course, this being a mobile game, it is not going to be able to manage as much data or workload as a full game, so there are some compromises.
- Fewer bugs and fish. They don’t seem to be affected by day/night cycles.
- Fewer dialogue lines, with lines commonly being reused by multiple characters
- No Museum
- No digging or fossils
- You can’t catch bugs and fish in the same space: each space is assigned its own activity.
In all fairness, allow me to list some wins from this move to mobile:
- Tom Nook is replaced by OK Motors, with a loan you can opt into, rather than being strong-armed right out the gate
- A wide variety of characters and furniture
- Rotating shops, not just items
- Frequent rewards
- Clearer objectives
- A rapidly expanding catalog and characters – unlock new furniture and new characters with every level up
- A downloading screen game that awards in-game currency (Bonus: the game only downloads what it needs, so you don’t need to wait an hour to play for the first time.)
It seems to me, the wins exceed the compromises in this move to mobile.
The Animals are Jerks, as Usual
This has been the number one complaint about Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp since it launched: the animals are assholes.
But I’m sitting here thinking, hasn’t that always been the case? They have always been needy, sending the player to deliver their furniture, and rambling on about their own little worlds as if everything revolves around them. That’s why I avoided interacting with the animals in the main games. I would rather catch rare bugs and deliver them to Blathers, thank you very much.
But here’s what changed: the game revolves around the animals now. If you want to level up, you have to cater to their every whim.
Not only do you have to give them piles of fruit and fish and bugs to make them happy, you also have to build furniture for them, and watch them sit in it smugly as you recall all the time and bells that went into making that damn blight on your campsite. And people hate that.
But to be perfectly honest, I don’t mind. It gives me something to work toward. It gives me a metric by which to level my game. I like leveling up and unlocking new animals. I like having something to spend my bells on. Because hey, I was satisfied with my personal decorations by level five, and I’m not too keen to get into debt with OK Motors. I need something to spend my bells on.
Not to mention, once the animals are in your camp you can farm those suckers like a Farmville crop. When I’m pressed for time, I do one thing: talk to everyone in my camp and collect the free 1,000+ bells I get for doing it.
Honestly, I feel like nothing has changed in regards to the animals and their behavior. But hey, if the animals really bug you that much, you can always put them in their own personal prison.
I thoroughly enjoyed Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Nintendo took the time to make this a quality experience for gamers, and it shows. Whether I’m fishing for Olive Flounders, or talking up the local animals, I feel like I am playing a mainstream Animal Crossing game.
And this is a game I can play with my family, including people who don’t normally play games, including family members who can’t afford a new console or a new game. I love it.
So if you don’t like addicting mobile games that can help you unwind even as they suck hours out of your life, then Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp isn’t the game for you.
If you’re new to Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, or if you want to learn more about the game’s inner strategies, check out this handy guide.
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