Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival | Review

amiibofestivalreviewAlright, let’s get this party started.

I’m a huge Animal Crossing fan; ever since the original release on the Gamecube. At the time, it was my sister, mother, and I playing ‘together,’ taking turns in a small little town aptly named “My Town.” As the years went by, gradually, Animal Crossing became a “just me” experience. I would get every title when they came out, and I’d play them alone. It didn’t quite feel the same; I have so many stories to tell of the original Animal Crossing, but barely any with Wild World and City Folk.

New Leaf sparked my interest once again after a long while, and I was more than excited to give it a shot. “I get to be the mayor? And I can play with my friends? Awesome.” I played it, but after a brief period of time, I just wound up shelving it like the others. I missed the sense of enjoyment that I had when I played it with my family; the excitement when I got to play it first before my mom or sis. Animal Crossing just didn’t have that sense of sharing any more; I wasn’t happy playing it.

E3 2015 came through and revealed, curiously, two Animal Crossing titles; one on the 3DS (Happy Home Designer), and the other on the Wii U: Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival. Now,  I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, Tyler. I bet you were furious, being a fan of the games since 2002! So, what’s this review going to be? A letter to Nintendo about making a real Animal Crossing? A fuming review about how angry you are that this exists? What do you have for us?”

Well, my somehow-more-invested-in-my-reviews-than-myself imaginary person, this is a review about a game that managed to pull off something that no Animal Crossing game has done since the original Gamecube release. Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival finally brought the original group; my sister, mother, and I, to play an Animal Crossing game together for the first time in 10 years.

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Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is a board game; clear as that. You roll a die and go around a board to gain benefits and detriments based on what you land on. amiibo Festival is a bit different, however. Instead of going for money, properties, or Stars, you’re going for Happy Points; whoever has the most Happy Points, wins. Strewn about the board are several types of spaces: You have Happy and Sad spaces, and Happy Points, Bells, or Happy/Bells spaces for those. If you land on a Happy space, you gain happiness or money, but a Sad space will make you lose happiness or money.

In order to play this game, you require at least one Animal Crossing amiibo. The game comes with one: Isabelle, and if you bought it recently, you would get Digby as well. You also got three amiibo cards, but more on those later. In order to roll the die, you need to tap your amiibo on the Gamepad; holding it there will let the dice spin around longer. Lift the amiibo to release the die, and move that set amount of spaces to your destination. Relatively simple.

This of course, all applies to the main attraction of amiibo Festival: the Board Game. (Board Game being the name of the attraction.) When you first start amiibo Festival, you are required to play at least two games in order to gain access to the plaza, which is fair, I guess. It gives them an opportunity to explain to you how Board Game works, and it’s relatively simple. You can select from any of the 12 months of the year, and each of them has different events and holidays based around them. A rather neat concept, if you ask me.

The core of the game is to play through an entire month, which takes 45 minutes to 90 minutes, based on how many players there are. You can, of course, set a time limit to play from anywhere between 30 minutes to 60 minutes, which should get you through most of the month based on your player count. You can play with up to four people in amiibo Festival; there is a 1-player option which pits you against three AI characters, but AI players are only available then.

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So let’s talk about the amiibo side of things before moving on to the core. You don’t need four amiibo to play with four people; in fact, you only ever need one. Other players can use Villagers instead, but they miss out on one of the draws of using amiibo: Every time you roll with an amiibo, you gain a Happy Point, totaling 28-31 extra points for amiibo users. Now you could call it out and say “that isn’t fair,” but honestly, if a Villager player is doing fantastic in a game, then they can easily beat out an amiibo player. I played this with my family while visiting them in California, so we saw the full range of play during it, and being a Villager isn’t a detriment.

