Cruce de animales debuted as a weird, unique, and very Nintendo-like video game in 2001. It resembled popular life- and farm-sim games, where your experience in a small, riverside village revolved around simple tasks and monotony. But Nintendo added a very special pinch of time and patience.
There simply wasn’t much to do in a given day after fishing, fossil scavenging, and running basic errands. That was the point. You were supposed to hop in, do your daily virtual regimen, leave notes for other players in the same household, and come back in a day or two. That formula has since shone for over a decade, with follow-up entries adding online support that essentially expands that “cozy little household” feeling without breaking the game’s core loop.
That’s why fans were understandably excited about the series getting its first smartphone entry, Animal Crossing: Campo de bolsillo, which is now out on Android and iOS. The series’ mix of simple, bright graphics, cute animal friends, house decorations, and quick-hit daily tasks seems like perfect tap-and-go gaming fodder. And many of the series’ best and weirdest trappings are in this smartphone version. But before addressing any of that, we have to look closely at how Nintendo converted this game from a fixed-price, retail offering to a free-to-play microtransaction disaster—and how that has rotted Cruce de animales‘s most rewarding elements from the inside-out.
The opposite of free-range
Like other Animal Crossing games, campo de bolsillo starts with you arriving at a new, outdoorsy locale. Instead of moving into a new town like previous games, you’re asked this time to run a campground. You must attract campgoers from nearby, which you do by completing errands, picking up supplies, and crafting your neighbors’ favorite furniture and decorations. Doing all of this is as simple as tapping the screen. Tap to walk. Tap to pick stuff up. Tap to talk to a pink, sweater-wearing dog. Tap to drop a fishing line in a river. Tap to catch a butterfly with a net. Anything you’ve done in an older AC game is easy to do by way of taps, and Nintendo designed this to work as well as you could imagine.
The first huge difference in this game, however, is that players no longer wander around a single, large town. Instead, campo de bolsillo‘s map is broken up into smaller, discrete zones, and when you go to these, you can only do one major action. If you go near a shoreline, you’ll have a fishing rod in your hand. If you head to the bug-crazy Sunburst Island, you’ll only have access to a net. This disrupts the feel and flow of Animal Crossing in surprising ways. Instead of free-flowing and emergent gameplay, where you happen to see a rare bug or a fish’s shadow and make moves to switch out inventory and capitalize, you’re instead just heading to specific locales and farming the crap out of them until their supplies are exhausted.
When you wipe out certain supplies, particularly from fruit trees, you are promptly shown a three-hour timer. Want more cherries? You can wait a few hours for the tree to naturally produce more… orrrr you can spend your limited supply of fertilizer to make those fruits appear immediately. Want to speed up fishing? That’s what new “fishing nets” are for, which auto-catch a slew of fish. They, too, are limited.
These kinds of supplies can be earned in the course of normal gameplay, but more of them can be purchased with the game’s paid currency, called Leaf Tickets. And Nintendo makes sure you know how much stuff you can spend those Leaf Tickets on. For example, all of the region’s denizens ask you to run around and fetch them certain supplies; doing this rewards you with both friendship points and experience points. When you’ve fulfilled a denizen’s desires, you then must wait a few hours for them to come up with new requests… o you can spend a limited “request ticket” to make them impatient and ask for more FP- and XP-earning tasks. (Should you run out, these request tickets can be purchased with Leaf Tickets.)
Why would you be in a rush to bump these denizens’ desires so quickly? Why not just go run around the island and busy yourself with other Animal Crossing-esque tasks? Because, again, you can only do certain things in each zone, and that means you can no longer do a lot of series tasks. Those include: hunting for a variety of bugs based on time of day; digging up fossils; digging, planting, and arranging flowers; designing your own clothing; hanging out at a cozy cafe; and anything relating to a museum. The series’ standard museum is gone, and nothing here replaces the casual, months-long collect-a-thon it fueled.
