Counter to the excitement and positivity surrounding the upcoming Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the latest publicly available game, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp launched as, and still remains a letdown. That isn’t to say there aren’t good aspects or fun to be had in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, but as a game, it lacks a lot.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp launched for mobile devices in late 2017 to a pretty positive reception, albeit with a lot of folks taking umbrage with some of the monetization decisions, a criticism Nintendo apparently heard, but I guess they ultimately ignored. It’s a shame too considering an Animal Crossing game on your cellphone sounds like an awesome idea.
From a conceptual standpoint, I was initially let down by the idea of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp not being a more faithful Animal Crossing game. That initial reaction eventually gave way to apathy after I actually was able to play the game itself. When you look at Animal Crossing as a series, the games were doing things that a lot of early free-to-play mobile games were doing, in a time where smartphones weren’t really a thing. They basically did everything Farmville did, way before that was even a thing. It was essentially one of the earliest idle or incremental games that I can think of.
As time wore on and sequels came out, more and more was added to each iteration that allowed for longer play sessions, and reasons to come back multiple times a day. This all seemed perfect and primed for a smartphone adaptation, something I welcomed. Then I actually got to play the game.
When Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was initially released, I devoured it. From decorating my campsite, to shaking trees and catching fish, I was all about the Animal Crossing life. But that initial spark of excitement eventually started to fade once I realized that despite Animal Crossing as a series heavily relies on repetition, it felt a lot grosser and less interesting in Pocket Camp.
The Animal Crossing games were nice because even after you shook all of your trees, participated in the fishing contest, and stabbed all of the rocks with a shovel, you could still wander around the town and see what your villagers were up to. To call it dynamic would be generous, but it was infinitely more engaging than the loop of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp quadruples down on the checklist nature of the series by literally making you do the same things over and over again, with almost no variation. There are a handful of locations you can go to, some have fruit to pick, one has bugs to net, and two have fish to catch. Each of these locations has one animal, and one random villager that may or not be an actual friend of yours. You’d have to tap on the region and traipse your way over to these animals and talk to them three times, because they want 3 things. Every day, you can have about 4 interactions with these animals, 3 by giving them stuff that could literally be right next to them, and one by just spouting nonsense at each other.
I get that the DNA of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is inherently derived from Animal Crossing proper, but Pocket Camp just boils it all down in the most checklist-y way possible. They even have a pelican who will just deliver all of the crap people want directly to them so you can avoid having to actually go to them. I use this feature all the time, because I’m at a point where I just want to be finished.
There’s also the abundance of crap and garbage that fills up your inventory that seems to all be crafting materials, but sometimes it’s just a coat that people keep giving you. Preserves, lumber, ore, cotton and more, are all materials villagers might give you in reward for bringing them a seashell. It’s nice, because you get to build stuff, but the stuff you build is so lifeless and boring in most cases.
Don’t get me wrong, I like having a bunch of musical instruments, pizza boxes and convertibles strewn about my campsite as if I was having a garage sale, but you can’t do anything with them. You can poke them, rearrange them, and watch villagers stand near them. Sometimes, specifically in the case of a halfpipe you can build, you might be lucky enough to see a skateboarding eagle, but that’s kind of it.
Now, that lack of interaction complaint isn’t exclusive to Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. All of the Animal Crossing games have struggled with interactivity, but with something like Animal Crossing: New Leaf, they did flesh that out a bit. I specifically recall being able to play mini-games on the Nintendo consoles I could build which was shallow, but a nice diversion nonetheless.
Look, it may sound like I’m just frustrated and lashing out at Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, but the honest truth is that I’m still playing it regardless. Yes it’s boring and shallow, yes it’s repetitive as hell, and yes the economics of the game are absolutely fucked, but it’s still got that Animal Crossing charm I love. The artwork is delightful and fun, the characters are (mostly) adorable, and core Animal Crossing loop is still intact, but it just ends up feeling like an imitation of itself in some regards.
I don’t hate Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp at all, but I do think it’s deeply flawed and should have been way better. I took a long break from the game, but came back very recently thanks to the upcoming sequel. Pocket Camp scratches that itch, but in that way where you itch your arm, and then another part of your arm starts to itch and so on and so forth. My only hope is that Animal Crossing: New Horizons doesn’t have some hook into Pocket Camp that makes me have to play both simultaneously… dammit.