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Game: Animal Crossing Pocket Camp
Consoles: Android (Reviewed), iOS
K.K. Slider in the Animal Crossing games was not just a character but an event, something that you can only see once every week. He also offered you your very own song out of a list of many. In Animal Crossing Pocket Camp, he’s just another furniture item to add to your campsite and just sits there playing the same couple of chords over and over.
This is Animal Crossing Pocket Camp in a nutshell. It dumbs down everything I liked about Animal Crossing, reducing all of your experiences and accomplishments to just another thing you collect.
Animal Crossing Pocket Camp has you collecting furniture and building amenities in order to build the virtual campsite of your dreams while also customizing your campervan on the side. Along the way, you’ll get to know the animal friends who hang out in the different areas of the camp grounds and even invite up to eight to stay at your campsite. In order to get furniture, you need to get crafting materials by completing the requests of campers. To complete the requests, you need to go around to different areas to hunt for bugs, fish, fruit, and seashells. So the main gameplay loop has you running around the camp grounds collecting items to give to campers so you can get crafting materials to create furniture. Along the way you’ll level up your friendship with the campers for extra rewards while increasing your own level so you unlock more friends and furniture. Rinse and repeat.
The gameplay of collecting items and acquiring the in-game currency of Bells is immediately familiar to fans of the original Animal Crossing games. While the actual hunting mechanics have been simplified to a few screen taps and QTE prompts, it still retains a lot of the mystery and fun of hunting for bugs and fish with the possibility of capturing rare critters.
It’s also quite fun to decorate your campsite. You have a ton of different items at your disposal and they can make for a variety of unique themes and designs instead of just a living room without walls. You can get some food furniture and create a restaurant or get a bunch of instruments and make a concert stage. The touch screen controls also makes it much more intuitive to move around furniture than in previous installments, even if you can occasionally select the carpet instead of the furniture placed on the carpet.
But the main draw of the game is of course chatting it up with the animal companions. The writing is as silly and clever as ever and you grow genuinely attached to many of the characters. Cherry is a sassy and slightly British goth fashionista, what what? Apollo is old but wise and good humored. There’s bound to be somebody in the game you’ll come to love.
But the whole thing falls apart when you realize that there’s really not much else to do. Everything I described above is pretty much all you can expect from the game. You’ll be doing the same gameplay loop of collecting items to unlock stuff so you can collect more items to unlock more stuff for the entirety of your playthrough. Not helping matters is the fact that despite the possibility of catching rare bugs and fish, there’s only a handful of critters overall to collect. Instead of feeling constantly proud of capturing a new bug or fish to put in your museum, you just capture the same bugs over and over again just to check boxes. Also the big open, randomly generated areas that you once called your own in previous games is now just a collection of static areas with specific and rigid things to do in them.
Also shattering this game’s magic is the realization that your animal companions deep down are vain, greedy, dumb jerks. They may give you adequate compensation for requests, but when those items are so readily available in the world it calls into question their competence and work ethic. You’ll often see companions make requests for a certain type of item while sitting in the area of the game where that type of item is plentiful. Yet despite how banal those items are (many of which you just pick up off the ground), they all react as if you gifted them with some great treasure. However, some will gloat about how you’re constantly offering them items and refer to you as simply a fan. It also doesn’t help that multiple animals share the exact same dialogue. But the worst part is that in order to get them to your campsite, you not only need to be at a certain friendship level but you need to have five specific pieces of furniture in your campsite when you invite them. So if you don’t have the gaudy, ugly furniture they request, you’re not worth their time. Adding to the difficulty of raising friendships is the fact that animals rotate in and out of the game every three hours and only offer a few requests at a time, with you having only a handful of Request Tickets and Calling Cards to get more requests and summon an animal friend respectively.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that certain pieces of furniture can only be acquired if you’re at friendship level 10, 15, or 20 with an animal. However, the friendship level cap starts at seven. The only way to increase it is to build and upgrade amenities. Not only do they take forever to build but you can only have two of them on your campsite. That wouldn’t be a problem except that animals have preferred themes for items and thus only raise their friendship level cap if you build a certain kind of amenity. So you can only raise the level cap to maximum for two kinds of companion at a time. If you want to build a space port and really want the Space Shuttle item from natural theme-preferring Filbert as well as the Spherical Radar item from sporty theme-preferring Kid Cat, you need invest in natural and sporty amenities. With how much resources each animal friend demands both for their requests and their specific furniture items, this means that you have to ignore other animal friends as well as the great items they unlock.
