After the quite brilliant Animal Crossing: Wild World on Nintendo DS, Nintendo fans have been waiting excitedly for the inevitable Wii follow-up. It's been three years since that game hit Japanese stores, so just what has Nintendo managed to conjure up in that time? Well, it's managed to come up with a terrible subtitle in 'Let's go to the City', completely innovate by offering voice chat and offer a new area to visit that sounds quite large but is in fact quite small. Animal Crossing: Let's go to the City is the very definition of lazy game development, yet it's still a great deal of fun and a game that will appeal to a very large group of Wii owners who have likely never played an Animal Crossing game before.
Let's go the City begins in the same way as previous games in the series have, with you on a bus travelling to your new town of residence. You talk to a chatty fellow who asks you a series of questions which enable you to name your character and town and sort out a few other details, like your gender. It's a quite brilliant way to make rather dull text and data entry seem fun, and a nice intro to the kind of characters you're going to be interacting with over the course of your new life in Dogmun (well, that's what I called my town). You leave the bus with some tips on who to speak to and the world (town and small city) is your oyster.
After visiting the Town Hall, meeting the mayor and having a casual stroll through Dogmun, it's time to take a look at potential homes. Four are on offer to begin with, none of which are much bigger than a small shack (so small in fact that you can fill the entire floor with a pocket-full of apples). You don't have any money to begin with, but shop owner Tom Nook stumps up the cash, with him agreeing that you can pay it back over the course of your time in town. Once you've bought your desired property it's time to work for Nook in order to get a bit of cash, which essentially introduces you to a few basic ideas (like writing letters and notes, and delivering things to your fellow townspeople), and then you're free to do as you wish.
We initially headed straight to the nearby trees and robbed them of their apples, selling enough to Nook so we could afford the shovel, fishing rod and insect catcher he had on display. These tools are key to your money making in Let's go to the City, with caught insects and fish, and dug up items, able to be sold for cold hard bells (the game's currency). Your first house has a mortgage of nearly 20,000 bells, and one early escapade, catching a variety of fish, insects and apples, will earn you around 2000 bells, so it's not hard to get back into black with Mr Nook, at least temporarily. House renovations and extensions cost more money, and you're definitely going to want to upgrade in order to fit more items in your home, meaning you'll more or less permanently be in debt.
Your enjoyment of the game will more or less rest on how you find the core activities, which aren't anything more than quite basic chores. To catch fish you look for shadows in the water, then fling your hook out and wait for the fish to bite, before snapping the rod up with your Wii Remote. Catching insects is a case of following any you see and trying to slam your net over them before they hop off, and digging is, well, just you digging a hole. Thankfully Nintendo has wisely added tool selection to the Wii Remote's d-pad, so there's no need to enter a menu each time you want to change from one to another, which, if you've played previous games, comes as a great relief.
By far the biggest disappointment is just how samey the game is. This won't be a problem if you're coming to this Wii game having never played any of the previous Animal Crossing titles, but if you've sunk any decent amount of time into the DS, GameCube or even original N64 game, you're going to be doing more or less what you've done many times before. You can transfer over your profile from your DS game, getting your catalogue of items you've unlocked from your time in Wild World, but you don't get the money or items you owned. There's also no way to keep both games synchronised, which in our opinion makes the feature quite pointless unless you want to run two completely separate towns.
The new city environment might be a relief to anyone who has started to feel a little enclosed (with the secret island from the GameCube game being our only memory of a place outside of the main town), but it's not nearly as big a selling point as the game's title suggests. For one, the city isn't very big, and secondly it's half populated by stores that were in the DS game - albeit permanently instead of the travelling salesmen that they were before. Yes, you can get a makeover here to look like your Mii, which has great novelty value, and catch a show at the theatre, but for one of the game's defining new features the city feels, quite strangely for Nintendo, half-arsed.
Equally underwhelming are the new online features, which have been spearheaded by the revolutionary chat functionality. Voice chat in online gaming might be relatively new to Nintendo gamers, but it's been commonplace in PC and console gaming since the turn of the century. The Wii Speak peripheral works well, allowing a whole group of gamers to be heard if they're all in the same room, with a maximum of four consoles able to be linked in a chat, but it's more a nice addition rather than a ground breaking new feature. The way you're now able to mingle with friends online, sharing messages, get new neighbours who have moved from your friends' towns and generally hang out is nice too, but it still feels like baby steps considering the online functionality other games are offering.
Due to the game's real-time clock and seasons, Animal Crossing is designed to be played in fairly short bursts, but every day. For example, some insects needed for the museum only come out at a certain time and during a certain season, and the useful (but limited to friends) auction house is only open at certain times. You'll often get asked for things that aren't possible to get until weeks later, meaning you'll need to invest an awful lot of real world time into the game in order to see all it has to offer. This is what made it such a perfect fit on the DS, a platform that is made to be played in short bursts wherever you might be.
Something else that hasn't changed much is the presentation. We know Animal Crossing has a deliberately twee style, but some refinements other than widescreen support would have been appreciated. We're pretty sure it would have been possible to add more detail to the town and characters, yet retain the style of the original games, but Nintendo seemed content to give us a game that resembles its DS relative far too closely. There are some really nice touches here though, like the way the grass is worn away if you always walk a certain route, and how plots that used to be homes slowly return to normal grass over time. Simple stuff maybe, but it adds character to your town and shows that Nintendo thought about the little details.
Audio is rather retro, with plenty of beeps and bops, and characters that talk in a language that will likely irritate anyone adverse to anything obscenely twee. The best part about the characters is their conversations with you, which are often quite amusing - even your own comments after catching fish can bring a smile to your face thanks to their extreme randomness. Something of a disappointment is the lack of NES games (a great addition to the GameCube version), but considering Nintendo now charges for these on the Virtual Console, it's no real surprise.
It's hard to be down on a game that, when judged on its own merits, is great fun and addictive, but it's equally hard to look past the fact that this is essentially the same game we've been playing since it belatedly arrived on the GameCube. After the DS game it's also odd to be forced to play in front of a TV screen again, with the hop in and out nature of the gameplay just feeling better suited to a handheld. Still, newcomers will find this a lot of fun, while veterans are likely to find it hard to resist once again crossing with animals in their town.