Animal Crossing amiibo Festival Review

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Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival sends its adorable characters on a board game quest for Happiness…which may prove more difficult to obtain than anticipated.

Developer: Nintendo EPD, Nd Cube

Publisher: Nintendo

Platforms: Nintendo Wii U

Release Dates: November 13, 2015 (NA); November 20, 2015 (EU); November 21, 2015 (JP, AUS)

Turn on some town tunes, because it’s time to return to the adorable animal villages we’ve come to love in Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival. If you’re an Animal Crossing fan, you’ve likely spent hours in the main series games painstakingly decorating, building up, and filling your towns with quirky animal friends. So a spin-off title, seemingly along the lines of Mario Party, that lets you relax and play a board game with friends? Sounds great, right?

Maaaaaaybe not if you like games. Or having money. Or…any kind of fun at all.

Day, After Day, After Day

The primary gameplay of Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival rests in the game’s board game mode. At least one amiibo is required to play (the game comes with two), and up to four players can join as long as one amiibo is present–they’ll play as Villagers. If you want to fly solo, four AIs will join instead. Don’t worry about handing Wiimotes out, because the Gamepad is the only thing you can use to play. It must be passed around for each person’s turn.

Play proceeds by touching the amiibo (or pressing A, if you’re a villager) to roll the dice, and moving the amount of spaces designated. The goal of the game is to end with the most Happiness Points, which can be gained or lost by landing on certain spaces. You can also gain or lose Bells (the currency in Animal Crossing), and any extra you have at the end of the game are converted into Happiness, 1 Happiness for every 1,000 Bells. Most spaces on the board are dedicated to adding or subtracting either Happiness or Bells or both from your total through small, scripted events about daily life in an Animal Crossing village. When you land on a space, you get to read a few short sentences about what your character did that day, then receive the reward or deduction. For example, you might earn Happiness by meeting up with a friend unexpectedly and chatting–you might lose bells for buying expensive furniture.

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The game lasts through a calendar month, in which each turn is a full day, and seasonal events occur on their designated days as they would in the Animal Crossing calendar, including holidays, fishing tournaments, and more. Some events only affect the text of the scripted events; others offer new opportunities to earn bells or happiness. The fishing tournament, for example, will award you with a fish of varying size depending on what color space you land on that day, with players earning bells according to the size of their catch compared to others’. Other days will see visitors such as Katie, Katrina, Redd, or Phineas arrive. Landing on their spaces while they are in the neighborhood affords opportunities to earn more Bells, more Happiness, or special cards that will allow you to move a set number of spaces instead of rolling the dice…though a fee is involved to use a card.

Along with their conversion to happiness point, bells can be used to purchase turnips from Joan on Sundays, which can then be sold throughout the week for a price designated on the space you land on. If you don’t sell them before Saturday, then on that day they’ll be sold automatically for whatever the Saturday space’s price is. Just like in real life, when you play the Stalk Market you want to buy low and sell high, so turnip fortunes play a large role in who ends the game with the most happiness.

This all sounds nice and fluffy until you play, and you realize that amiibo Festival isn’t actually a game at all–it’s more a board game simulator than anything else. Tap the amiibo, mash A, and you’re just as likely to win as you are if you play attentively. The die doesn’t start spinning until you throw it, so there’s no way to affect your rolls unless you play a card, and the cards you receive (and whether you receive them at all) are entirely random too. There are no minigames within the board game; there are no hard decisions to make beyond the occasional “go left” or “go right” when you hit a fork. The Stalk Market is the only opportunity you really have to change your fortunes, and even that is heavily based on the RNG of the die. If you don’t land on a good space for selling turnips, too bad.  The amount of happiness and bells you gain from spaces is uncontrollable (I had an NPC come from last place to a victory by winning somewhere over 60k worth of bells at random on the last turn!). It’s boring, random, and the least-compelling gameplay I could possibly imagine.

The characters are adorable, the writing for the events is typical quirky Animal Crossing, and the customization is laudable, but none of it is fun.

You’re required to play the board game to unlock anything else, including features that seem like they’ll make the board game more fun but really just dress up the boredom in different colors. You can pick the month you’ll play in, affecting the appearance of the board and the events. amiibo cards can be scanned to add villagers to the board (for more unique events), and the homes you designed in Happy Home Designer can even be imported via amiibo. amiibos can earn different costumes and emotes by “leveling up”, which is accomplished (of course) by playing more board games. Building some structures in the town can change the pathways or add new events, but don’t affect the gameplay in any meaningful way.

Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival looks beautiful. The characters are adorable, the writing for the events is typical quirky Animal Crossing, and the customization is laudable, but none of it is fun. It requires no skill, almost no effort…I think my dog could probably play it if I told her to mash the Gamepad with her paws. Far from being enjoyable, the game actually made me consistently frustrated. It’s a board game–you want to win. Watching your friends or computer players win through sheer luck, and knowing you have no way to beat them unless you, too, are lucky, doesn’t increase my “Happiness” at all. It’s infuriating.

Next: Mini games, merchandise, and our final Verdict