Animal Crossing: New Leaf Review

You wanna go where everybody knows your name…

Moving to this town might have been a mistake. When you first arrive, it barely resembles civilization. There are only a handful of residents, a few run-down shacks selling their wares, and sparse vegetation. No pavement or lighting. The river has more garbage than fish. An old dock is rotting away on the beach. The desperation is palpable; the villagers nominate you as their new mayor almost the second your feet touch the ground. That’s a bad sign. Your predecessor must have been a horrendous leader. It’s such a shame. All the potential this town had to offer, and this is the best they could do? Your new neighbors deserve better, and you’re the only one who can make it happen.

You have to take care of yourself first, though. You don’t have a place to stay, but a generous fellow named Tom Nook offers to build a house and gives you an unlimited time to repay him. It seems fine, until you get the bill. There’s a lot of zeros involved. Thankfully, New Leaf provides several ways to make money. Much like any Animal Crossing game, it starts off small and humble, usually with seashell collecting or fruit harvesting. Take whatever you’ve scrounged up over to the nearest shop and sell it for pocket change. Meet the neighbors, do a few odd jobs. Furnish your little home one piece of furniture at a time. Get some spare clothes. Put the rest in the bank account, and watch the numbers add up. Rinse and repeat, hour after hour, day after day. It’s just like real life, except with talking animals. Eventually, you get enough cash to pay off the house, but Nook will coax you into renovating it further. Then the whole process repeats itself multiple times, culminating with you running out of floor space for your massive hoard of items. The transition from flea-ridden tent to a six-room mansion takes many hours and over 7.5 million dollars, but it is worth the effort.

While every Animal Crossing game is structured in the same way, New Leaf adds several new aspects to keep things interesting. Aside from the Happy Home Academy grading and the hidden Feng Shui decorating systems, Nook now runs a home exterior customization service. Various doors, fences, pavement, and entire architectural makeovers are available. The bland, generic houses can be tricked out with fairy tale-style spires, humongous modern windows, or even Japanese Zen Buddhist temple rooftops. The upgraded furniture list now boasts over 1,200 collectibles spanning multiple sets and motifs. If you’re a completionist, prepare to be in for a long haul; items appear randomly in the store, so getting full sets requires some patience. The process is mitigated by the new Happy Home Showcase. By utilizing the 3DS’s Streetpass system, you can view other players’ houses and order nearly everything inside. Though it’s only limited to five shipments per day, it’s immensely useful in finding obscure items and sets. However, there’s no in-game list that shows what you already own. If you’re not careful, you could waste thousands on extra furniture. Even something as simple a checkmark on an object’s description would’ve saved a lot of hassle. Once you’ve loaded up on stuff, you should indulge in the newly-implemented refurbishing service. With some expensive gemstones and patience, your furniture can be redone in more stylish colors. As nearly everything in your home can be altered, crafting your dream home is easier than ever.

That goes for the clothing options as well. There are hundreds of shirts, dresses, skirts, shorts, pants, hats, eyewear, and shoes to collect. You can be a ninja, pirate, doctor, mummy, ballerina, witch, wrestler, schoolgirl, steampunk noble…the possibilities go on and on. That’s just with the clothes you can find in the stores; thanks to the game’s impressive pattern-making menu, it’s possible to make and share complex designs. It’s a feature that debuted in Animal Crossing: City Folk, but the touch screen makes it much easier to handle. Since your work is converted into QR codes, uploading and giving out designs online is a simple process. Just a quick Google search results in intricate, stylish designs and countless cosplay outfits. It’s amazing how much can be done with such a simple editing tool. This is one of the few Nintendo games to utilize the 3DS’s camera and Internet functionality so well. The ability to wear any clothes and hairstyle regardless of gender is a neat addition as well; my avatar rocks the Street Fighter Chun-Li look.

