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Animal Crossing New Leaf review: Take life by the bells

By Matt Sakuraoka-Gilman on Tuesday 4th Jun 2013 at 3:00 PM UTC

When do we truly feel comfortable? Not the cosy embrace of a multi tog duvet type of comfortable, but the childlike sense of relaxing in the presence of the warmly familiar.

We're talking about the kind of emotion that washes over you when, after years of travelling, working, changing and ultimately growing up, you return home and feel instantly in the right place. It's not often that we can say a game evokes this sense of true comfort. Yet New Leaf's brand of life simulation does exactly that.

Entering into your new home town will be instantly familiar for anyone accustomed to the Animal Crossing series. There's fishing, bug catching, and fruit picking to keep you busy during the initial stages, as your town's residents provide brilliantly written, comically varied and oddly touching distractions. The town museum needs filling up once more, requiring you to dig up fossils and track down works of art (not the fake stuff, mind), earning you the eternal gratitude of blustering owl curator Blathers.

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He and all of the series' regular characters return, from the eternally bell (read: money) hungry real estate racoon/tanuki Tom Nook to the endearingly shy and charmingly bubbly fashion shop proprietor sisters, Sable and Mable Able. Oh, and you can still write letters, draw your own designs for clothing or a town flag and fiddle with your town tune (we initially opted for the Jurassic Park theme before settling on a slightly borked Zelda's Lullaby).

That's not to say nothing has changed since City Folk or Wild World, however. This time, as you disembark from your train ride into town you're instantly made Mayor and given options as to how your town will look. New character Isabelle, a lovably dappy shih tzu partly responsible for your accidental office appointment, helps set you up with a development permit, allowing you to build numerous Public Works Projects.

Entering into your new home town will be instantly familiar for anyone accustomed to the Animal Crossing series.

These range from humble park benches, lamp posts or fences, to opulent fountains, useful bridges or event inspiring camp sites and more. Building these new features for your town takes time and bells, making their eventual construction palpably rewarding. In your town proper there's also a new flea-market shop called Re-Tail.

Run by a husband and wife alpaca pair, this storefront lets you place your unwanted items up for sale. We found ourselves more than once nudging window shoppers in the direction of our over priced Space Satellite. It went to our neighbour Rasher for 2,600 bells in the end. Bang on.

Nook yearning

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Head up into the new look shopping plaza and you can take advantage of the various services on offer. At first you have the standard layout of familiar stop offs, including Nookling Junction, the upgradable shop now run by Tom Nook's entrepreneurial twin sons, Tommy and Timmy.

There's also the Post Office, once again managed by Pelly the postal working pelican and her less amiable night time counterpart Phyllis. Take a jaunt over to the new Nook's Homes store and you can now renovate the outside of your house, decking it out with a variety of fences, roofing, paving, front doors or letter boxes.

After a few days of play you'll begin unlocking new places to visit. As Animal Crossing vets we were delighted to wake up one morning to find foundering stand up comedian wannabe Dr Shrunk (we don't think he ever went to medical school) loitering outside our house.

After a short freeform task, involving securing petition signatures from fellow residents, he's able to open up Club LOL, a bustling night-time distraction. It's here that series favourite K.K. Slider performs his nightly DJ set while during the day the axolotl Doctor teaches you emotion animations. A tip: you'll want to pop in on a Saturday night at eight o'clock sharp for an extra special treat...

The 3DS' SpotPass functionality is put to great use via the Happy Home Showcase. This arena, located to the north of the shopping plaza and managed by Isabelle's brother Digby (who seems much more well organised), collects the homes of any opting in passers by you happen to saunter past in real life. While nosing around the demesnes of your fellow man you can put in an order for anything you see. That reminds us, we must thank GamesRadar's Justin for showing us that Tatami Mat floor covering.

You'll also eventually unlock the Dream Plaza. This feature allows you to jump in a bed and drift off to sleep. As your character dreams they can wander around another player's town. Steal all the fruit, plant as many pitfall seed traps and rip out as many carefully laid flower beds as you like, though; Everything you do is forgotten as soon as you wake up. This is a neat, though somewhat lightweight way to bring multiplayer fun to those without bustling friend lists, as friend codes are once again a requirement to legitimately visit towns via the local Train Station while awake.

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