Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp Ambivalence

In a previous post, I noted that Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was one of my anticipated games of this month. So now that it’s actually released, and I’ve spent some time with it, how do I feel about it?

Well, it’s complicated.

It’s not complicated for the reason you might think, either. I’m really not bothered by the micro transactions in this game. They’re background noise, things that don’t tempt me in the slightest, because I’ve already seen them in so many different games in so many different forms.

I think what bothers me is that in order to squish Animal Crossing into an app, they had to cut a lot of what made Animal Crossing what it was. Now, I never expected this to be on par with a real Animal Crossing game, but it feels like an app dressed up in Animal Crossing cuteness, but lacking everything inside that mattered.

On Rails Experience

I was thinking about this last night, and I came to the conclusion that what made Animal Crossing so magical was in how the game changes. These are sometimes tiny changes. Sometimes they’re big changes.

The town changes. You unlock something new to build. A new shop appears. Something becomes upgraded.

The hour changes. Different theme song plays.

The season changes. First snowfall. Flowers of spring.

Your relationships change. People come and go.

Animal Crossing is meant to be a dynamic miniature world. What kept me hooked was those tiny changes.

The problem with Pocket Camp is that the experience is completely on rails. By the time I met the third animal, I knew the pattern. It’s the same every time.

Meet them and talk to them for the first time to get level 1. Talk to them again. Give them stuff three times. This always gets them to level 3. You can’t give them anything else after that until they either move to a new location or you use a ticket to get more fetch quests.

Then, once you work up their friendship to the right level, you grind out the furniture they want, and prompt them visit your camp. They always come to your camp as long as you checked off all the prerequisites. Again, an on-rails list.

Sure, some animals need a higher friendship rank to entice to your camp. But that’s just the same conversation and fetch quests more times.

What’s worse, is sometimes the dialogue is also repeated across animals of the same personality types. So they don’t even have that much difference between them.

Lack of Heart

Let’s not talk about how little life the animals have. If they’re in your camp, they’re only doing one thing or interacting with one object until “move time” comes. If they’re out on an island, they’re just standing there waiting for you to give them stuff and talk to them.

In Animal Crossing, animals would be wandering around all the time. They might talk with each other. Go fishing. Go shopping. Just go missing for a while.

And when you talked to them, you had a wide variety of interactions with them every time. Sometimes they just talked with you. Sometimes they gave you things or sold you things. Sometimes they gave you multiple choice questions that made you reflect on your state of life. Sometimes they sent you on fetch or give quests. Heck, they even played hide and seek with you.

There’s nothing of that in Pocket Camp. You can’t even interact with animals in your friends’ camps either, which really bugged me. I’d love to meet and talk to those animals, but the app restricted it.

Yeah, the lack of interactions with friends, too, is really sad.

What It Does Well

So, despite all the negatives I listed above, I keep playing it. I know exactly why, too.

It’s cute. It’s so, so cute. They got the Animal Crossing outer trappings looking great.

It’s mobile. I have all my Animal Crossing pals in a little personal camp I take everywhere with me. (Note: I feel a connection to these specific animals because I made relationships with them in previous AC games, not in this game.)

You collect and craft. Animal Crossing is all about collecting. Fishing and bug catching have all translated well into the app. I do enjoy collecting. I like the addition of crafting to the game. I don’t even care if it has timers on it.

Decorating. They’ve taken the updated system from AC: Happy Home Designer and used it here. It’s a good system, and I appreciated when they updated New Leaf with it. It makes decorating simple. This game thrives on simple.

Islands. I think using islands as a way of focusing on specific things (bug catching, salt water fishing, freshwater fishing, etc) is a good idea in a mobile setting. I wish the islands were a lot bigger though. Everything feels so cramped.

Camper customization. I like that they included a little area all your own in the way of a camper that you can expand and decorate.

Soooo… anyhow. I’m not giving up on Pocket Camp, yet. I want to see what they’re going to do for the holidays, for one thing.

Not to mention, this is a very young app that may have functionality added to it in time. What’s there works well and looks cute. But what’s there right now just isn’t really an Animal Crossing experience.