The game isn’t just about you, though. While it’s easy to forget that you’re mayor, paying attention to the town is important. Your patronage upgrades the shop’s inventory, eventually unlocking a stylish boutique with rare furniture and clothes. Even if it’s just to access the pattern-maker, there’s something heartwarming about visiting Sable every day and getting past her shyness. You’ll eventually get the tools needed to plant trees, catch bugs, and go fishing, all of which become the cornerstone for your financial success. The whole landscape can be converted into a huge, profitable fruit orchard. Many of the collectibles can be donated to the local museum, which results in a massive aquarium, insect garden, archeological exhibit, and art gallery. Getting that last part is particularly tricky; the art have real-life counterparts, so you need to able to tell which ones being sold are fakes. It’s a clever nod to art and cultural fans, and it’s nice having works like The Great Wave off Kanagawa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace on display at home. If you’re not obsessed with collecting, you can spend more time developing the town with sidewalks, benches, fountains, and a slew of other public works projects. If you’re creative and hardworking enough, you can turn your town into anything from Hogwarts to Silent Hill.

Getting that far, however, requires more than just cash and imagination; it requires time. New Leaf’s in-game clock runs on real time, which means things change depending on what hours, days, and months you play. Depending on the time of year, the trees will change colors and different species of wild animals will appear. Most real-world holidays are celebrated, too; even if you play sporadically, you might stumble across a special event. If you play long enough during the day, you’ll notice how the game’s lighting, background music, and weather gradually change with each passing hour. If you’re up too late at night, you’ll find all the stores closed and the townsfolk already asleep. Speaking of whom, your neighbors enjoy some one-on-one interaction; be it chores, giving items, or sending letters, they appreciate the attention and will warm to you accordingly. There are over 300 different characters, but only a handful can live in town at a time. They have a small range of personality traits; some are upbeat and peppy, while others are cranky or lazy. It’s charming at first, but it won’t take long to see the extent of their quirks. Compared to Tomodachi Lifea technically inferior game in every other wayNew Leaf’s character interactions are boring and shallow. Aside from acquiring specific public works project requests and rare items, there’s no reason to interact with them. If you ignore them or alter the clock’s settings long enough, they’ll eventually leave town. Unless you’re obsessed with keeping inhabitants, losing one isn’t going to matter much.

Instead, you’ll probably spend more time with real people. You can invite other players into your town (or visit theirs) via WiFi or local wireless. It’s mainly used for item trading or auctioning off certain townsfolk, but the process is tedious. There’s no way to transfer objects or money directly from the menus. You have to dump everything out on the ground and hope the other person doesn’t steal. It’d be much easier to have a trading system in Pokemon X/Y’s style; there could be a preview image and a price attached to it, as well as a way to back out of the transaction. Also, the game only lets you communicate via the touch screen keyboard. You’re limited to short phrases at a time, which gets annoying when you’re trying to hold a conversation. The lack of microphone functionality is a huge oversight, especially considering that the last Animal Crossing featured it. After the business is handled, you can ride out to the game’s tropical island and play mini-games. Stuff like balloon popping and item collecting is fun the first couple of times, but there’s a lot of room for development. During your inevitable solo sessions, you’ll likely spend most of the time on the island’s shores, catching the rare – and valuable – insects that spawn there year-round. Doing so makes money a non-issue, allowing you to quickly amass a nearly endless fortune.

It won’t last, though. If you don’t have enough friends or interest in designing your own stuff, you’ll eventually burn out. With no ultimate objective aside from earning money and collecting items, the experience feels increasingly hollow over time. It’s easy to forget to log in for days, then weeks, then months. By the time you remember and come back, you’ll find the town covered in weeds and inhabited by complete strangers. You might catch a fish or dig up a fossil, only to realize that you’ve already found everything and have more cash than you’ll ever need. You’ll fondly remember when the game seemed fresh and new, when you felt the rush of finding some rare furniture, or the satisfaction of creating something unique. With the sheer amount of items and customization options, those moments can be plentiful and rewarding. It’s a reality brimming with potential, if slightly flawed and inherently limited. In the end, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is only as great as the effort you put into it. It truly is a simulation of life.

*Originally posted here.

