Capsule Review: Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

A simple life sim casting you as the manager of a campsite. Collect fruit/bugs/fish/seashells, give them to the humanoid animals camping nearby in exchange for crafting materials, build furniture to decorate your campsite and your camper van to be able to invite more villagers to your campsite and become better friends with them.

As the first Animal Crossing title released for mobile, Pocket Camp finally makes some much-needed shakeups to the original formula. Many of the outdated or player-hostile mechanics have been polished or removed. Inventory management is now essentially painless, placing furniture is the easiest it’s ever been, shops and villagers are no longer inaccessible at night - the list goes on. The most important change, though, is that the decay mechanics that reduced reapproachability in previous titles (weeds growing, villagers getting upset at your absence and eventually moving out, etc.) are completely gone. With this game, the series finally gets out of its own way and allows itself to be a casual experience. You can play at your own pace and not be punished for it - if you put the game down for a while you simply don’t make progress during that time.

Additionally, the game’s progression is less random and more linear since improving your friendships increases the furniture recipes available to you. This is also where the monetization enters the picture - the game is free to play but allows you to purchase “leaf tickets” to spend on speeding up the game’s progression which otherwise gets slower as you play. Later pieces of furniture need more materials and take longer to craft, but tickets can reduce either requirement for an individual piece - though of course the next one will still have requirements at least as high. But because the game doesn’t really put time pressure on you and Animal Crossing fans are already used to waiting, it’s easy enough to ignore the issue and play without spending a dime.

What is disappointing is that in the streamlining to bring the series to mobile, a lot of variety was also lost. The activites I outlined above are almost all there is to do (aside from a perplexing garden they patched in after release that I find too dull to bother with). There’s no fossils to dig up or museum to donate them to, no travelling art salesmen or fortune tellers to visit, no comedy club to learn emotes or concerts to collect music. The space the game occupies is much smaller than ever before and your customization is limited to a fairly small camp plot and the interior of your camper van (and your own outfit). There’s just the loop of collecting resources and giving them to the villagers, which you have to do more and more times between buliding new furniture as the game goes on. It can be a comforting routine when very stressed or tired but it doesn’t hold up for long outside of that.

Seasonal events add a bit of variety, but in a frustrating way. During the Christmas and New Year events (the only ones we’ve seen so far), some exclusive holiday-themed clothing and furniture is available. This system is simply layered on top of the existing mechanics, however - doing favors for villagers in this time awards an additional crafting resource that can be used to construct the furniture, and doing enough of the favors also rewards the clothing. The result is time pressure to keep you engaged lest you miss your chance for the exclusive items, but what it engages you with is the same shallow loop as before - so it just wears out its welcome faster.

(Updated April 7, 2018: After several months it’s become clear that there will nearly always be at least one event running. Because these events provide exclusive furniture and clothing but are time-limited, you are nearly always under time pressure if you don’t want to miss items, undermining my prior claim that the game finally functions as a casual experience. It’s possible to keep up if you play daily, but you can also buy and spend leaf tickets to avoid that need.)

I found that Pocket Camp made me want to return to New Leaf for a fuller experience - but going back to the unpolished, player-hostile mechanics now is unpalatable. Mostly I am left hoping that the inevitable Switch installment of the series will take the polish and improvements and apply them to a larger, deeper world.

I Stopped Playing When: My completionist tendencies kept me playing for several months through several events, but I increasingly resented the drain on my time and wished the game would give me a break. Eventually I gave up and just accepted that I won’t get all the items. While I had previously expected to dip back into the game periodically when I needed something mindless to relax with, all the playing-under-pressure has left me with a sour taste and makes this less likely.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

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