What is a detriment, however, is that amiibo use the Happy Points as experience in order to unlock new outfits and emotions during play, and these Happy Points are also used for Happy Tickets, which allow you to unlock new attractions, and most importantly, new Features for your Board Game town. (More on that later.) However, if someone plays as a Villager, those Happy Points that they get do not transfer into Tickets, or into an amiibo (for obvious reasons), so they are lost forever.screenshots Screenshot 2016-01-02 11-26-22

Now back to Board Game. As you progress through the days, various events will happen to you, either good or bad based on the spaces that you land on. These can net you Bells, Happy Points, or both in some instances. Occasionally, if you land on the same space as another player, you can change the event entirely to something that is usually beneficial. Bells, at the end of the game, are converted into Happy Points (1,000 Bells for 1 Happy Point), but they are also used for something more important: the Stalk Market.

Every Sunday, Joan arrives and sets a price to buy turnips. These prices can range anywhere from 80 Bells to 120 Bells per turnip, and you have to buy them in bunches of 10. There is no limit to how many you can buy; at one point, I bought over 1,000 turnips because of how many Bells I had. Once everyone has bought their turnips (you can decide against buying them, too), then the turn plays out. On Monday, the turnip prices come into play. Every space on the board has a different turnip price, and these prices can be really low or high, depending on several conditions. The base turnip value for that week is decided every Monday, and it could be three types: Steady, Fluctuating, or Crashing. Steady means that you can sell for little profit or little loss, Fluctuating means you can sell for heavy profit or loss, and Crashing means that you’ll take heavy losses, or very little profit. Throughout the week, prices can go up or down, and the condition can change at random. Turnips add a very thin layer of strategy to the game; although it still depends heavily on luck.

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Also around each of the corners of the board are four Gyroid Stamp locations, which is what players should focus on in order to gain an edge in the game. Completing each corner of the stamp gives you more Happy Points, the final stamp giving an extra 30 points. After completing the stamp, players can go to any spot and add extra details to their stamp, which grants extra points for every stop.

Randomly during the month, special characters stop by for a day, which has different effects when you land on them. Landing on Katrina, for instance, lets players pick a tarot card which may give them benefits or penalties whenever someone rolls a specific number. Redd is basically a card shop, Dr. Shrunk stops by to give a special schtick, which ends with him giving you a card, and Katie comes to town on occasion to trade cards with players. Joan occasionally stops by as well, either to give you extra turnips or ask for money. And this is where the biggest flaw of this game comes into play for me: You cannot skip the spiel of any character you land on during these events. This is sort of acceptable when only one person lands on a space, but if all four land on a special character space, then you’re spending half of that day trying to fast forward through the exact same text; it’s a real bother.

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Every month, there are special events. Some are non-important holidays, which only affect the events you’ll see whenever you land on a space. Others change the entire board for their purpose, like November’s Harvest Day, where all players have to work together in order to gain the ingredients needed (which are shown on the spaces) for Harvest Day dinner. Or the Fishing Tourney and Bug-Off, where players need to land on Silver or Gold spaces to get the best fish and bug to win extra points. Overall, everything comes down to a die roll, and it’s pretty enjoyable to succeed in these events. Some events, like Halloween, require players to go to specific spaces in order to get a set amount of stuff (in this example, candy) to get more Happy Points when the event finally happens.

Now, you might have noticed that I said “work together,” and that isn’t an error of any sort. The biggest takeaway that I had from playing amiibo Festival was that it wasn’t about winning or losing, it was about being happy: Happy for yourself and others when they succeed. Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is akin to a leisurely stroll with friends to your favorite restaurant, unlike Monopoly or Fortune Street, where the goal is to smother your opponents until they call “uncle.” Board Game is simple, slow (sometimes too slow due to special events), and still manages to keep players invested throughout the month, cheering on their friends and family when something good happens to them. That’s something I wasn’t expecting when I bought this game. Simplicity without bloodletting, and there’s a charm to that.