A List Of Mementos: A Work In Progress

A List Of Mementos: A Work In Progress

  • A finger painting of a clown, to remind me of where I began.
  • A bachelor’s degree, to remind me of what it means to overcome.
  • A chess set, to remind me why I love strategy.
  • A Galileo thermometer, to remind me of my inspiration.
  • A bottle of sparkling cider, to remind me to appreciate family while you can.
  • A glass sailboat, to remind me that the best memories are timeless.
  • A lanyard, to remind me that honesty and persuasion can work wonders.
  • An iPod that says Non sum qualis eram, to remind me to accept change.
  • A Necronomicon, to remind me why I love horror.
  • A copy of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, to remind me to keep dreaming.
  • A puka shell necklace, to remind me of the spirit of Aloha.
  • A cave painting charm, to remind me to keep exploring.
  • An old walking stick, to remind me of the mountains I’ve climbed.
  • A stamp from 10,000 ft. up, to remind me that the climb is just as important as the view.
  • A miniature anchor, to remind me to keep taking chances.
  • A miniature gilded elephant, to remind me to seek opportunities.
  • A miniature Eiffel Tower, to remind me that some things are worth the wait.
  • A cable car ticket stub, to remind me some things aren’t.
  • A scorpion in plexiglass, to remind me of places to which I’ll never return.
  • A wooden Mayan charm on a string, to remind me what heat and time truly feel like.
  • A pewter Majora’s Mask, to remind me why video games are art after all.
  • A set of pins, to remind me to share my passion for literature.
  • A LEGO Hamlet, to remind me why I love being a geek.
  • A Hello Kitty Chun-Li, to remind me that I should accept all aspects of myself.
  • A pair of Buddhist prayer bead bracelets, to remind me to stay curious.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Street Fighter II – China Street Beat

Video

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before how much I love fighting games. Especially Street Fighter; from the original 1992 release of Street Fighter II on the SNES through the latest PS3 titles, I’ve been playing along the entire time. Chun-Li has always been one of my favorites, and I’m not sure why. Probably because she (and Samus Aran) was the first female character I’d played. Her unique style and color scheme made her stand out. The fact that she was one of the fastest and strongest warriors might have had something to do with it, too.

Like any good fighting game character, Chun-Li has an awesome theme song. It – along with several other iconic tracks – were composed by Yoko Shimomura in the early days of the SNES. It was the among the first to really demonstrate the console’s audio capabilities. Over the last 20 years and several Street Fighter games, the songs have been remixed dozens of times. That they’ve lasted so long is a testament to their quality and appeal. McVaffe’s version from OC Remix isn’t officially on any soundtracks, but it’s easily one of the best renditions of Chun-Li’s theme.

If you want more McVaffe, you can find his page here. If you want more Street Fighter…Well, you can start with SF II here.

Good gaming, good music.

My Busy Evenings

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about being mellow. As in, how you unwind after a long, stressful day. The first thing I do is change into something more comfortable, like shorts and a shirt or pajamas. Not exactly the serious, aloof image I give out in public. I don’t have to impress anyone at home. Besides, it’s not like I’m having anyone over for dinner. I fix myself something something simple but filling, like a hamburger or sandwich. Maybe a salad, if I’ve got enough ingredients already chopped up. I’m usually too exhausted for anything fancy. If I’m home early enough, I head over to the television and get my Jeopardy fix. I’ll knock out the dishes and clean up during the first half of Wheel of Fortune, then peek back just in time to see the final puzzle. I don’t bother with prime-time television anymore – few shows appeal to me – so I retire to my room.

From there, it’s pretty much a matter of whatever catches my interest. The laptop is usually on all evening, though I’m not obsessed with social networks. I log into Facebook and other emails just long enough to see if there are any messages, then shut them off. I know that if I stay on something like Tumblr or Pinterest  for more than a few minutes, I’ll end up scrolling through pictures for hours. I check my YouTube subscription updates, as well as Nostalgia Critic and Red Letter Media. I’ll usually hit up WordPress and see if there’s an interesting prompt, then think up something to put on the blog. After that, I’ll just load up a movie on iTunes. I don’t watch it, though; I just need something for background noise. I’ll spend the next few hours either writing or reading. Nothing particularly glamorous or interesting, but at least it’s relaxing.

