It seems we’re on the verge of an Animal Crossing evolution. I’m not talking about the forthcoming releases of two spin-off titles, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer and Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, but rather what the two suggest for the future of the series. To quote Sally, “I sense there’s something in the wind.” (The Nightmare before Christmas was the best.)
It all starts with amiibo, as most Nintendo stories these days do. There are two properties which would require a prohibitive number of figures or cards for comprehensive coverage. One is Pokemon, which will surely capitalize on this trend eventually. The other is Animal Crossing, with its over 450 villagers. That isn’t taking into account NPCs, by the way. Nintendo had to find a way to make amiibo acquisition plausible for use in such a game.
What would work better than multiple games that would all need the things? Japan already has Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, a perfect excuse to already collect all 100 wave one amiibo cards, and soon we will too. Because really, don’t you want to make lots of homes pretty? Besides, they’ll come in handy later for those Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival minigames. And hey, that GamePad scans those things in pretty easily. Wouldn’t that be handy for, say, a real Animal Crossing Wii U?
It’s also important to take into account things we’ve learned about Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer since its release. The avatar creation function is far more robust. Nintendo has gone to the trouble of creating a system that implements features people have begged for. No need to tan on the beach in summer to change your skin color. There are eight varieties to choose from at the start, as well as six different eye colors.
Some of Animal Crossing‘s magic comes from the mystery appearance bestowed on players after completing an introductory questionnaire, but this alternate means of character creation in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer could hint at the future of the series. As much as I enjoy the idea of not knowing what “I” might look like, I play these games for keeps. It isn’t a one week dalliance. I’m investing at least three months in a title. When it comes to creating a character, I don’t guess. I go online for guides. I’m going to be looking at her for weeks to come. Happy Home Designer‘s avatar system could be a test, a hint at a character creator for a Wii U Animal Crossing.
If that was the only oft requested feature in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, it would be easy to brush aside my conspiracy theory. It’s not. This game allows you to place outdoor furniture, wait for it, outside. For years, I’ve looked at the series’ lawn furniture and camping collections and wondered why. Having an indoor bonfire in the game is like having an outdoor couch in real life.
This minor mechanic, coupled with the Animal Crossing: New Leaf mayoral system that allowed placement of outdoor decorations, suggests experimentation. These could be test runs. If such things can happen in two handheld titles, maybe the Wii U Animal Crossing will make the great outdoors as customizable as our homes.
Speaking of homes, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer brings up the idea of building placement again. New Leaf pioneered it, allowing someone to decide where their house and Brewster’s coffee shop were placed. You could also alter the design of both the train station and town hall. Here, villager home placements can also be adjusted, with room arrangement layouts left to the player. In addition, the appearances of commercial buildings in town are left to a player’s discretion.
It’s a level of customization unseen in the series. Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is letting you determine the look of both the residential and commercial areas, creating cohesive themes that correspond to personal preferences. It’s funny that Nintendo would work so hard to come up with such mechanics for something that’s a spin-off, right? Unless it’s also an experiment to see how people respond to such options and if such elements could and would work in a larger game.
But what of Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival? Beyond providing a number of figures for use in a future Wii U title, I feel it’s playing another important role. This beginner’s board game is buying Nintendo time. With every new console, a question is posed by players. “When will Animal Crossing be on it?” It’s been coming up since the Wii U’s release in 2012. It’s a valid query, since there was a two year gap between Animal Crossing: City Folk‘s release and the Wii’s launch, and Animal Crossing: New Leaf was ready for 3DS owners after only a year. Three years later, and there’s no sign of an Animal Crossing Wii U.
Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is a placating move. Perhaps it’s a means of preparing people for a major installment announcement at either the 2015 Tokyo Game Show or E3 2016. “Guess what? All those amiibo figures and cards you’ll have? Let’s move them into your new town!”
Animal Crossing is one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises. My feeling could be wrong, and these two titles may only be a means of branching out to make more money on a beloved series. My gut says there’s something more to this, though. It all ties together too well and suggests experimenting with concepts that could be put toward something greater.