I have become a rockstar — a legend within my community. I am known as "The Bearer of Gifts," "The Campground King," "The Guy With The Cool Stuff," but most importantly I have been wearing the all-important title of ... "Camp Manager."
With more friends than I've ever had in my real life, I am currently crushing it in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Man, these folks just can't get enough of me. They're easy to please, too. All I have to do is shake a couple trees, catch a couple fish, hand it over to a friendly animal, and BAM! Instant validation of friendship. I've never felt better. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp turned out to be the dose of serenity and positivity that I never knew I needed in my life.
The game is just as simple and well done as the previous installments of the Animal Crossing series. You travel about the campground making friends, doing chores and various favors for the other residents, and earning Bells, the game's currency, to renovate your camper and plot of land. You can further use these Bells to craft special pieces of furniture and other items to decorate your campground, offering motivation to the other camper animals to come and visit and potentially to stay at your campsite permanently.
In Pocket Camp, you travel across eight unique playable areas, collecting the available resources, which you then hand over to a fellow camper (NPC) who wants or needs it. Doing this increases your friendship meter with said camper, which contributes to your overall player level. As player level increases, you gain access to more craft-able items, campers, and other customization options. Pocket Camp lets you design and grow your own little world, one filled with positivity, friendship, cute animals, and stress-free gaming.
The visuals of Pocket Camp remain true to the series. The cutesy, soft-world design is just as charming as in the other games, despite having to experience the game on a smaller screen, which, for reference, was only distracting for the first two minutes of playing. I adjusted to the screen size shortly after getting used to the game. Trees are shaped the same, with the even-cut leaves bearing bright, round fruits that beg to be picked.
Neighboring animals, with their round heads, cute faces, big, exaggerated eyes, and unique personalities, are adorable and endearing. You want to get to know these creatures based on looks alone, and then, after speaking with them, you fall in friend-love with their idiosyncrasies. The running bodies of water, which hide shadowy fish underneath the surface, are lively and colorful. With an ample amount of ambient scenery, such as benches, camping chairs, rocks, logs, and trees, the space of playable areas in Pocket Camp feel homey, comforting, even alive. The game oozes charm from every pleasant orifice and shines strongest in visuals and sound design.
Light, airy flutes paired with the slightest tick of maracas create a melody, complimented by tiny electric piano pings, only sounding when the moment calls. Pocket Camp's background music is fitting: charming and light, it makes you smile. The music can feel like a conversation, a gentle, rocking lull between two friends sitting beside a campfire and sharing thoughts and feelings under a starry sky. The game has a tender sound, demonstrated most obviously in the lovely music but is strengthened further by the sound effects.
Your footsteps "tap tap" as you walk. The tree leaves crunch as you shake the trunk. The bug net "swishes" as you swing for a Green Beetle. Fruit drops from the tops of trees with a whistle of gravity, and then a thud as three coconuts hit the grass in unison. All the while, the beautiful blue waters whoosh back and forth, a calming ebb and flow echoing like the sound of the world breathing. Every time you touch anything, you'll make a sound, and all the sounds are nice. Pocket Camp's developers paid special attention to the sights and sounds of the campground, which culminate in genuine serenity.
Playing the game, and being a fan of the AC series, you may feel an immediate sense of limitation. There are eight locations you may travel to, which aren't very large when you explore them. This is a major deviation from the series' typical style, in which you may freely roam about an entire town, but it's understandable why this format has been chosen. It's a mobile game, and that grants certain limitations and restrictions, and in Pocket Camp's case the world must be divided into neat, loadable areas.
Each of these locations offers special items and resources that you must collect to trade with neighboring campers. You travel from island to island shaking trees for fruit and tossing lines out, hoping for a fish to bite. Acquiring resources is not difficult, nor time consuming. One could run around to all eight islands and collect a batch of everything they need in just about five minutes, or take their time, collect more than the minimum, and explore a bit. The game allows you to set your own pace.
Collecting resources and trading them increases your friendship level with any given animal and also contributes to your overall player level. With each increase in level, you gain access to more items and more animals. The idea is to collect, trade, craft, and customize the campsite to your fullest extent and decorating desire. It's fetch-questing at its finest, but it's more relaxed, as you can play at your own pace and design your space at the speed you're most comfortable with.