But if I really need to let off some steam, I play video games. Since I’m a reviewer, it’s *actually* work, but it’s fun as long as I pace myself. I’m a big fan of fighters, particularly Street Fighter III: Third Strike. I’m currently the 4th highest-ranked Chun-Li on the PSN leaderboards, which is a good indication of how obsessed I am. Check it out:

Because competing in one of the greatest and most technically-demanding video games ever made is great stress relief…I need a new hobby.

I’m Blogging On Sunshine

Hey, folks. Tonight I was informed that The Part Time Monster nominated me for The Sunshine Blogger Award. I’d like to thank her for that; it’s really good to know that people are reading and enjoying my work. I don’t know if I have a sunny disposition, but if I can get you to smile and think, then I’ll know I’m doing something right. I couldn’t find the exact origin of the The Sunshine Blogger Award, so I’m just going to copy its rules from the aforementioned page:

1. Nominate 10 other blogs
2. Write 11 facts about yourself.

Aaaaand the nominees are….(In no particular order)

  1. Stefan Praetorius Naurin
  2. SathyaSaiMemories
  3. AngelArt Star
  4. LenzExperiments
  5. The Ellieverse
  6. Living in the Moment
  7. Ed Mooney Photography
  8. Lula Avila
  9. Morrighan’s Muse
  10. Shikha It’s The Little Things

Wow, that was actually really hard. I’ve seen some many awesome blogs already this year thanks to the Zero To Hero challenge, so choosing just ten is just…ugh. Anyway, 11 facts…

  1. I’m currently the sixth highest-ranked Chun-Li on the Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition PSN worldwide leaderboards…I play that too much.
  2. I have habit of memorizing whole movies, including The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyessy. Same goes with song lyrics.
  3. I once won a game of chess in four moves.
  4. I love LEGOs, particularly the Architecture series.
  5. I’ve talked my way into an exclusive museum exhibition and a software convention by just being honest, polite, and asking questions.
  6. My long hair gets me mistaken for being female constantly, even when I don’t shave. I’m still learning to enjoy it.
  7. I’ve come close to dying four times.
  8. The States aside, I’ve been to a dozen countries: Canada, Mexico, The Bahamas, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, France, Spain, Morocco, Gibraltar, Thailand, and Aruba. Someplace in South America is likely next.
  9. My writing voice is much, much louder and upfront than my real one. IRL, I’m the quiet guy in the corner with a book.
  10. I hunger for super-spicy food.
  11. I’m at a crossroads at my life; my previous career is over, and I have no idea what direction to go in. I don’t have a dream, and sometimes that terrifies me.

Daily Prompt: Tattoo….You?, Or: Blank Skin, Too Many Choices!

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about tattoos. Much to the surprise of anyone who assumes I’m a goth/punk/rock star based on my appearance, I don’t have any ink. It’s not because I’m squeamish around needles. And it’s certainly not because I find them unappealing; an excellent, tasteful tattoo can be really attractive. For me, it always seemed like a huge step in an unusual (though not bad) direction. Some corporate workplaces don’t encourage it, at least if the art is visible. There’s this bizarre, persisting belief that professionalism and tattoos don’t mix, as if they affect an individual’s competency. Considering how companies are supposedly pushing for more individuality, diversity, and creativity, the assumptions about tattoos are paradoxical, if not outright hypocritical. One of the most competent, business-savvy people I ever worked under had ink on her legs, but had to wear tights every workday because visible tattoos were forbidden. Social perspectives are starting to shift in favor of competency over personal appearance, but its extent is anyone’s guess.

