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Animal Crossing ::: Pixel Perfect

While some are most content stood on the beach, fishing rod in hand, willing the illusive sharks to take a nibble of their bait, I’ve been very happy honing my skills in Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s image editor. Though only a tiny grid of pixels it allows villagers to craft a whole host of custom accessories. From tiles to dot around town to designer wallpapers for your home, a one off haute couture to silly scribbles for your standee, your pixel art talents can be shown off to all who visit.

New Leaf may be chock full of a host of customisation options already but most operate within a set collection. Within the hundreds of furniture options there will no doubt be something that suits a player’s style but with a little work it can feel far more personal. For me it was a chance to place a handful of my favourite things into the town. Starting with unearthing the secrets lying under Buneaton.

From a young age I’ve loved dinosaurs and so need little excuse to shoe horn them into any of my projects. Of course Blathers and his ever expanding palaeontology exhibit help satiate this but I decided to blow his tiny owl mind with a slightly larger excavation. Taking up six tiles and inspired by the opening scenes of Jurassic Park we find a Deinonychus (the pedant in me won’t allow it to be mislabelled as the tinier Velociraptor) ready to be transported to the museum.

Elsewhere, in the clothes shops on Main Street, we find more contemporary items. Inspired by Marvel’s Avengers the Able Sisters stock a line for you and your friends to dress up as your favourite superhero. The Pro Designs, which allow you design front, back and the sleeves independently, are a great addition to Animal Crossing and offer far more creativity than seen before.

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There’s a relaxing joy I gain from spending time poking pixels. Taking the real world concepts and turning them into a tiny stylised version can lead me to lose hours as I play dress up with my tiny virtual dolls.

If you like what you see, use the QR code reader found in Mable and Sable’s and fill your village with fossils and superheroes. And, of course, we’d love to see what you’ve made.

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Animal Crossing ::: Review

During the three weeks since its release, I’ve thought of little else. In body I may be at work yet my mind continually drifts back to Buneaton; to its colourful residents, its sandy beaches, and to the community that I’m building there. I think of the circle of trees I’m nurturing around the standing stone we recently unearthed, the letters I need to write to thank my kind neighbours, and the projects I should execute as Mayor to move the town forward. It is all consuming.

All consuming, and yet unassuming. When it welcomes you in with its bright colours and big heads it’s easy for the uninitiated to wonder where the draw could possibly be. How could a game that looks like it could be a candidate for a CBBC show see grown men and women setup whole Facebook groups dedicated to what fruit each other are growing in their back garden?

Well, it begins with a train journey to a far off town.

Upon arrival you’re welcomed by the townsfolk, an enthusiastic collection of colourful creatures, they crowd around you excited to greet their new mayor. There’s been a case of mistaken identity but they won’t hear your protests, such is their eagerness to make you feel at home. But before you can take it all in, your new mayoral assistant Isabelle has whisked you away to Town Hall for a meeting with property mogul Tom Nook to break ground on your official residence.

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A whirlwind introduction to the town sees you scurry back and forth between your home, the shops, and your office, catching fleeting glimpses of meandering rivers and groves of fruit trees as you rush by. They at least hint at the sense for the idyllic country life you’d originally signed up for. Thankfully the last piece of paperwork is soon signed and you’re left on your own. From the solitude of your tent it feels a lot like being on holiday; despite an exhausting journey there’s a sense that you should be out doing something but you’re not sure what.

A quick stroll, maybe, round down to the beach, possibly with a touch of shell collecting. Turn those in at the local shop for some bells – the local currency – and you get a fishing rod, leading to a trip to the riverbank. There you may pick some fruit so plant a few trees, discovering a world of insects in the process. But what’s that, a fossil? Scamper off to the museum to get it checked out. And now the curator suggests you donate one of everything you find to him, better get fishing again… it’s a series of constant distractions.

Such is the aimlessness of it all some could wander around and lose interest, but equally the discovery can easily draw you in. A few inquisitive paces in one direction or another could be all it takes as you start to unearth your village’s treasures. Shaking a tree here or talking to a fellow resident there, this is where Animal Crossing starts to bite. I envy those discovering strange marks in the earth or floating presents for the first time as there’s a wealth – quite literally in some cases – of distractions that can pull you this way and that. It may not be the fully realised world of a Fallout or Oblivion but there are just as many treats that will cause you to forget where you were running to and pull out a fishing rod.

Those who do wish for a more directed sense of progression can look towards their Mayoral duties. Up until this point in the series Nintendo has let you simply live in the world, enjoying all it offers but with minimal ability to guide it. In New Leaf you can now direct how the village grows. This may be as minor as installing a park bench, as useful as building a new bridge to cross the river, or as fulfilling as constructing a new wing to the town’s museum, and with each opportunity it feels a far more personable experience. Many of the stalwarts of the series are hidden behind this urban renewal too, causing you to squeal with glee as names from the past are hinted at by Isabelle as she hands you the proposed list of projects. This already has caused Animal Crossing to have a far longer tail than before. The need to work for old friends – or even discover new ones – is a huge draw, and keeps you playing the turnip market in the hope of a huge profit and the ability to pay for the coffee shop that you know will herald your favourite pigeon’s return.

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Be it a beverage serving bird or the red tree frog who lives next door, the characters you meet play their part in keeping you hooked. They may be dim enough to continuously try and walk through trees but the personality their little AI possesses causes you to remember them, to seek them out for conversation or even to wish they’d leave you in peace. It’s like true village life as you hope for gossip and exchange pleasantries, even if the undercurrent of all your interactions is secretly hoping your “friends” will hand over presents if you’re nice enough.

Large portions of Animal Crossing are wrapped up in the ideal of community and conversation. Even basic operations such as character creation and heading online are disguised as normal chats, the latter hidden behind a train journey metaphor. At times this wordy approach can be draining as you just want to get things done speedily, but to reduce it down to a simple menu wouldn’t be half as charming. It’s part of the Nintendo ideal and here the clunky nature pays dividends.

What is also surprising is how fluidly the online integration works as four villagers can meet together for fun and frolics. An area set aside from the main town is dedicated to simple mini-games based around day to day activities, and if that’s too much you can all just potter round one another’s houses, critiquing the décor, and hitting each other with spades. It’s the epitomy of New Leaf as you’re as much the creators of the entertainment as Nintendo.

In a world of Dark Souls and The Last of Us, this is the ultimate retreat. A casual affair that allows you to dip in and spend some time cleansing your mind of demons and the collapse of mankind as you stand on the beach fishing as the sun sets behind you. Cynics may look too deep, past its charm and relaxing nature and question it, but not everything has to be a mentally taxing or rewarding feat.

As ever, it’s easy to dip in short stints during the train ride to work, but it also rewards those that want to put the time in and invest in their town. The rewards may not always be immediate but they’re subtle and plenty. New Leaf will coax you in and encourages you to stay.

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