Monday, July 13, 2020

Rank Up! - Ranking the Animal Crossing Series (Again)

It's been quite a while since we've last seen this old relic and staple from SuperPhillip Central's past arrive on the site. It's none other than "Rank Up!" where we take a look at my order of a particular game series's various entries, from least favorite to most favorite.

While I've previously covered the Animal Crossing series many moons ago, new entries have been added since, and I'm eager to see how my opinion of Nintendo's adorably charming series has changed compared to back then (or maybe it hasn't!). I'm ranking the Animal Crossing series through eight games--all the mainline releases and some spin-offs as well. So, without further ado, let's start this installment of Rank Up!

8) Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival (Wii U)

It was difficult being a Wii U owner--take it from a firsthand account. Whether it was with multiple delays, droughts, and few worthwhile releases, to own a Wii U was to suffer. The holiday season of 2015 was a disappointing one, and perhaps that's sugarcoating things. Between a lackluster and content-deprived installment of the Mario Tennis series and this game, Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival, kicking off this Rank Up! countdown, it was a trying time to be a Nintendo fan.

It seemed that Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival was more about having a game release to coincide with selling amiibo figurines for Nintendo rather than putting out an actually entertaining Animal Crossing game. Amiibo Festival did its best to delight with its board game influences, but beyond its cute and cheery presentation was a game devoid of fun or merriment. It was utterly a bore, better spelled a "bored game" instead. (I'm here all night.)

7) Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp (iOS, AND)

Nintendo pursued the mobile gaming audience with a multitude of attempts to enter the market, hoping to have an extra source of income and success. However, few of the attempts actually bore wildly successful fruit. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is Nintendo's take on its series in mobile form, with all of the annoyances and boredom that comes with games of its style. Perhaps it's different now, but I remember at launch that the game took forever to get anything worth value, showcasing itself as a tedious grind. It's definitely not what I want out of the Animal Crossing series, but for those without a Nintendo system to play the more traditional games in the series, perhaps Pocket Camp is a suitable supplement. ..I doubt it, though.

6) Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer (3DS)

Another spin-off in the Animal Crossing series, Happy Home Designer focused on the interior and exterior design aspects of Animal Crossing. The game put you in the titular role of a Happy Home Designer, taking on requests from various animal villagers and doing your best to fulfill them by placing appropriate furniture in and outside of their homes. Though one could just do the bare minimum to pass the requirements for each animal client (and the game did a poor job of rewarding you for being more creative than necessary), I did discover the joy of customizing the appearance of each house--both indoors and out--to look as good as my imagination could make it. The ease of placing furniture and objects with the simple-to-use controls would later be implemented into Animal Crossing: New Horizons in a most welcome fashion.

5) Animal Crossing: City Folk (Wii)

Let's go the city, shall we? That was Nintendo's modus operandi for Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Wii, but outside of the eponymous city setting that players could visit by bus, City Folk felt more like a console version of Animal Crossing: Wild World. That's not to say that City Folk wasn't enjoyable. It just seemed like a super safe sequel and hardly a major evolution in the Animal Crossing franchise's formula. It also doesn't help that the game required a miserable peripheral in order to chat with friends when visiting them online. That said, Animal Crossing: City Folk gave me plenty of hours (see: hundreds of hours) of enjoyment even if it was essentially Wild World 2.0.

4) Animal Crossing (GCN)

I remember having a choice between two games for a gift in September. They were both GameCube games: one was Super Monkey Ball 2, the sequel to a game I loved, so it was most likely going to be a sequel that I enjoyed. The other was Animal Crossing, which was at the time an unknown quality to me. I read about it intently in the multiple previews that spawned from the pages of Nintendo Power magazine, but other than that, getting it would be based on faith.

My choice between the two games was apparently a good one, as I've loved Animal Crossing as a series ever since. While I did later end up also getting Super Monkey Ball 2, Animal Crossing on the GameCube gave me a new franchise to love, and I remember losing so many hours of my real life to my new virtual life in my charming town of Mabel. Between attempting and being successful at catching every bug and fish in the game, making sure I talked to every villager each day, amassing a hefty collection of furniture and Bells, and being ready for each and every holiday, Animal Crossing was as much of my real life as school was back in the day.

I'd also feel so guilty missing a day in the game, too, and would doubly be upset if a favorite villager suddenly decided to up and move. The struggle, as they say, was real. While many games in the Animal Crossing series have since improved on the formula in many ways, it's a combination of nostalgia and liking the simplicity of the original that I adore the GameCube's Animal Crossing so much.

3) Animal Crossing: Wild World (DS)

The second game in the Animal Crossing series launched on handhelds with the release of Animal Crossing: Wild World on the Nintendo DS. Now, players no longer had the need to be tied to a TV to play Animal Crossing. They could now play it anywhere! Not just that, but with the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, now they could play it with anyone, too. (Well, provided they had one another's friend codes, of course!)

Wild World's big deal was obviously online, so players could explore each other's towns, but so much more was added, as well. There was a higher level of character customization, touch screen support for a myriad of uses (such as inventory, inputting messages, creating various clothing and sign designs), and a new camera perspective which was more level with the player, allowing the view to show both the ground and sky. Various games in the series have since run with all of these ideas and many have done them better, but that doesn't stop Wild World from being a solid game still.

2) Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS)

The latest two Animal Crossing games focus more on customization and quality of life features to make for better games. It only makes sense then that these latest two entries are the ones I prefer the most. The first of which is Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which had its biggest new feature being that of serving as your town's mayor. As mayor, you could start public works projects to create new buildings, places of interest, and objects in your village, such as cafes, police stations, windmills, lighthouses, streetlamps, wells, bridges, and more. Ordinances could also be started to better suit your playing style, such as opening and closing shops earlier or later--depending on your preference--or asking your fellow villagers to help water plants so they wouldn't perish so easily.

The added freedom that was granted to players in crafting their own town experience in Animal Crossing: New Leaf is one of the major reasons why I adore it so much and can return to it to this day. Even with the newest game out now, New Leaf still has various reasons to keep coming back to its beautiful, auto-stereoscopic world.

1) Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NSW)

A game that couldn't have released at a better time, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the perfect getaway when most people can't literally "get away" from these chaotic times. And calling these times "chaotic" is a bit of an understatement. Regardless, with the pandemic and need for social distancing, players have found their islands in New Horizons to be a wonderful place of refuge for our weary world.

The amount of freedom that was found in New Leaf was exponentially increased in New Horizons, offering the ability to customize one's island to insane lengths. You can not just only place where you want buildings for island residents and places like shops and the museum to be located, but you can also terraform the heck out of your island, too--creating the paradise you've always dreamed of living in. The only obstacle is your imagination, and perhaps your patience, too, considering how long and lengthy of a process fine-tuning one's island can be!

Between amassing a massive collection of furniture, catching all of the local fauna through the game's four seasons, donating finds to the museum, participating in the Stalk Market, and the immense amount of updates provided by Nintendo, I've yet to grow bored of Animal Crossing: New Horizons through my nearly 200 hours of playtime. It is without question my favorite entry in the Animal Crossing franchise, and one of my favorite games in 2020 thus far.

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