Yesterday I started a new chapter in my life. Something happened to me that will change the way I live for the foreseeable future. Yesterday, I became the mayor of Bumtown.
First and foremost, let me clarify the obvious. Bumtown is of course an immature name and as a 30 year-old man I should really know better. But this is tradition for me. Ten years ago a less sensible me bought Animal Crossing on the GameCube and thought the idea of a little village called Bumtown was the funniest thing ever. When I bought the DS version some years later I kept the name, and by the time the Wii version was released there was really no other option but to continue the trend.
Not all traditions remain, though. While my childish town name remains, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the first significant shake-up the series has undertaken since the release of the GameCube original. Having spent more hours than I cared to remember on the last three Animal Crossing games, I (and many others) thought things were starting to feel a little stale by the time the Wii version came around. This 3DS instalment promises to change that, and after only a day in this new town I can already see differences.
Yes, this may be called Bumtown, but it's a different Bumtown. It's a Bumtown where I have the power to change things for the better, to improve the standard of living for my animal chums. It's a Bumtown where my actions will have more of an impact. It's a Bumtown where, as the mayor, I was put in charge from day one. I was even given my own office, along with an assistant:
The more things change, the more they stay the same, and just because New Leaf starts with the player in a position of power rather than a complete nobody, it doesn't mean I kicked things off on top of the world. For starters, I didn't have a house.
Once again the ever-snidey Tom Nook was on hand to sort me out with accommodation, but this time instead of offering me a small house and letting me pay him to upgrade it, he didn't even start me off with a house at all.
This time, Tom Nook now works at Nook's Homes, a shop specialising in house building. He told me to head to his shop later, by which time he'd have figured out how much it would cost me to have him build me an actual bricks-and-mortar home instead of feeling like I was at Glastonbury.
Tom Nook may have had me over a barrel (and not for the first time in the Animal Crossing series) but at least he's not complete scum - he gave me a lantern so I could see inside.
After wandering around for a while and exploring New Bumtown - there's a larger beach area than in previous games and a high street section up north beyond the train tracks is New Leaf's equivalent of the city in the Wii version - I decided it was time to visit Nook's shop.
As expected, his news wasn't ideal.
In previous games, what would happen next is that the player would protest, saying they couldn't afford to spend that much money, and Tom Nook would then let you work at his shop for a while, allowing you to earn enough cash that way. This time he just tells you to figure out how to earn your own money, knowingly quipping that in this day and age, working part-time in a shop to earn cash isn't that fun.
Luckily for me, I soon met Queenie, my first neighbour. She had some good advice for me on how to get 10,000 Bells relatively quickly.
And no, none of them were anything to do with Pretty Woman. Queenie's best advice was that, as in previous games, I could earn some reasonable cash by collecting fruit from trees, seashells from the beach, and any bugs and fish I came across, then selling them.
When you start a new game in Animal Crossing, your town is automatically allocated a specific type of fruit. If you sell any of your own town's fruit at the shop you'll get 100 Bells per fruit. If, however, you can find fruit from a different town, you'll get a hefty 500 Bells per fruit. My assistant Isabelle explained what fruit Bumtown specialised in.
Isabelle also gave me a cherry, telling me it was from another town, but instead of selling it I decided to plant it. Yes, I could have sold it for 500 Bells, but once it grows into a cherry tree I'll get a regular supply of cherries that will give me at least a guaranteed 1500 Bells every day. Give a man a fish, and all that.
After an hour or two gathering fruit, shells and bugs, I was finally nearing the 10,000 Bells balance I needed to get Tom Nook to build me a house. In previous games I'd sell my stuff to Tom Nook's shop, but since he's now running a house-building shop he isn't a buyer any more. His children, Tommy and Timmy, run Nook's Junction, a small shop that does buy items, but at a pretty low price.
Instead, then, I have to go to Re-Tail. This is a recycling shop run by Reese, a pink alpaca, and her blue alpaca husband whose name I haven't yet been able to determine because he was asleep for the entire day. As well as buying cheap goods donated by other villagers, Re-Tail buys goods just like Tom Nook's shop used to. Before long that five-digit total was within reach.
I had a problem, though. I'm very materialistic, so each time I went into Re-Tail to get more money for the stuff I'd collected I had to resist buying any of the cheap stuff sitting there just itching to be bought. There was a bed in there - and it only cost 120 Bells! A bed! All I had was a tent with a lantern in it, I didn't even have a bed, and here was one at a knock-down price.
I thought about my situation. Yes, I wanted to live in a house, and I would soon have the 10,000 Bells that would make this happen. But that 10,000 Bells could also rinse the Re-Tail of all its goods, and leave me enough Bells to put a dent on the Nook kids' shop stock too.
I couldn't help it. I bought the bed, I bought a plant, I bought a chair and a table. I then ran to Nook's Junction and bought a wardrobe so I could store even more stuff. My materialistic wild side took over and I completely emptied the store, much to the surprise of my sheep neighbour Vesta.
Nook's Junction also had a fortune cookie for sale. Fortune cookies are a new feature that hasn't appeared in the Animal Crossing series before, and they're probably the most exciting addition for Nintendo fans since they ultimately earn you Nintendo-themed goodies.
You can buy a fortune cookie every day for two Play Coins (the coins you get for walking with your 3DS in Sleep Mode), and once you eat it you'll be given a ticket with your fortune and a number on it. When you take the ticket back to Nook's Junction, you'll then get a Nintendo-themed prize, be it part of a costume or a piece of furniture.
My first fortune cookie had ticket 49 in it, which got me Link's boots. Not exactly the greatest prize ever (and they're barely noticeable without the matching trousers, shirt and hat), but it's a start.
After pimping out my tent with my newly bought furniture and reassuring myself that I don't really need a house just yet anyway (assuming there are no bears in Bumtown), I spent the rest of my first evening chatting with my new neighbours and getting to know them.
I quickly came to the conclusion that of all the places I could have become mayor of, I could have done a lot worse than Bumtown. I've inherited a lovely bunch of randomly selected villagers, and they all seem delighted to see me.
I started to envisage the future of Bumtown - a thriving community where my animal subjects treat me as not only their mayor and overseer, but their friend and equal too.
In years to come, travellers would come across Bumtown - be it via local wireless or Wi-Fi - and leave with the impression that they'd just visited the happiest little town in Animal Crossing history. A town where everyone loves everyone else, without a single nasty or sarcastic word spoken.
And then I spoke to Queenie for the third time that day.
I couldn't believe her cheek. Here I was, a mayor who actually had time for his townsfolk, who actually wanted to be an important and visible part of their lives, and this was how she showed thanks?
Could you imagine Boris wandering around London and talking to Londoners like this? Or Bloomberg roaming the streets of New York, buying a hot dog from a vendor? No chance.
I sat on the park bench, looked at the stars, and pondered my future. Would I let Queenie's abuse slide? Should I continue to be the friendliest, most helpful mayor I could be? Or should I become an all-powerful, hate-filled mayor who deals out woe and misery to his suffering townsfolk, while at night sleeping peacefully in his pimped-out tent?
I thought long and hard, and as my first 24 hours in Animal Crossing New Leaf came to an end, my mind was made up.