Two days into Animal Crossing: New Leaf, I was convinced the series had lost its hold on me. Moving around the village, picking up fruit for some start-up cash, fishing for fast money once I’d acquired a rod—nothing felt quite as rewarding as I had remembered it being back in the original. But, after a few days of opening the 3DS every morning and night, it slowly became apparent that, somewhere between my initial boredom and my current enthrallment, it had gotten its hooks in. At some point between installing a new bridge in my town, enacting an ordinance which makes my town wake up (and open their businesses) earlier, getting a funny hipster outfit together, and being serenaded en route to a tropical island getaway—I was in. I was in deep. I remember now why some people don’t like Animal Crossing. It isn’t necessarily fun until you’ve played it every day for a week. I can agree, to some extent, that initially AC can come across as a player hostile game. But once you acclimate to the way the game works, and how best to play it (short 15-30 minute bursts), it becomes something immensely endearing, and the kind of gameplay experience that burns slower than your typical AAA spectacle. With this in mind, I’m going to hop on the bandwagon of Animal Crossing travelogues and start chronicling the growth of Ilium, my town that lives in a blue, plastic clamshell.
Day one, I awake from what I presume to be an eternal slumber to find myself on a train, headed to a town I get to declare, if not outright name, the geography of which I’m given a chance to reshape by telling Rover, nah dude, that ain’t it. Yeah, that one, that’s the map, the one with the river that runs through it real evenly, the one with just one bridge on the east side of town, but don’t worry, we’ll fix that once we have the bells, the raw scratch to make that possible. That map, that map right there, Rover, is Ilium.
I arrive to some confusion. I’m the mayor of this ‘burg, and after some bashful hesitation, I take on the position with steely gaze. Actually, the expression on my face was determined by a series of questions Rover just asked me on the train, so I have these half-closed, sort of stoned looking marbles planted on my face, which I guess I got from being shifty and deflective. Poetic justice is something Animal Crossing will trade in, if given the opportunity.
So there I am on the first day with a tent because Tom Nook is in the real estate game, and he’s over those days of just giving you a house wholesale. No, he needs 10,000 bells just to give you a dinky 4x4. For now, tent. Yellow tent that screams Get Out There And Earn Some Bells, Boy. After scrounging up all the apples I can find, I buy myself a shovel and a fishing rod, happily noting that these are the first two items I can acquire, the best tools to get your cash influx moving. Somewhere along the initial scurrying to pay off my initial debt to upgrade to a brick and mortar abode, I note that the town has two pig residents, one of whom is named Truffles, a vain, pink number of a hog who, we all agree, is the towns most egregious occupant. I talk to her less than the others, hoping that, in a month or so, she’ll pack up and move to some other town where she can wax philosophical about her beauty regiment to some poor soul who isn’t—and I’m going to pause on this point, because it’s important—who isn’t me.
After upgrading my house to a decent size, I get to work on public works projects. According to a survey conducted by my loyal assistant (and secret mayoral puppet master) Isabelle, the people (people?) of Ilium demand more investment in public projects. So, first thing first, I build a bridge on the west side of town. That has the added benefit of speeding up my fishing runs for faster cash. Second, let’s throw down a bench by the riverside. Boom, done, cheaper than my second mortgage (I’m on my third). Finally, let’s get a streetlamp going. Yeah, that’ll be nice by the bridge to the east. Suddenly, my peoples are loving me once more. I’m a popular mayor, for sure. I even planted a bunch of flowers at places that aren’t my house and donated fossils to the museum instead of selling them at ReTail. I’m a philanthropic S.O.B.
Then suddenly the BugOff comes to town. Now, though I’m narrating this as if I’m living in the game world entirely, let’s take a moment to reflect on our real life responsibilities that take place outside of Animal Crossing. Okay, now forget about that entirely, because that’s a bummer, I know, and we’re in make-believe land right now, okay? But so anyway, I missed the BugOff entirely. I had a work engagement. No problem, right? There’ll be another one. I’ll participate in that one. Deirdre can have the gold BugOff trophy for all I care. ‘Cause I don’t care. Not one bit.
Not until the whole town starts mocking my performance, or lack thereof, in the BugOff. Seriously, these ungrateful buggers have the audacity to start ragging on my no-show, poking fun at me, the Mayor, the Big Cheese, the Bringer of Bridges, the Harbinger of Benches. Butch lays it on real thick:
So I’m like, that’s it! That’s it for tonight, you guys. Any hope you had of me pumping all my bells into that streetlamp—poof, gone, no way. You’ll have to wait till tomorrow, when your coding stops telling you to harass me.
I spend the next day in KOOLKATS with my friend Karen. People haven’t heard of my embarrassing no-show there. They leave me right alone as Karen and I tour the tropical island (but not before I unfruitfully try to find her money rock while she changes into a more summery outfit). We compare outfits and abodes. She wins on both fronts. She’s got a second level in her house which holds, among other things, a gold BugOff trophy.
Week two begins, and my residents have forgotten about the BugOff and are back to asking me for catchphrases and outfit tips, both of which I will give expert opinions on when asked. Seriously, I’m your guy for that sort of stuff. Just ask anyone around here, they’ll tell you I’m the guy.
I’m taking a break from funding public works to get the second floor of my home going, paying that extortionist Nook one more time. Just one more time.