Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp Review
Platforms: Android(Reviewed), iOS
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp serves as Nintendo’s fourth foray into the mobile game space, an experiment that brought them mixed results following the experimental social game Miitomo, the underperforming Super Mario Run, and the continually successful Fire Emblem Heroes. However, Animal Crossing, with its more casual and laid back nature, actually seems like an idea fit for a platform where people typically only play games for a few minutes each session. And initially, I assumed that the game would understand this and try to replicate the Animal Crossing experience on a smaller scale.
After a small interview and an instance of traditional character creation, a first for this series, the game quickly gives the player access to a camp ground and the instructions of turning this barely populated environment into an attraction for the various animal people who reside in the small environment the game takes place in. A similar enough concept to the original games, but this one is notably a lot more… gamey than what came before it. Allow me to explain.
In the traditional Animal Crossing titles, the game is set in a small town with its own unique topography and residents, while retaining several basic institutions and geographical aspects, like a beachfront, a river, and several fruit bearing trees. The player is tasked with the rather relatable goal of paying off their debt on their home, with the continued goal being to renovate and improve upon the home by hustling for money. Pick fruits, do favors for people, catch bugs, catch fish, dig up fossils, and steal from the lost and found shop all while taking in a charming atmosphere with colorful characters and bubbly personalities as they adapt to the player’s presence and even interact with each other at points. At least, that’s the loop I remember from playing the Gamecube and DS entries.
In Pocket Camp, things are a lot more streamlined and, well, less endearing. Every player is placed in the same world with regards to its layout. A world with their campsite, a shop, an upgrade shop for their camper, and four disconnected biomes that each contain a series of replenishable resources that cannot be altered in any real way. In these biomes, the player can find fruit, fish, and bugs that can be given to the various animal friends who pop up as part of fetch quests they assign the player character. Doing so increases their friendship level with the player character and make them willing to come to their campsite, under the condition that it has certain furniture that the character enjoys.
How does one get furniture? Well, they craft it of course, using the paltry sum of resources that the player is rewarded with for doing a fetch quest. Once the character is brought to the campsite, the player is given more crafting resources, and is encouraged to build attractions to increase the maximum friendship level with certain characters. By increasing their friendship level with other characters enough, the player character gets access to even more character to befriend, perpetuating the gameplay loop into one that I doubt would ever truly end.
By being so structured around a rigid gameplay loop, having a uniform linear progression, and featuring such a wide array of characters really does take away two of what I feel are the most vital things about Animal Crossing. Uniqueness and personality. One of the reasons why people spend so much time in the mainline entries is because they have their town, their house, their map, and their neighbors. Everything about the game is effectively theirs and that really does make everybody feel as if the interactions they have and even their usual runs around town are something that only they can experience, even though most other players are going through a similar sequence.
As for personality, the characters of Animal Crossing are expressive and bubbly, each having unique personality traits and designs that make each new encounter with a new character an absolute treat. Their little animations, dialog, and gradual personality development really are what make the game so endearing. Pocket Camp has very little of that. Due to the large number of characters, it is very plain to see that characters repeat the same lines with only mild alterations, and that their personalities are not as endearing as I recall them once being. They stand still in one randomly selected location, existing only to interact with the player, functioning as a deposit box for a checklist of fruits, bugs, and fish that dispenses small sums of money, crafting materials, and points.
Every play session goes the same basic way. Go to the forest, island, river, and beach to get the necessary fruits, bugs, and fish to give to the animals. Interact with the animals in each of the four locations and receive approximately 8 friendship points by giving them the requested supplies. If the player lacks the supplies, ignore them. Check out the market area to find three pieces of purchasable apparel and three pieces of furniture. Return to camp, speak to the animals who reside there, and see if there is anything to craft for this play session. Then, turn the game off and return after 3 – 24 hours to do the whole process all over again.
There are a few other things to do. There are other players that can be interacted with and found at the four locations. The player may make friends with them, visit their campsite, give them kudos (whatever that means), and see which bugs, fruits, and fish they are selling via a P2P marketplace. By making friends with other players, they can also opt to assist the player in an area where the player must strike rocks with a shovel in order to break them and collect silver and gold nuggets, which in turn are converted into crafting materials and money.
I never got this to work properly though, as my random Japanese friends did not support my efforts. Though, I think that has more to do with how the ability to support friends is tucked away so thoroughly behind menus and never directly explained by the game. So instead I used the purchasable currency in order to try it twice, and it was quite lame when I did. A currency that can be used for a variety of actions, but it’s mostly used to gain limited edition furniture, speed up the crafting process, which can take up to 12 hours, and expand the player’s inventory. At the beginning, the player can only hold a very limited amount of bugs, fruits, and fish, but by levelling up, and using this currency, the maximum capacity can be expanded into something far more manageable.
There are also a series of gameplay related quests to complete, which revolve around doing X thing Y number of times, and sometimes contain downright baffling requirements. Like catching 15 squids, an uncommon fish found in one location, in a single day. Then there is the matter of customization, both with regards to the player character and their campsite. While I enjoyed being able to shape and freely reshape how my character looked, the fact that only three articles of clothing are available at a given time does limit customization greatly, and encourages a very obsessive playstyle of constantly checking the store to see if any cool threads came in. Though, clothes crafting is supposedly coming soon though, so that issue will be solved in due time.
There is also campsite customization, but unlike the homes in typical Animal Crossing titles, this place did not feel like it truly belonged to my character, or at least it was not their space to live in and customize freely. That is because the campsite functions more as a storage area for the animals than anything else. They are the ones who live there, they sit on the furniture, interact with it, and reside in the tents the player can craft. I felt so disconnected from this place that I decided to customize it to most closely resemble a prison, with lattice walls covering it from all sides, sealing the animals within. Doing so was actually the most fun I had with this game, as it was the only instance where I felt I was being creative, expressing myself, and going against what the designers envisioned.
However, I must say that the game certainly emulates the look and general aesthetic of the mainline games quite well, with the same familiar grass pattern, world design, character animations, and general UI look that have come to define the series. It is an adorable and charming art style peppered by a series of well designed and varied characters. Plus, with the additional resolution and graphical capabilities of most mobile devices, the game has a very crisp and clean look, which is a welcome change for a series that has been mostly relegated to lower resolution handhelds. Which really does illustrate how underpowered the 3DS was and is.
I genuinely wanted to walk away from Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp with a series of positive impressions, but I reached my patience threshold with this game after a single week. While the game does try to mask this experience behind a thick veil of charming art design and character concepts, I could not help but become disenchanted with it. The characters became nothing other than boxes that took in items I gathered in exchange for materials that I could only use to craft things, all to perpetuate a gameplay loop of repeated fetch quests that serve as the only major goal and drive throughout the game. While the creativity, uniqueness, personality, and player freedom that came to define the finer elements of this series range from underwhelming to borderline nonexistent.
Before anybody comments, yes, I am aware that there is also camper customization. I just completely forgot to look into it at all during my playthrough, as there is never any reason to enter the camper.
Oh, and on an unrelated note, I found it odd that in my entire playtime, I never saw another player character with a darker skin tone. Especially when considering how skin tone customization is a new feature in this game.