Your campsite works more or less the same as your houses did in previous games. Place and arrange all matter of furniture, rug, plant, and other cute objects however you see fit. In order to get the region’s quirky creatures to visit your campsite, you’ll need to complete enough tasks to earn enough friendship points, at which time they’ll demand certain furniture be placed in the campsite before they stop by. Do this, and the game will automatically (and temporarily) place whatever objects your demanding rabbit or pig friend wanted. A cut scene will play out of them sitting on all of your stuff with smiles, and then you can go back to placing furniture however you see fit.
campo de bolsillo‘s loop works as follows: do tasks for critters to earn FP and XP, which unlocks your ability to 1) craft a greater variety of furniture and decorations and 2) meet more critters. At first, getting FP and XP is pretty easy, especially with a flood of new critter friends in the early goings. However, this process slows down remarkably, because you stop meeting new friends and instead must make older friends happier, which becomes more expensive and time-consuming. They start to want nicer, more expensive furniture items, including the larger “amenity” items.
I mentioned crafting up there, which is a series first. And unfortunately, it appears Nintendo instituted this whole crafting system just to dump a soup of confusing currencies into the game. You don’t just collect the game’s old virtual currency of “Bells” (which are still here and never cost real money). And you don’t just accumulate those paid Leaf Tickets, which are also rewarded during standard gameplay. Now, you must also account for—ahem—paper, cotton, wood, preserves, steel, four types of “essence,” “friend powder,” and sparkle stones. And that’s just after 24 hours of play.
You’ll receive different amounts of each currency after completing tasks, and this becomes a blur of visual noise after a while. Like, great, I got some shinies for giving Beau the Deer some fish. I’ll figure out what those mean later. But when the time comes to craft something, and you’re out of, say, cotton (which has been in seriously short supply in my testing), Nintendo is quick to remind you: just spend some Leaf Tickets to make up for your missing, required supplies.
Leaf Tickets can also be spent to speed up any item-crafting timer, and cada item runs on a generation timer. Early crafting items only take 1-3 minutes to generate, but already in my brief impression-period testing, I’ve been asked to create items that take 12 hours. For a little over $2 worth of Leaf Tickets, Nintendo can make that 12-hour wait go away (and it generates an exact Leaf Ticket price for whatever the timer is in any given circumstance). Players can also spend Leaf Tickets on more simultaneous crafting slots and more inventory slots.
It’s not just about the money
I can already see the payment wall coming right at my face. As my campo de bolsillo friends become more demanding, I’ll need more, harder-to-get fruits and fish (which I can speed up by using limited, sometimes-paid boost items). Then they’ll demand longer-timer furniture and items, including supply-specific amenities. And the primary way to fulfill these few, basic requests is to hop from menu to menu and between very limited-instance zones, with a very basic suite of taps and menus to tap through in order to make everyone happy.
Worse, the interconnected nature of old AC games has been devastated. You can visit friends’ campsites, but all you can do is look at how friends have arranged their items. There’s no true interaction on their campsites. No ability to leave notes, no talking to their unique residents, and no version of “I can get more apples or fossils from my friend’s island” here. Instead, you can put a few of your collected items up for sale, which your friends can only access in a bland menu and trade you the “Bells” currency for them. (It’s much faster to blow limited-use items and Leaf Tickets when you’re low on supplies.) You’re also encouraged to tap through your friends list and demand people help you access a “mining station” mini-game, which takes forever to do via the friends list. This mini-game, too, is more easily accessible by spending Leaf Tickets.
The problem isn’t having to pay for AC:PC‘s content, which isn’t even required at first, thanks to a “welcome to the game” bounty of Leaf Tickets and other limited-supply items. If it came down to it, I wouldn’t be against paying for the good parts of this game. I love the music, the world design, the quirky characters, their cheeky dialogue, and the furniture designs. I love when the tapping controls let me do standard Animal Crossing tasks like catching fish and collecting bugs. I love using my fingers to arrange various items and furniture to my liking and then watching little walking, talking animals hang out on my couches and play with my barbecue grills.
The problem is that campo de bolsillo is severely tuned to push you into hurry-up-and-wait situations, as opposed to letting you freely melt into the world and be subject to the patience-is-a-virtue systems of its predecessors. Those are all gone. If you spend at least $60 on Leaf Tickets, you can accumulate every single item and placate every denizen in a few long marathon sessions, just tap-tap-tapping away between menus, currencies, and tiny zones. That goes against the spirit of the series, which might be OK if more gameplay systems were implemented to make up for this transition to mobile screens and fewer buttons. But the designers haven’t added anything to the experience.
As a result, this isn’t Animal Crossing. This is a scam. Nintendo should be ashamed for attaching such predatory practices to one of its most family-friendly properties, and nothing short of a full-scale redesign will fix the FarmVille-level rot within this shiny-looking game.
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