It is no secret that some of us at PocketGamer.biz have been very excited for Nintendo and DeNA's mobile take on Animal Crossing for a very long time.
Announced way back in April 2016 alongside a Fire Emblem mobile game, Animal Crossing has always been an interesting prospect. And yet its release kept slipping away.
Super Mario Run launched in December 2016, and cast some doubts on Nintendo's proposed free-to-start model, with many players unhappy about the free trial and premium paywall.
Fire Emblem Heroes came next in February 2017, stepping away from the sort-of-premium model to full-on free-to-play – a move that reportedly earned it over $100 million in around six months.
Animal Crossing, however, seemed to have been entirely forgotten about. No news of a release date, not even a scrap of information on what form the game might actually take.
Trying something new
Naturally, we chose to wildly speculate on both its genre and how monetisation would be implemented, all while bemoaning the fact Nintendo had gone the "safe" route and launched a Mario game first.
It is, in essence, a trimmed-down version of the classic life simulation that the series is known for.
The draw of Animal Crossing was its experimental nature. The series has been a life simulation, a home designer and a digital board game, so there was no telling what the mobile edition would do.
And with an experimental setting, Nintendo and DeNA could potentially experiment with unique monetisation methods.
But 18 months after it was first announced, we now know what Animal Crossing on mobile will actually be – Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.
Keep it simple
It is, in essence, a trimmed-down version of the classic life simulation that the series is known for. Players run around a small town, chatting with animals and running errands for them to become friends.
It's perhaps not the most exciting and inventive use of the IP, but for fans it's basically perfect. There hasn't been a "real" Animal Crossing game since its 3DS outing back in 2013, which got a revamped release in late 2016.
To have that same experience on a smartphone or tablet is something of a game changer. It hasn't scaled back its graphics in any way – this is still a full 3D experience, with all the same quirks and charms of the main series.
There are some differences, of course. Pocket Camp adds a whole new metagame that requires you to level up by making friends with animals in the game, with each friendship having its own level on top of this.
New levels unlock fresh items to craft, which in turn can be placed in your home camp to attract more visitors. It's fairly simple stuff, but it's enough to keep objective-driven players around for more.
Other typical mobile trappings are already drawing criticism from vocal people on social media, mostly levelled at the game's use of wait timers and, as is always the case with free-to-play games, its monetisation.
The monetisation is functional, adds value to those willing to pay, and isn't intrusive.
Wait timers are usually a nuisance in the free-to-play world, but it is worth noting that Animal Crossing has always operated on a real-time clock. In fact, fruit in Pocket Camp takes three hours to respawn – fruit in the main series takes at least 24 hours.
And as far as monetisation goes, there's nothing particularly new in the game. You can buy a premium currency, Leaf Tickets, which speed up crafting, and buy single-use items that make gathering resources slightly faster.
Again, it's not the experimental monetisation we may have hoped for – there doesn't even appear to be rewarded video ads – but it's functional, adds value to those willing to pay and isn't intrusive in the slightest.
This isn't to say Pocket Camp is completely devoid of innovation. One notable inclusion is a mini-game during the second major content download, which allows you to earn some soft currency while you wait for the game to open up for real.
It's a sweet little addition that makes the wait slightly more enjoyable and gives you some free cash to spend just for sticking around on your device.
Bringing the core Animal Crossing life sim experience to mobile seemed like a distant daydream.
And that's really Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp in a nutshell. It hasn't reinvented itself, or done anything particularly exciting with the monetisation, but it's still a very exciting game.
Bringing the core Animal Crossing life sim experience to mobile seemed like a distant daydream when it was first announced, but Nintendo and DeNA have clearly worked hard to make it a reality.
There's always going to be those who clamour for another "proper" release to launch on the Nintendo Switch, and that would be a very nice addition to the console.
But Pocket Camp is every bit as "real" an Animal Crossing game as any of its life simulation predecessors. It didn't experiment, but to be honest, it's all the better for it.