Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
November 21, 2017
I first encountered the Animal Crossing series through Animal Crossing: Wild World (2005) for the Nintendo DS. Growing up, we were poor and I never had a Gamecube, so I missed that first iteration of the game, but I’ve made sure to pick up the main Animal Crossing games since then, including New Leaf (2012). I would always play those games for days and days, hours at a time, catching fish, selling beetles, trying to pay off Capitalist Overlord Tom Nook, before setting them aside for months, and return to find my poor town drowned in weeds. (Note: New Leaf is much better about not letting weeds overrun the place, and I am grateful.)
I was at my partner’s house for Thanksgiving the day the Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp app finally dropped, so I asked her to download it with me so I’d have a second opinion on all the new features and gameplay. Sam hasn’t played an Animal Crossing game since the Gamecube version, and we anticipated that the leap between that and this new mobile version would be pretty large. We were right.
The first thing we noticed is that, while the app asks you to choose between a masculine base and a feminine base for your avatar, at no point does it ask you to designate yourself as Male or Female. Given that Sam and I are both nonbinary, this was a welcome touch of inclusivity, and she chose the feminine base while I chose the masculine base. We also later discovered that you can wear most of the clothing available in the game on either base, whether it’s a skirt on a masculine avatar or pants on a feminine avatar, which has delighted me to no end. At last, a game where I can present the way I’ve always wanted to in real life!
The second thing we noticed, and absolutely marveled at, is that we could choose our eye shape, hair color, eye color, and even skin color right from the start! Given that, historically, your face and hair have been designated through the questions you answer as you’re making your way to your new town, this change absolutely blew us away.
The best part is that you can go in and change any of those things, eyes, hair, and skin anytime you want through the settings menu. No more visiting a stylist and navigating your way through a question tree with a walkthrough you picked up off IGN. Unfortunately, you can’t switch between the masculine and feminine bases at will, but maybe we’ll see that feature added in the future.
I feel the need to mention once more that you can choose your skin tone. There are eight shades that range from peachy to a more golden brown, and most of us should have no trouble finding a skin tone that feels right at home. In previous incarnations of Animal Crossing, everyone started out pasty, and the only way to change that was by spending time out in the sun and tanning. Suffice it to say, this is a radical new spin on character personalization in the AC world.
When we finally finished customizing our characters, we were treated to the chill, welcome face of K.K. Slider, an old friend you’ll recognize from previous games. He asked us a question that actually doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the game, though that didn’t stop us from a quick Google session to check with our friends in Australia who were lucky enough to have already been playing for a month or so.
We were also introduced (or reintroduced, since I played New Leaf) to the chipper Isabella, who informed us that we’re the new camp managers! Congratulations! I don’t know about you, but considering I had a hard enough time managing an entire town, I really hoped managing a campground would be a little more within my scope.
The game got underway pretty quickly, getting us set up with a basic camp (I chose the “Cute” style, my partner chose the “Cool” style), giving us a good starter package that includes some Leaf Tickets, crafting supplies and Bells, and sending us around to start making friends with cute animal characters that I personally haven’t yet encountered in any of the previous games.
One major difference between Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp and previous games is that fishing and bug-catching happen in separate, designated areas that have to be traveled to. You’re not given tools at the beginning of the game, you simply show up to the area with the tool needed to gather the resource you want. Fishing still works in much the same way as it always has (tap once, wait for the fish to bite, then tap again), though bug catching has become significantly easier due to the developers having to work through the constraints of touch recognition. You simply tap on the bug once, wait a couple of seconds until the screen tells you to go, and then you tap it again.
Considering one of my biggest issues with the previous games was figuring out how close I could get to a bug to catch it before I would scare it away, this is a change I really hope carries into future console versions.
Now, for Sam, there was one pressing, immediate question: “But can I dig?”
And the answer at the time was no. No, you couldn’t.
This was actually the biggest source of disappointment for her. “Are you telling me I can’t plant a tree? In a game about a campsite? That doesn’t seem right, babe.” She made her peace with it though. Sort of. Thankfully, a recent update to the app brought a gardening feature that allows you to plant flowers! Sam is much happier now.
Fish and bugs regenerate at a random and constant rate and can be traded in for crafting materials and Bells to animals found around the campgrounds. Fruit, much like in the original game, takes longer to regenerate, though still much less than a day (about 2 hours for most of the trees).
The main gameplay is fairly simple. You run around collecting resources to fulfill animals’ requests, and they reward you through supplies that you can use to expand your camper, create furniture, and make your campsite a little more interesting. There’s not much more to it than that.
You can visit the marketplace daily and check out the two merchants for the day, or you can visit the Quarry and smack about five rocks with a shovel in exchange for some crafting materials. There are loans to pay off via the brothers that expand your camper (in absence of Tom Nook), but outside of that, the game is very much about doing short fetch quests and raising your level by raising your friendships with different characters that you can invite over to your main campsite.
As for the Leaf Tickets, which make up the most dreaded component of this “free-to-play” app game, Sam and I actually haven’t needed to use them very much. They’re available to use if you want to speed up the crafting of furniture, or to buy two exclusive items (there will likely be more of those in the future), but Sam and I accumulated about 250 Leaf Tickets within the first two days of playing, and haven’t found much need for them yet. Chances are this changes the more you play, but as of the writing of this article, both of us are at around Level 20 and we haven’t really hit a solid, annoying paywall yet. To be fair, we also play this game in bursts of an hour or so, leaving ample time in between for all the timers to run down on the fruit and animal quests.
It also helped us tremendously to fill up our friend list in the game with just about anyone we encountered. In previous Animal Crossing games, two players had to establish contact outside of the game in order to exchange friend codes and add each other so they could visit each other’s towns. In Pocket Camp, however, I’m able to send friend requests simply by tapping on the occasional avatar that pops up in one of the campground areas. This has enabled me to gain quick entry to the Quarry (you need five people to help you get in), and in times when I need to fulfill a quest requiring fruit from a tree that hasn’t regenerated, I almost always find it in the market box of someone on my friend list. You can still add friends via friend-code input, but it’s not the only method, at least. A large part of mobile gaming involves connecting with other people around the world to expand the gaming experience, and it seems that Nintendo is doing its part in enabling that as best as they can.
The music is exactly as we remembered it from previous Animal Crossing games, and they’ve kept most of the sound effects as well, which hit Sam right in the nostalgia. The art is still cute and bouncy, giving the world a happy, welcoming feel that’s like coming home right from the start, and you’ll see the environment change with the progression of time (snow in the winter, autumn colors in the fall, etc.).
It’s hard not to miss experiences like digging for fossils to donate to the museum, visiting the coffee shop, and shooting down presents from the sky, but the app does its best to keep to the spirit of the games, even while lacking some of the soul. The app has released some updates having to do with holidays, such as for Christmas and New Year’s, where you can get all sorts of exclusive items like candy cane furniture, which adds a little freshness when it begins to get stale. The developers also appear to be hard at work adding new areas and features to the app, which will hopefully lead to it coming a little closer to embodying all the things we love about the full-fledged Animal Crossing games.
Sam’s final verdict: “It’s a fun little game and worth playing, but it’s also only a pocket-sized version of an actual title and does suffer in a few ways for the ability to compare.”
In other words, don’t go in expecting a fully fleshed-out Animal Crossing game, and you’ll probably have a pretty fun time.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is available for download now in the Android Marketplace and iOS store.