Animal Crossing and its impact on my pre-teen years

It was a game originally purchased back in 2001 as a birthday gift for my brother, I think, but somehow, I became more enthralled in the environment and the concept of this game, but only in its Gamecube version.

Animal Crossing was released on the Nintendo Gamecube in the U.S. on April 14th 2001. Originally, my brother and I had seen pictures and screenshots from the game in Nintendo Power magazine, back when I was still receiving subscriptions to that particular monthly magazine. Something about that game seemed to intrigue me deep down. Back then, there was really nothing else to compare it to other than the Sims, because Animal Crossing was a life-simulation game.

When we first got the game, Carter and I started our own town, and played by the rules, of course. Taking turns on the game, we both created our own save files, occupying two houses within a pre-determined acre of land.

The first thing that you’ll find is you will be greeted on the train by a travelling cat named Rover (and on rare occasions Blanca, where you get to draw out any face you want on her because she’s a blank slate). Rover asks you many questions about your move, like where you are heading, what you’re looking forward to in town, stuff like that. Determined by the answers you provide, you will get off the train with a specific facial construction based off of your answers. I know it sounds weird, but its important to best be careful with your answers sometimes, or you’ll get a face you despise. You also get a random outfit off the start of the game, which will then be swapped out in place of a work uniform given to you by store owner and raccoon Tom Nook, who grows to become one of the most important characters in this game because you are in debt to him forever until you pay off your bills entirely. He runs the local shop in town which sells various items like furniture for your house, carpets, wallpaper, stationery, flowers, umbrellas, outfits, and so on.

Before you start anything, Tom Nook helps you in choosing your first house, which can be one of four houses in a specific acre. Seeing as how you don’t have enough money to afford the house, you will be doing a few chores for Tom Nook off the start of the game, which will help familiarize you with the townsfolk, but also the land.

Octavian is perhaps the rarest villager you can get in your town, on the Gamecube version. He was the only octopus villager. I was able to get him once in one of my old towns.

A really neat feature in Animal Crossing is the numerous villager options. You start off with about 6 villagers in your town, and 9 more can move in over a period of time you play in-game. There are more than 236 possible villagers alone that can make your town their new home, which is an immense number for an early release Gamecube game of that time. I guarantee you, no two towns will have the exact same villagers in it, except for the possibility of one villager being the same, which happens. Some are rarer to find than others.

Another really interesting feature, and second to why this game fascinated me, was the layout of the land you play on. No matter how many times you start a game over, and build a new town, the land will always be shaped differently. Though some areas including your acre where the houses are, and the shop, post office and town dump could potentially fall into pre-determined acres yet again, river streams and mountain cliff-edges could be shaped differently, and bring you something new every time.

This game had early online capabilities and multiplayer, and provided you with its own special Animal Crossing memory card for saving your town on it. With two Animal Crossing memory cards in the slot of your Gamecube or Wii, your character can hop aboard the train, and cross memory cards to visit another player’s town, and check out their land and visit villagers. Fruit trees also grow in every town, including orange, pear, cherry, and apple to name a few. You could potentially travel to a town with a different type of fruit, pick those fruits, and sell them back in your town for double the price. You could also buy potentially rarer items in your friend’s town store that you couldn’t get in your town. Also with four houses available in the acre where you call home, you can have up to 3 more friends create save files build homes in your game.

As your house continues to grow, you can place more items and customize it to your liking from the floor up.

The game has a timeline which follows at the exact same speed as the actual real-time clock, which at the time was probably the only game to get this right. You can also experience in-game holidays and special events every so often, so when you go back to check out your town, there’s always something going on. During times like Halloween, Christmas, and New Years, you can celebrate with the townsfolk by collecting candy, finding presents, or counting down till the New Year in real time. Day-to-night cycles were amazingly realistic during this time of the game’s release, I had never seen a game like it before. The Sims had a lot of redeeming qualities to it too, especially towards how specific you can create your characters and your houses, but never could you travel outside your pre-determined space of land. In Animal Crossing, you could go wherever you wanted in town, go fishing, do errands for neighbours, go to the bank, the police station, the museum, its all there for you.

I failed to explain the museum, as it plays a huge part in the game in terms of collecting collectibles. Catching fish, bugs, finding paintings or uncovering dinosaur bones are what the museum looks for to put on display. Its fun to collect these items and slowly bring the empty museum to life with all of your items that you give in.

On the flip side, there are a few annoying traits to this game which I will explain now. If you leave your town unplayed for any duration of time, let’s say 11 months, upon returning, your neighbours will tell you straight up how long you’d been gone for, and make you feel bad for not coming to visit. It’s almost creepy how specific the animals can be. I was told one time I hadn’t been in-game for more than 362 days…how would they know that?

Also, if you don’t take care of your town, villagers will up and move more frequently. Weeds start to develop pretty quickly without proper care, and you’ll spend a good amount of time and money plucking weeds and planting flowers and trees to beautify your town and keep the villagers happy.

An example of an unkempt town, crowded with weeds.

I also didn’t like how you couldn’t plant your house anywhere on the map, and how you were only restricted to a pre-determined acre. I would’ve loved to place my house by the beach or even in an acre with two other lively villagers. Keeping things busy. It was a loss of freedom I felt when it came to my own housing.

Also, if you forget to save your game and just turn it off, you will be greeted by none other than Resetti, the annoying mole with a big mouth. Sometimes he lets you off with a warning, and other times, players aren’t so lucky. So be sure to save your game when you finish, because you don’t want to sit through 5 minutes of his babbling.

Aside from the games problems, I had the most fun just building a town of my own, and seeing the various possibilities of land and villager options. And I believe I had the most fun when I was still in elementary school with Carter. We had a lot more imagination back then and so we took special care of our town. Today, I hardly play the game. Maybe once a year? Who knows. But looking back, it was a pretty big game for me as a kid, definitely one for the pre-teens of course. But I never got into the DS and Wii sequels, where the world was rotating as you walk. That was nauseating to look at. The Gamecube one will always hold strong above all the others, in my opinion. If you ever get the chance, get your 10-year old the game and try it out. See if he/she enjoys it as much as I did.

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