Saturday, November 21, 2015

Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival - Fun for kids of some ages!

Genre: Minigame collection / Board game - Platform: Wii U - Release: November 13, 2015

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this game from Nintendo.
Opinions expressed in this review are my own.
As a critic, I have to tell you that Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is lacking in depth and probably does not offer enough mental stimulation for older gamers. But there's a reason why I don't give review scores and that's because while a game may be below average from a critic's perspective, there still may be an audience who will enjoy the game. In this case, that audience is parents and their kids. Personally, I found the main board game mode and most of the minigames to be pretty dull and not worth playing when there are other, more complex games out there like Mario Party and especially Fortune Street. But Fortune Street is a bit too complex for younger kids and so there is indeed a place for amiibo Festival. I can even confirm that while streaming it, I had at least one viewer who already owned the game and absolutely loved it, so maybe you'll be like that.

There's another important clarification that I'd like to make and that's that Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is not as much of a cash grab as it appears to be with its amiibo gimmick. Yes, Animal Crossing series amiibo and/or Animal Crossing amiibo cards are required to play, but as of now, the game comes with two amiibo figures and three amiibo cards which is enough to play all of the game except for two minigames which each require an additional three cards. Although, I'll admit that having additional figures and cards does open up some variation in a few of the minigames which I feel really should have been available without an additional purchase. I'll go into that more when I explain each of the nine minigames.

One last thing before I explain each game though - yes, this is kind of a minigame collection, but two of the games are less "mini" than the rest. In general, playing and winning the games doesn't really unlock anything apart from tickets, which are more of a participation bonus than anything, and these tickets can be used to unlock the rest of the minigames as well as new features for the board game. Since there aren't really any unlockables besides that, there isn't a whole lot of reason to replay most of the games, except, you know, if you enjoy them of course. The board game does offer a bit more reason to play it though, since any player who uses an Animal Crossing amiibo as their character can save their points to their amiibo and level it up to unlock emotions (cute animations you can do at the beginning of your turn) and clothing. So that's the game. Let's finally get into the games within the game.

Board Game  (Requires one Animal Crossing amiibo figure (up to four). Players without an amiibo play as a villager.)
This is the main game of amiibo Festival. The basic goal is to have the most happy points at the end of the month (each turn is a day). You get happy points by landing on certain spaces and triggering short little cutscenes showing your character doing something happy. Another way of getting happy points is to focus on collecting the stamps at the four corners of the board, each of which gives a happy bonus. Apart from happy points, you can also collect bells (that's the Animal Crossing currency) by landing on money-giving spaces. At the end of the game, you'll get one happy point per 1,000 bells, so you'll be wanting to go for any good space you can get. The best way of making it big though, is to buy turnips on the Sunday of each week and then hope you can land on a space with a higher turnip price during the week so that you can sell them for profit. It's a sort of "stalk" market. Any turnips not sold by the end of the week go bad though, so you're forced to sell on Saturday if you have any left. It's a bit of a gamble, but betting on the "stalk market" while going for each of the four stamps is the main way of winning.

Unfortunately for you, there are also negative spaces which cause you to lose either happy points or money or both, so you'll sometimes be faced with a choice of whether to land on a bad space in order to keep on track to your next stamp or avoid it and possibly miss the stamp. There's only one board to play on, but you're able to pick which month you play in to change the events that happen during the month. These events include special characters showing up who may give you cards (items usable at the beginning of your turn which give you a bit more control over the generally totally luck-dependent game) or contests rewarding you with happy points, which all typically come down to landing on a better space than your opponents. It's important to stress just how little control you have over your fate in the game; it's a step above Candy Land, but whether you win or lose will mostly come down to dice rolls and how lucky your spaces are, so more experienced gamers will probably be bored by it. There's even a "money tree" event which grants the player who lands on the unidentifiable space 90,000 bells - basically an instant win. That said, the lack of complexity means that the game is also accessible to younger players, making it the sort of game for parents and kids to gather around the GamePad like a physical board game for a fun family game night.

Oh, also, you can play this single player against three computer-controlled villagers if you want, but that's pretty boring.

Desert Island Escape (Requires three Animal Crossing amiibo cards. Additional cards allow you to use different characters which have different abilities.)

This is the second "main" minigame is Desert Island Escape, and this one actually does offer a bit of strategic fun that players of any age will probably enjoy. There are thirty levels (unless there are more after that which I don't know about) and in each you'll be stranded on a island which is divided up by a hexagonal grid. As a single player, you'll control each of your three characters in turn (whichever cards you scanned in) and use them to strategically explore the island in search of food, tool-building supplies, and ultimately the materials to build a raft to escape the island. Since food is limited and there's a turn limit as well, you have to plan carefully and use each character's special ability (for example, being able to catch fish without a rod or being able to identify items in adjacent spaces) to explore the island as efficiently as possible. And a little luck also helps since the things you need are semi-randomly distributed on the island and many events are determined by a roulette wheel. With careful planning and the right tools though, you can figure out the probabilities and put luck back on your side. It's a shame that you have to buy additional cards to try out more characters and abilities which really spice up the game, but if you have the cards for it, this game is probably the most fun of the bunch.

