"I rubbed this present all over my face. Enjoy!"
Animal Crossing turned into a cult hit when it came out on GameCube a few years ago, devouring months of people's lives, spawning communities of fans looking for matching furniture, and even prompting some bands to post instructions on how to make their songs into town tunes. Animal Crossing: Wild World keeps the same structure of the previous versions, but it expands on nearly every aspect of the game. Most importantly, Wild World opens up a whole new level of human interaction through local and online wireless play.
The game starts off again with shopkeeper and loan shark Tom Nook showing you the ropes by offering you a part-time job, which has to be completed before you can wander around on your own or go online. You'll meet the animals living in your town, write letters, post bulletins, plant trees, etc. Once Nook is out of things for you to do, you can do pretty much whatever you want: pay off your house, collect fish and bugs, donate to the citizens of Boondox (who have nothing to eat but dirt), or tons of other little activities.
Animal Crossing uses a real-time clock and is designed to be played for short bursts over the long haul, rather than cramming in long play sessions over a weekend. In fact, once you've spent a couple hours in town, you'll probably run out of things to do, but come back at night or a day later, and there's no telling what might be going on. Holidays and events take place on specific days of the year. Certain breeds of fish and bugs are available in different seasons. Some characters only come a few hours during the week or may not show up until after you've played for several weeks. Shops in town and mail delivery are set to daily schedules, and even the phase of the moon is accurate to real life. It's this aspect of Animal Crossing that kept many hooked for more than a year on GameCube, and it will do so again on DS. Even if you've put dozens of hours into the game, there's still something new coming up next week or next month.
The other factor in addiction is the enormous depth of items to discover and collect. The game features literally hundreds of furnishings, instruments, carpets, wallpapers, costumes, fish, bugs, paintings, fossils, and songs. It's amazing how compelling the hunt for furniture can become. While you can furnish your home with a random assortment of junk, the game actually encourages you to look for furniture in matching sets, which will have you running errands, rummaging through the recycle bin, shaking things out of trees, and making deals with other players to trade or buy items that you're looking for. You'll also want to pay off your mortgage so you can actually fit more things in your house. As you pay off each loan, you'll be able to expand the house several times, ultimately ending up with five separate rooms (not counting the upper bedroom, where you save).
While all of this probably sounds like the same game to people who have played the GameCube version, Wild World features lots and lots of small changes and improvements. You can use the touch screen to wave at characters from a distance. If you walk up on two animals talking, you can interrupt or eavesdrop to find some of the funniest writing in the game, as two animals decide to have a dance-off ("Shake it, girlfriend!") or an insensitive animal tramples on the heart of another. The game now provides each player an enormous amount of storage space; ninety items can be stored in your dresser / wardrobe / refrigerator (getting multiple storage units doesn't increase your space) and the post office will save up to seventy-five letters with packages attached. In addition to clothing, there is now an assortment of crazy hats, wigs, glasses, mustaches, and other accessories to define your look.
A couple of changes aren't necessarily positive. The real-life holidays such as Halloween and Thanksgiving have been replaced with lame Animal Crossing holidays like "Yay Day" to speed up localization. Personally, I would have preferred it if Nintendo had included all of the holidays from previous versions and simply allowed players to pick their region. That way, I could travel to a friend's town with Japanese holidays, or he or she could come to my place for Halloween, but maybe that's too ambitious. More controversial is that players using the same game card now have to share a house, which means that you could come home to find your little sister has sold all of your furniture and painted the walls pink. Thankfully, if she finally gets her own copy of the game, she can simply move out of town using a special wireless feature.
Control is streamlined, since you can use either the buttons or stylus exclusively. I actually switch between the two, as each has its own strengths. The buttons seem to make more sense for walking around slowly, opening doors, arranging furniture, shaking trees, etc. On the other hand, the stylus is indispensable for typing messages, dragging items in menus, and drawing designs. It's a matter for individual comfort, although both methods seem to suffer a bit from reliance on context sensitivity, often having you swing a shovel when you mean to open a door or start a conversation when you want to whack the other character with a net.
Graphically, the game is on par with its N64 and GameCube brethren, although the DS screen does tend to look more grainy. The main improvement is actually in how the town map is laid out. Rather than walking from tile to tile in an overhead view (old-school Zelda style), the ground rotates under your feet like a globe. This feature allows you to walk continuously without delay and see houses and characters in the distance. The upper screen of the DS isn't used much, but in the day, you might randomly see items or characters flying through the sky that can be shot down with a slingshot. At night, the moon and stars will light up the sky with constellations that you can create in the museum's new observatory. When you access the menu, the game will keep going, moving the view of your character to the upper screen so you can keep an eye on what's happening around you.
What really makes the difference, though, is that Animal Crossing: Wild World is one of the first games to take advantage of Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, allowing players worldwide to travel to other players' towns. The GameCube game had some provision for traveling via memory card, but it still only allowed for one player at a time to explore the town, and not many people were able to take advantage of it. In Animal Crossing: Wild World, you enter codes for up to 32 friends and open your gate for three other players to visit through either local or Wi-Fi connections.Each of you explores the town at the same time, chatting or ramming shovels into each other. This feature doesn't turn the game into "Animal Crossing Party" with lame mini-games or anything, so you're still playing as you would normally. However, each town has a different layout, different items in the store, different fruits on the trees, animals in town, etc. By trading with other people, you have a much better chance of finding items you're looking for, since they can keep their eyes open for you even while you're away. You can also set up your own competitions like fishing or games of hide and seek, offering up prizes to the winner.
Aussie fiend insults Dan on board
Oh wait, I forgot to do it
Your friends are also capable of making a lasting impression in your town. Players can leave messages on your bulletin board (see example above). Fashion designs they display in your shop might become the latest trend in town, or constellations from their towns might appear in your sky. Animals will remember them and ask how they're doing or show you letters that they've written.
There are also some events that may happen to anyone over Wi-Fi Connection. A mysterious cat named Blanca may show up in your town and ask you to draw her face, or you can purchase "bottle mail" to write a letter, shove it in a bottle, and toss it out to sea. Either of these could end up anywhere. I can say from personal experience that people who aren't even on my friend list have ended up with things I've drawn and written, and I've also received messages from people I've never heard of. What's more funny is that Ben randomly received a bottle mail I wrote, warning anyone who received it that "Ben Kosmina eats animals."
Online play can have a few snags. If the connection lags too long or cuts out on anyone's end, the game will end for all, without saving. However, the negative effects are mitigated somewhat since the game does save automatically each time you go online and each time a player leaves town. Plus, the host can save for all players at any time by pushing Start. So, as long as you remember to save frequently, lag shouldn't rain too hard on your parade.
In the end, paired with Mario Kart DS, Animal Crossing: Wild World is probably the best thing Nintendo could have launched Wi-Fi Connection with, as the two games provide entirely different experiences. Mario Kart gives players a chance to drive fast and compete viciously, while Animal Crossing provides a place to hang out, tell jokes, and go fishing. The depth and polish in Animal Crossing doesn't hurt either.