My family’s attitude, however, isn’t going to going to change anytime soon. You should’ve seen the ruckus that got stirred up when I decided to grow my hair out. My mother was incredulous. Some of my relatives nicknamed me the CDL: Colombian Drug Lord. I’ve never done drugs, and nor been to South America. I still get half-joking threats of someone sneaking in and cutting my hair in my sleep….But I’ll save those shenanigans for another post. Tattoos are a personal thing; it’s ultimately up to the person, not the family, to choose responsibly. My hang-up is with my general appearance. I’m in much better shape than I was in college – I still hike and wander the city regularly – but I’ve got nothing worth showing off. I’m definitely not Calvin Klein model; I’ve got maybe a one-and-a-half pack on my best days. If I’m that average, would a tattoo really look that good on me?

I don’t know.

What I do know are the kinds of tattoos I’d get if I had the nerve. My favorite animal is the octopus. It’s one of the most intelligent and crafty members of the animal kingdom. Most people associate wisdom with owls due to their connection with Athena. However, octopi excel at stealth, dextrous tool-use, spatial memory, and navigation. They look weird, but undeniably awesome. It’d be cool to get a huge, detailed one spanning across one shoulder, with tentacles going down my arms, back, or chest. But since I’m huge literature geek, I’d probably go with a specific cephalopod: Cthulhu. Forget Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean; I want to have H.P. Lovecraft’s god of insanity on me.

But if I’m going with a literary-themed one, it’d probably be a famous passage drawn on my back. Maybe Hamlet’s soliloquy. An excerpt from Tennyson’s Ulysses, perhaps. The openings to Moby-Dick or A Tale of Two Cities. There’s a cavalcade of literary quotes I could use. Or maybe I could just have a huge stack of of my favorite books along my spine. Or maybe I should stick to paintings, like Van Gogh’s The Starry Night or Raphael’s The School of Athens. A Scorpio-themed one would be fitting, but kind of bland. Or I could get a video-game themed one, like Akuma’s Sky/Heaven symbol, the Triforce or Amaterasu. Samus Aran, Chun-Li, or Big Boss would all be serious contenders as well.

But if I wanted to go really esoteric, it’d have to be an astronomy one. Maybe the Pillars of Creation or the entirety of the Eagle Nebula. That probably wouldn’t translate well to ink and skin, though…

Yeah, I should stop. I’m going spend like an hour looking up cool/geeky tattoos that I’ll probably never get. But I can still imagine.

Daily Prompt: Playtime, Or: Work Hard, Play Hard!

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about playtime. I’m going to assume that this refers to when I’m at home, and not traveling abroad. This one’s actually kind of tricky for me because I tend to combine play and work. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a prolific amateur game reviewer. Video games have been a part of my life from the start; I learned how to play Yars’ Revenge and Kaboom! before I could run. I didn’t have many games growing up, but I started building a collection once I entered college. Between all the on-disc anthologies, ports, and stuff I’ve acquired from publishers or acquaintances, my library includes somewhere around 800 titles. Over the years my tastes have refined; I look at everything I play with a critical eye, and it’s certainly not limited to just 7-9/10. The company or gaming platform is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is if it works, and how well. I also don’t play into the politics that a lot of mainstream review sites have succumbed. Getting free swag and advertising is nice, but that has no impact on the game itself. A good product should be able to stand on its own.

Also, I always actually play the game I’m reviewing. Some reviewers play only a few hours before making their decision, which means that any important storyline twists or gameplay developments (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect 3 and God Hand!) are overlooked. A lot of reviewers are pressured into covering games as quickly as possible; I recall one holiday season in which five AAA titles (each of which was at least 20 hours long) showed up on my doorstep in a week. How is a person supposed to deal with that kind of workload in a timely manner without sacrificing quality? What’s worse, some game studios use such biased review scores as way to determine the bonuses – and livelihoods – of its designers. Review scores are not objective, so basing an entire studio on them is impractical, if not dangerous.

No wonder the game journalism world is such a mess.