I just want a TV that’s shaped like an apple! Why does it have to be so hard?
Speaking of friends, you can also visit the campsites of real life players you either encounter in the world or add via friend codes or social media invites. However, you don’t actually get to play with people. Instead of exploring your town in real time together like in other Animal Crossing games, you simply walk around the camp while the person just stands there. Then you can give them kudos for their campsite design and even buy the fish, bugs, and other items they placed in their Market Boxes. The Market Boxes are a great idea as it can offer players extra items they need while freeing up your inventory space and earning you Bells. But an Animal Crossing experience is a bit lacking without players to play with.
The Market Place where you can buy items is just pathetic. A grand total of two of the three shops can populate the market and rotate every three hours. Each shop only offers three items at a time and can offer the same items multiple rotation periods. Good luck finding something worthwhile. Also the campervan being put to the side in favor of campsites means that any investment in them outside of exterior designs is wasted.
Wow, I didn’t even get to the microtransactions yet.
In addition to acquiring Bells to pay for furniture and other items, the game offers you Leaf Tickets for paying real world cash. Leaf Tickets are used to craft furniture if you’re missing crafting materials, make the crafting process instantaneous, enter you into a Quarry to get more Bells and crafting materials, and pay for exclusive items like the stool that summons K.K. Slider.
Despite you being rewarded with a handful of tickets every so often, the game’s microtransactions are more insidious than they seem. This is yet another mobile free-to-play game that uses long wait times in order to get you to pay money to speed them up, also known as what Critic Jim Sterling calls “free-to-wait” games. Bells are useful for buying furniture and other items but they mainly exist to falsify a sense of investment and progression. You got all these Bells so you shouldn’t quit now. In order to craft the furniture you want without being forced to wait anywhere from 10 minutes to 12 hours, you need to spend real money in the game. It puts the player’s patience on the line in order to goad them into paying money and get a head start over other players in having the best campsite possible.
Also, you may get a lot of Leaf Tickets early on but you need to spend 80 of them to unlock one of the two extra crafting slots to craft more than one item at a time. That means your initially generous offering of Leaf Tickets can quickly diminish if you pay the 160 to open up all the crafting slots as well as the 150 for any exclusive items.
Now it’s not as bad as the extortion seen in games like 2014’s Dungeon Keeper, where it can take days just to dig out a room and it’s not like gameplay is completely halted. However, it’ll still take a long time before you can make your ideal campsite a reality. That combined with the realization that you may not see specific items tied to character friendships means that you may never get to your perfect campsite. And what’s really there to do while you’re waiting, doing requests for friends just so you can get their stuff?
Unlike Fire Emblem Heroes which took the classic gameplay of Fire Emblem and adapted and improved upon it for mobile devices to make it a fantastic entry in its own right, Animal Crossing Pocket Camp just feels like a cynical cash in. It’s the kind of mobile game meant to accompany a much larger game release in order to ride on its success and make a bit of extra money on the side for the publisher. Except that Animal Crossing Pocket Camp doesn’t have a larger mainline release to latch on to so it’s billing itself as the latest entry in the series since 2015. While the game can give players the same adorable characters, thrill of finding items, and satisfaction in creating one’s perfect home that the series is famous for, it’s all bogged down by an emphasis on the least desirable and repetitive aspects of the series. That combined with its long wait times and data-hogging always online requirement (which was only just recently fixed from its initially buggy state) means that it’s neither worth the time nor the money.
- You can grow genuinely attached to animal companions
- Decorating the campsite with your variety of furniture is fun
- Hunting for bugs and fish can be fun
- Market Boxes are a great idea
- Frustratingly specific requirements for getting certain campers to campsite and acquiring certain furniture
- Nothing much else to the game other than the core loop of repetitive busywork
- Not much in the way of interacting with friends
- You’re forced to wait for crafting furniture unless you pay up