Acorn Chase (Requires three Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)

From here on out, the minigames are more... mini. This one is still pretty fun and unique though. In Acorn Chase, you're tasked with navigating around a field of obstacles to collect all of the acorns with your team of three animals. The catch is that you must navigate by scanning in the appropriate amiibo card to choose your direction. And the second catch is that an evil lawnmower is chasing you, so you have to do it fast. There are only three levels, but the game does save your fastest time, if that gives you any incentive to replay it. It's a pretty unique and difficult to master control scheme, but I can't help but wonder how beat up the cards might get when kids try to play this frantic game.

Balloon Island (Requires one to three Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)
Basically, it's pachinko. By holding an amiibo card on the GamePad and then taking it off with good/lucky timing, you drop characters from above onto three different configurations of balloons. There's also an island in the middle which is essentially a target to land on with point multipliers, but if you miss the island entirely, you don't get any points. All you control is when you drop the character, so mostly you just have to watch and hope for the best. As always, your only reward is a high score and participation tickets.

Quiz Show (Requires one Animal Crossing amiibo card per player, up to four.)

It's an Animal Crossing trivia game and honestly the questions are pretty darn difficult, even though I've played every main Animal Crossing game including the Japan-exclusive Nintendo 64 version. Each question appears on the TV and the multiple choice answers are shown on the gamepad. When playing single player, you have to answer as many questions correctly as you can in a limited time. For multiplayer, players must scan in their card whenever the spotlight is on their character and shoot for the most correct answers out of the fifteen questions. This is another one that I could see kids wrecking their cards on, but it's decently fun even though it's pretty darn hard. Parents will be in trouble for this one, since you need a lot of Animal Crossing knowledge to win.

Fruit Path (Requires one or more Animal Crossing amiibo cards, but playing with one would be stupid.)

For this one, players take turns scanning in cards to move the number of spaces listed on the card. The goal is to collect fruit while stopping before potential pitfalls which cause you to drop fruit. There's also a basket of golden fruit at the end of the path that you'll want to get, so it's kind of a game of chicken to see who can end up with the golden fruit. It seems more random and unpredictable than that description sounds though.

Resetti Bop (Requires three Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)

Resetti Bop is basically whack-a-mole, but you do the whacking by scanning in the appropriate amiibo cards. There's also an added twist in that each character has a particular sign from rock-paper-scissors and you have to only bop the Resettis that you can beat in rock-paper-scissors. It's another frantic card swiping game, but it's a little fun and clever at least. Also, this game features a totally rad remix of Resetti's theme music.

Mystery Campers (Requires six Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)

The first of the two minigames which requires you to buy more cards to play it, Mystery Campers is a version of one of those tried and true logic puzzles. You get ten guesses to figure out which four of a set of six characters are in which tents. Each guess reveals how many you have exactly right and how many are close, but not which ones are right or close, so you have to use educated guesses and the process of elimination to figure it out. Once you know the method though, there's really no reason to play this game a second time.

amiibo Card Battle (Requires six Animal Crossing amiibo cards.)

I'll be honest. I don't totally get how this game works, mostly because the game explains almost nothing about it and it's completely absent from the manual (and this isn't the only game that is either). Essentially, you take turns swiping in amiibo cards with a friend and try to beat their card without reusing any. But then seemingly random stuff happens that changes whether you want to get a high card or low card and I don't get it.

The Final Word:
Honestly, this review has gone on longer than the game deserves, but I do like to be thorough. The majority of the minigames are so simple that you probably won't want to play them more than once or twice, but then again, when I was a kid, I could be entertained for hours with a bed sheet and kitchen utensils, so don't underestimate how much a kid might enjoy it in spite of its simplicity. While it's not quite as much of a cash grab as it appears, it's still disappointing that some fairly significant features (like additional characters for the board game and Desert Island Escape) are unnecessarily locked behind the paywall of owning certain amiibo and cards. So, basically, the only audience that I can recommend this game to is parents who want a game to play with their kids and who don't mind potentially getting into amiibo figure and card collecting. For everyone else, you should probably pass on this one. It's not even compatible with the Animal Crossing e-Reader cards from 2003! (That's a joke. Those are totally different cards and nobody expected them to be compatible.)

Personally, I'd recommend this game a lot more.
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