Wow, rereading that was pretty depressing. For a second there, I wondered why I even bother reviewing. It’s because I don’t have to deal with the same kind of pressure as the mainstream guys. I’m not getting advertising, the swag is relatively limited, I can cover more obscure stuff, and I’m not constrained by time. That way I can approach the game at a better pace, figure things out, and come up with something that isn’t a rushed, overgeneralized excuse of a review. I don’t think it’s possible to fully quantify an experience with just a numerical score. Instead of focusing on the #/10, I focus on purely persuasive writing. That’s what reviews are, after all. If I can argue my perspective well, then a number tacked on at the end isn’t needed. I’ve conveyed my idea, and it’s up to the reader to use his/her own reasoning to agree or not. I’d like to think people have enough rational thought not to be swayed by just a number, even I am disappointed constantly.

Enough about reviews. I can go into that later. When I’m not reviewing a game, there are a few old standbys that I always fall back upon. I love puzzles, so the Professor Layton series is always a pleasant distraction. I’m practically obsessed with any game that uses nonograms as well. I fell in love with Persona 4 partly due to its adherence (and accuracy) to Jungian psychology. I start up a new game of Symphony of the Night just so I can explore the castle – which is still one of the greatest works of art in gaming history – and try to find some little detail I missed the last time. Chances are, I will. Not to mention its amazing soundtrack, which I will be posting here all too soon. While Metal Gear Solid 3 is a superior game from nearly every standpoint, I have a soft spot for MGS2 and its use of postmodernism. You could teach a course on postmodernism with that game. However, the top spot on my most-replayed list is Street Fighter III: Third Strike. I’ve been playing it frequently since its online release in 2011, so much so that I’m currently the 8th ranked Chun-Li on PSN. Seriously, look me up.

Gaming aside, I usually read and/or study. I spent this summer reading through Haruki Murakami’s bibliography. I’ve been making a lot of headway with the works of Umberto Eco, David Foster Wallace, Alice Munro, Roberto Bolaño, H.P. Lovecraft, Cormac McCarthy, and Gabriel García Márquez. I also acquired all three volumes of The Graphic Canon, which is absolutely stunning in its range and style. I’m also a fan of the annual Best American Series, particularly its short story volumes. There are far, far more examples I could post, but I’d be typing this entry all night. I’ll post a full list of my list here soon (pretty sure it’s around 600 physical books by now), but I’m open to any suggestions. That goes both ways, too; given my obsession with books and criticism, my foray into literary reviews is inevitable.

When I’m not reading, I’m typically watching movies or anime. I’ll say this right off: if you want to get someone interested in anime, have them watch Cowboy Bebop. This was my generation’s introduction to the genre, and what an introduction it was. Interstellar bounty hunters, film noir, crime drama, science fiction, mystery, action, comedy, clever writing, superb voice acting…this has it all. Even if you don’t watch it, listen to the soundtrack by the legendary Yoko Kanno. Trust me. If you like something a bit more subtle in its surreality, check out Haruhi Suzumiya. A brash and self-centered high school girl wishes her life was full of adventure. What she doesn’t know is that she can warp reality, and that her friends are aliens, time travelers, and espers. What happens when someone has the power to rewrite the universe and doesn’t know it? Things get…interesting. Same goes for Death Note, which focuses on a villainous protagonist that gains the power to kill anyone with a few pen strokes, and the famous (but eccentric) detective determined to catch him. I’ve also made a point of finding Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. On the 3D side of films, I’ve got a huge soft spot for The Shining, so much so that I can quote pretty much any scene verbatim. Same goes with Jurassic Park, The Silence of the Lambs, Apollo 13, The Thing, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

When I’m not doing all that…well, I’m trying to learn how to draw using an digital tablet. It’s really hard, because I’m much more used to brushes and paints.  I wish I was good enough of an artist to make my own web comic, like El Goonish Shive. Or even a graphic novel adaptation, like Don Quixote. I don’t have the screen presence to become the next Nostalgia Critic, but I can snark Rifftrax-style with the best of them. Nor do I have the voice (and amount of friends) needed to copy Two Best Friends Play. Oh, and you may have noticed I have a thing for LEGOs

What do you do for fun?