Personally, I went with the "Natural" style of campground. The "Cute" and "Sporty" were too gaudy, and "Cool" was overbearing. Natural felt just right. I added some furniture for the sake of making my campground a place where every animal could find something they liked, encouraging them to stay for a while. Apollo really likes my bookshelf, surprisingly, so I've kept that in my campground since day one. Tex, of course, loves the drum kit, but I don't, so I keep it outside in the yard. I made my space how I wanted, running around between islands, trading this to that guy, and that to this guy, earning one Bell at a time. I pitched furniture orders to Cyrus the Handyman, and woke up the next morning with new pieces to place in my camp.
Pocket Camp is a genuine delight. It's a calming experience, without any sense of rush or impending doom that most games have. There are no time limits, per say, and there is no reason to feel anxious while playing. The game itself is relaxing enough, with its soothing music and charming visuals. Oh, and, as an added plus, everyone at the campground is nice to you 100% of the time. So that's pretty nice.
The game does feature a multiplayer system, but it is limited. You may visit other camp managers, just dropping in and saying "Hello" or buying things from their inventories. You can also give some "Kudos" to your friends, if you think their campsite is looking cool. But unfortunately that's about it. There isn't any player-to-player interaction and no real-time events, and both these would be interesting to see.
Often, you'll see another player's character standing idle on a particular island. This does not mean that the other player is currently playing the game at the same time you are, but you will have the option to talk to their character, limited to the same options that have been mentioned above.
Multiplayer is minimal, a feature I desire a bit more from. I'd like to see my friends walking around if we're both online.
The replay rate is extremely high. You can keep coming back to your campground, doing as few or as many favors as you wish, any time. That's the beauty of the mobile platform. There's always something to do if you have just a few minutes to play, but there's also the opportunity for longer periods of play. The game supports all types of play, all kinds of players, from short to long range, casual to power.
Already additions have been made to the game in the form of Holiday-themed special items. I'm currently wearing a Santa Hat and Christmas Sweater, while awaiting an order from Cyrus for a snowman to plop in my side yard. Holiday items and events are strategic methods of keeping players invested. I know I played quite a bit of Pocket Camp after Thanksgiving dinner and plan on playing more on those late, snowy nights waiting for Christmas to come, decorating my campground with all things "Holiday Spirit."
All is not gold, though. Since release, and with each fresh start-up of the app, I've received the following message:
I'm not sure if it's downloading new information with each app restart, but I really hope it isn't, because I'm running out of storage space as it is. It appears that I must install this tiny update each time before I play, and some days it requires multiple instances of the download. This is frustrating, to say the least. Despite updates to the app (on the iOS store) I still receive this message, and am still potentially gunking up my phone with 200 megabytes each time I want to play. I'd love to see a fix for this or at least some sort of confirmation or announcement about it from the developers.
Another downside to Pocket Camp is, well, maybe, just maybe... you don't want to be somebody's gofer. Maybe you'd rather play a game where people get their own darn fruits and vegetables, and catch their own slippery, scaly fish. Maybe you're the type of person who believes that if an animal wants something, they should get off their rear ends and get it themselves. This is all fine and good and fair, but also means that Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp isn't the game for you. If you have a severe hatred for fetch-questing and cute animals, you should avoid this title.
We have the good, the bad, and now it's time for the ugly. Microtransactions are present but thankfully don't seem to be game breaking or overly distracting. Leaf Tickets can be purchased to speed up many of the games's processes, such as collecting resources and reducing the time required for an item build. Instead of one fish at a time, you will catch a whole bunch in a large net, getting upwards of 10 to 12 fish, and instead of taking 14 hours to craft a Green Table, it will only take 10 seconds, all with the help of a few Leaf Tickets.
You shouldn't have to rely on Leaf Tickets for success. I didn't. I was able to amass up to 300 of them within the first few days of playing, simply because I didn't see any need to use them. I didn't need or want to speed up my grind, so I hoarded the Tickets and eventually used them to buy K.K. Slider's stool.
I like these games. I've loved Animal Crossing since the original in 2002. I've watched the series expand and change in subtle ways, but always appreciated the fact that they've stuck to their roots — keeping the formula the same and reveling in the charm they've perfected over the years.
Animal Crossing has always been peaceful for me, making it special. Many games like Destiny, Overwatch, and Call of Duty are stressful. There's always someone shooting at you, or you have to be running, or looking for something, or what have you. Their pacing is outrageous compared to Pocket Camp. Sometimes I need a nice, chill game, and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is just that for me. I just wish it had a bit more story to it.