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After playing a few games, you may start to notice that your town is a tad barren. You really only have two or three routes throughout the inside of the board, with a surrounding circle on the outside. With your Happy Tickets, you can add new Features to your board, like Brewster’s Cafe, or the Police Station. These Features do two things to your board: They add new events to the game, and add entirely new routes to your board, giving you more options and spaces to work with. These are the major features you can add; most of them being from New Leaf, naturally. You can add minor features to give your town a unique look, like windmills and zen gardens.

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Along with Features, you can scan amiibo cards (the same ones you can use with Happy Home Designer, actually) and add new animals to your town. By default, you have three in the board: Stitches, Rosie, and Goldie; these three are also the amiibo cards you get with the game. These animals do two things as well: They can be the host of your game at random, and if you tap their card during your turn, they will roll the die for you. Their die is no different than the normal die, except there is a special symbol that replaces the ‘one.’ If the die rolls that symbol, you move the amount of spaces that matches the number on the card. (Goldie, for instance, has a 2 on their card, and Stitches has a 6.) Within five or six games, you’ll have a much more lively board, and it gives a sense of progression, albeit very short-lived. (Editor’s Note: Pay attention to the symbol at the bottom of the card, the “scissors” icon at the right, and die number on the left. This is important for the mini-games section.)

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Outside of the Board Game, you have the Plaza. Where you will have access to the other eight mini-games included in the package. These need to be unlocked with Happy Tickets, which you get one of for every 100 Happy Points. These games all use amiibo cards, ranging from Balloon Island’s “only really ever need 1 card” to Mystery Camper’s “one player, six cards” amount. All of these have their own specific gimmick to using amiibo cards; some sensical, and others are outright confusing. They all offer Happy Points for playing them, though. We’re going to go through all of these counter-clockwise; starting with Acorn Chase and ending with Resetti Bop.

Acorn Chase – One Player only, Requires 3 amiibo cards

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Acorn Chase has you play as three characters as they get chased by Cornimer in a small garden. You have to tap the cards in order to turn left, right, or go forward, and it sounds just as hard to do as it sounds. You have to get through three stages in a small garden, collecting acorns as you go in order to obtain the key to move on. Collecting the rotten acorn resets all acorns in a random location, and Cornimer follows your route to you as a timer counts down. If you don’t get to the next area before the timer runs out, it’s game over. Easily one of the most unorthodox playstyles I’ve ever seen for a game. Having to put down a card in order to pick another up to use it shouldn’t be this hard, and it is. You don’t really even get good Happy Points for your effort.

Mystery Campers – One Player only, Requires 6 amiibo cards

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Mystery Campers is a game about the process of elimination. You have 10 attempts to figure out the four campers out of your six selected cards that are in tents, and which tents they’re in. A simple concept, really, and challenging to boot. Strangely one of the few mini-games that would outright require the user to buy extra stuff to play. It’s also one of the most expensive mini-games to unlock, needing 5 Happy Tickets. The Happy Point output is pretty good, though.

Balloon Island – 1-4 Players, Requires 1+ amiibo card

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Balloon Island is unlocked from the get-go. Up to four players can play a game of timing and precision. You can use any amount of amiibo cards, but you have to use at least one. Pink balloons are worth one point, and Orange are worth three; landing on the island grants points based on where you land, but landing in the water gives you zero points. The Happy Point yield is pretty alright, but you have to play a bunch of games at once. Thankfully it’s short (less than a minute per player), so it’s a pretty good way to farm Happy Points to unlock the other attractions.

Quiz Game – 1-4 Players, 1 amiibo card each

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Quiz Game is as it sounds; you are asked many questions about tons of Animal Crossing things (not just Animal Crossing characters and items, everything right down to if a painting is real or not), and the difficulty ranges from simple to completely absurd. If you play alone, you get 90 seconds to answer as many questions as possible in order to get a high score. If you play with multiple players, then each player has to wait until their character is spotlighted, then they can tap their amiibo card to buzz in and answer; an odd input choice. When you’re answering, you can tap an amiibo to get an “amiibo chance,” which you only get one of. If you tap the card when the spotlight isn’t over your character, then you won’t be able to answer for that question, and if you answer a question wrong, then you won’t be able to answer the next question. A 4-player game of this takes about 10 minutes, but the Happy Points payoff for playing single-player is amazing; in fact, it’s the best way to get Happy Tickets for anything you’re missing.

