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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Game Play: Animal Crossing, City Folk

The latest iteration of Animal Crossing, which has migrated from the GameCube, to the DS and now to the Wii, is more or less an epitome of what is right and wrong with Nintendo right now.

On one hand, the game is fun and lighthearted little romp. You care for your town, do your chores, talk to your animal buds and wait for the in-game events. As with the previous versions, you basically have a kid friendly version of the grind mechanic at the heart of every MMO on the planet.

On the other - it's a wasted opportunity for networking with other Wii players. Biggest case in point? There's an auction house in the game. I feel pretty confident in suggesting that if this was a Sony or Microsoft title, the auction house would be networked so that nearly any other player could bid on some other player's fossil or rare piece of furniture. This would, among other things, make the auction house actually functional. Instead, Nintendo assumes you personally know enough people who play the game to make it functional, as the auction only works for people on your friend list. The game does, apparently, use the system's list for a change - which is something of an improvement.

So much in City Folk is exactly the same as the rest of the series, that it makes these half-hearted attempts at innovation even more glaring. Would have killed Nintendo to spend a little time figuring out a safe way to network villages? Or to at least allow strangers trade with each easily? Early rumors of a MMO style game, dedicated Wii channels and the like had a lot of people very, very excited. City Folk sticks to a strategy Nintendo knows far to well, though: play it safe.

Don't get me wrong, we're still happy citizens of our cartoonish town, but the lost potential here is just glaring.

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