Before I begin, I feel it’s only proper to introduce myself as a new writer for NintendoFuse. My name is Caleb and I’m really excited to be a part of this. I’d like to start by explaining what a retrospective is. A retrospective is very similar to a review in that it analyzes and expresses opinions as well as certain facts about a game or series, however it differs in that the subject matter is older and being explored through both a nostalgic as well as a modern lens. I think it’s only fair that the first game I use for this is one that is of particular importance to me personally, and that’s Animal Crossing for the GameCube.
First, a little bit of history about Animal Crossing. It actually started off as a Nintendo 64 game named “D?butsu no Mori” which directly translated to “Animal Forest”. Message boards on the still young internet were pretty fascinated with the game, and due to the limited scope of the available knowledge it was often compared to Harvest Moon or the Sims. North America, however, wouldn’t see the game until a year into the GameCube’s life span when it was remade with additional content as “ D?butsu no Mori +”. This version of the game had to go through an absolutely massive translation process handled by Nintendo of America’s Treehouse division, led by Nate Bihldorff and Rich Amtower. They had to create new holidays and events that were culturally relevant to western audiences as well as translate the literal thousands of lines of text already present with the game, while also keeping them culturally relevant. Nintendo’s Japanese offices were so impressed that they had this version of the game, which also now featured support of the newly released e-Reader accessory, re-translated back to Japanese. They then added even more additional content and called this release “D?butsu no Mori e+”. western Audiences would never see this version of the game, although many of the added features did show up in later games, some not even making it back in until the release of “Animal Crossing: New Leaf” for the 3DS.
Animal Crossing is a game in the life simulation genre; a very niche genre shared by a few other titles such as Harvest Moon. What sets Animal Crossing apart, aside from its anthropomorphic cast, is that the game runs in real time. This means that the date and time while you play mirrors that of the real world and that the game continues to progress, for better or worse, without player input. The tagline for the American release was even “The game that’s playing, even when you’re not.” which I think sums things up very nicely. Your villagers have a set time that they will wake up or go to bed each day based on their personality grouping, and you can interact with them and even help them with errands for reward. Their purpose is mostly aesthetic, however.
Notice the clock at the bottom right corner. It’s in real time and mirrors the settings of the hardware’s clock.
I first discovered Animal Crossing because it was advertised via a screenshot on the back of the GameCube’s packaging when I got it, and while I found the image interesting I didn’t plan on purchasing the game. A friend of mine bought the game before he even had a system, and brought it over one day, and I was hooked from there. We were unaware of the version history I just finished explaining, so we actually made fun of the graphics a little, even stating “This looks like a Nintendo 64 game”, but now that the game has grown on me, the low poly graphics have a certain charm to them that present an atmosphere I feel might be lost if it were any different. What sets Animal Crossing apart from other games in the genre is that there are no intrinsic goals. Sure, there are plenty of optional goals, but you really aren’t forced to do much at all. Even your bills can be totally ignored, though you’ll be left with a shanty of a home. A large part of the appeal of Animal Crossing is customization. There are a few hundred items for you to decorate the aforementioned home with, over 100 shirts for your character plus whatever designs you create yourself, and over 300 characters that can move in and out of your village, though only 15 may reside at any given time. Your village itself is also randomly generated at the start of your file. In the past, I’ve described Animal Crossing as “The Seinfeld of gaming; a game about nothing” but upon further thought, it’s really a game about collecting.
Should you decide to take up the daunting task of collecting everything there is to collect in the game without cheating, you’re going to have to spend 1 real life year with the game at minimum. There are lots of fish, insects and other such things to find and some of them are only available and certain times of day and in certain seasons of the year. On top of this stipulation, some of them are exceedingly rare. I personally spent much more time playing this game than is healthy for any high school student, or even that any adult should have. I feel like Animal Crossing was intended to be played in short bursts, but I would sit down with the game from the moment I arrived home from school until I went to bed on occasion. I was captivated by its plethora of content, and the ability to interact with my friends. Of course we didn’t have the luxury of wifi back then, so there were instead 3 other ways to play with your friends. The first is that each town can host 4 player files, meaning you and some friends of family members can co-inhabit in a single “world”. The second is by putting a second memory card in and using the train to travel to a friends town. These two options obviously require the other players to be physically present, however the third option uses a password generation system based on your player and town name to send items to other players. This feature was of course very popular on forums and my friends and I were enthralled by it; it seemed like magic to us at the time. In fact, that’s the one word I would use to describe my impression of the game back when it was relevant. I just couldn’t believe how much content there was and how many new things players continued to find a few years after its release. It is interesting to note that in spite of this overwhelming amount of content, and the fact that the game’s save file took up so much space that a memory card was included with your purchase, Animal Crossing can run entirely on the GameCube’s RAM once booted. No real surprise when you know that it’s a ported Nintendo 64 game, but pretty mind blowing to 13 year old me.
Believe it or not, I still haven’t discussed everything this game has to offer! Using the GameBoy Advance and link cable, you can get to an island with even more customization space and there are so many random and calendar based events and characters. The newer games have added even more to the mix, and online multiplayer is now one of the series’ most popular features. If you’ve never played an Animal Crossing game before, I recommend picking up the newest release the 3DS but if you’re curious of the series’ roots or you’re just exploring the GameCube’s library, spend a little time with Animal Crossing. The initial entry in the franchise really does have a unique kitch charm that the sequels lack. Is it the tacky soundtrack, and the low resolution pixels and models? I’m really not sure, but Animal Crossing hit a sweet spot and I will never, ever be able to forget it.