Fruit Path – 2-4 Players, Requires 1+ amiibo card

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Fruit Path uses the marked number on every amiibo card to move a set amount of spaces on a single path to gain fruit; the more fruit you have, the heavier you are, and the more susceptible you are to random pitfalls strewn about the path. If you fall into one of these pits, you lose half of your points. This is one of those games where you sort of need more than the three base cards in order to play; it needs that kind of strategy to be fun, and it is in some ways with a full group. I’d imagine that it would be interesting to try with a full deck of 50+ cards, and having to draw cards at random. The Happy Points payout isn’t too great, but games don’t last longer than five minutes typically.

amiibo Card Battle – 2-4 Players, Requires 6 amiibo cards

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Probably my least favorite of the pack, Card Battle requires six cards much like Mystery Campers. Up to four players pit against each other in multiple ways: The die roll indicated on the card, the symbol on the card, and the rock-paper-scissors symbol on the card. After all four players have chosen their card, the characters come out and show their roll. By default, the highest number wins, unless the symbol matches the crystal ball in the middle, where the decision is switched between lowest and highest. After all that, if two characters have the same winning roll, then their win is decided by rock-paper-scissors, which is also affected by the lowest-highest modifier for some reason. First player to three points wins. Easily one of the most confusing games I’ve played, and honestly, it’s not even worth it. A game lasts anywhere between 5-10 minutes, and your payout is extremely small. Maybe it would be more fun if you could use as many cards as you like in a game instead of the required six, but either way, it’s simply not enjoyable for very long.

Desert Island Escape – 1 Player, Requires 3 amiibo cards

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Easily my favorite in the pack, and coincidentally one of the most advertised games before its release. You pick three amiibo cards, and each symbol on the card assigns those characters a specific role. For instance, Katie has a “Fish” symbol on her card, which makes her extremely efficient with fishing rods and catching fish with her bare hands. You have anywhere from 7, 9, and 12 days to find three logs and a sail to escape the island. Each character gets three turns, and you traverse a hexagon-tile island to find supplies and food to survive. Along the island, you’ll find events like pitfall traps or centipede attacks, where you must spin a wheel to get an effect. A good effect means you get to continue with your turn, but a bad effect usually means you lose the rest of that turn. For example, if you fight off bees from their hive to get honey, you may get stung, which puts that character out of commission for the next day, unless you find medicine.

With supplies, you can craft items like fishing rods, shovels, or slingshots, which all have their own special uses. Slingshots can help fight off centipedes, and nets can help against bees, for instance. Get enough food to survive until you escape, and keep an eye on how many days you have left. The amount of days depend on the difficulty: Beginner has 7 days, Intermediate has 9, and Advanced has 12 days. The Happy Points payout is alright for this game, but this is the one game you’ll keep going back to as a single player.

Resetti Bop – 1 Player, Requires 3 amiibo cards

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Bizarre, weird controls in an otherwise simple concept. Resetti Bop has you play as three characters, using their rock-paper-scissors designation to hit Resetti dolls in a Whack-A-Mole game. There isn’t much to say about it, really. Hitting a doll when that character’s designated sign beats the sign on the doll nets you a point, hitting the same sign stuns your character for a moment, and hitting a losing sign loses a point and stuns your character. You need to tap the card in order to hit, though, and it plays just as bad as it sounds; the card takes some time to register, and even then, the pace of the game makes consistently hitting dolls for a high score incredibly difficult. That said, the payoff isn’t too bad. You get a Happy Point for each point in the game, and they only take about a minute for each play.

Unsurprisingly, every bit of this game runs at 1080p at 60FPS. I’ve only ever experienced a freeze once, but I highly doubt that it’s the game (My Wii U hard-freezes whenever I try to load a stage in Smash). There is no slowdown to speak of, and loading times are minimal: 15-25 seconds when loading Board Game, and no more than 5 seconds for most of the other attractions. There are no load times during play, which is fantastic. Although, that being said, it doesn’t seem technically impressive to load all of these assets in such small chunks.

The graphics are impressive, though it seems mostly like an upscale from the original 3DS assets. I see a lot of similar patterning on character models, and especially in Board Game where the ground textures almost seem like cloth instead of ground. That being said, nothing seems out of place, and the overall Animal Crossing “feel” is not lost in any of the attractions; they all have a different approach, but they’re themed in fitting ways. Resetti Bop is based on the Reset Center, amiibo Card Battle is based on Katrina’s tent, and so on. Sadly, the only time you’ll ever notice minute details are during events in Board Game. For instance, if you have the Reese and Cyrus amiibo, you’ll only see the portraits of both of them in Reese and Cyrus’ house if you’ve tapped both amiibo in at some point; otherwise, you’ll see the significant other of whomever you’re playing. Same applies to Isabelle and Digby. It’s also worth noting that every character has unique events. K.K. occasionally talks about being a secret judge in a singing competition, and Reese or Cyrus talk about little events they experience in Re-Tail. The quality of this game is in the details, and it’s certainly a good time for Animal Crossing fans.

That said, the only theme that is even memorable is the Board Game theme. It’s the song that is used throughout for different reasons; it’s used for the “town theme” and whenever a character sings, for example. The only real difference there can be are during inclement weather, where the song changes tone whenever it rains or snows to something more gentle. It’s really nice, but that’s the only song I can remember; one song out of maybe ten new songs that are unique to this game. The rest are familiar themes for familiar characters, songs you should honestly expect from any Animal Crossing title.

-Closing-

Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival was that game I saw immediate resistance from the Nintendo community. A board game about Animal Crossing? How ridiculous! However, I bought this game for my mom for Christmas, and I never intended to write a review about it until I noticed something…special happening. I noticed that my mom kept asking me to play it with her, and then she convinced my sister to play it, and she enjoyed it as well. It was a chain reaction I hadn’t noticed since we played the original Animal Crossing together.

It was a chain reaction I didn’t think I would see again. I think what people forget is that Animal Crossing used to be a family game; it was something you should have played with your family to have fun and be happy with one another for their accomplishments. I was excited to see that my mom finished every debt, got every bug and fish, and even got all the museum fossils, and it only made me want to do that as well. I kept wanting to play Animal Crossing to feel that same way again, but the next games would come after my mom got injured at work, after my sister would get in a near-fatal car crash. They moved on because they had to; because that was in the past, and there was no going back from what happened.

I played every title, right up to New Leaf, and I couldn’t keep playing any more. I had finally lost my drive to play; they didn’t have the time to play Animal Crossing any more, and I know they tried. Animal Crossing, to me, was a family experience, and amiibo Festival was finally the title that they wanted to play together, and I was more than glad to join them. Animal Crossing was always our game, after all, and amiibo Festival is that game to continue that legacy. This game was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale franchise.

The only major problem with the game is a lack of skipping through special character event dialogue, and a rather flamboyant use of amiibo cards in bizarre ways. Make no mistake, though, this game is best enjoyed with a group of Animal Crossing fans…or an Animal Crossing family.

Written by: Tyler Busler

I'm an adept gamer with 15+ years of experience in the best and worst of gaming history. I've always believed that gameplay is the most important part of a video game in most instances. My favorite games are Super Mario 3D World, Journey, Yoshi's Island, Paper Mario, and Dust: An Elysian Tail.