A great getaway, from wherever you are.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp’s rustic setting is the perfect metaphor for what it’s like to play Nintendo’s latest mobile game. It’s a relaxing getaway that delivers a smart distillation of the traditional Animal Crossing gameplay in a format that’s ideal for the franchise. Only somewhat being held back by the limitations of the device it’s on, this trip is made all the more fun with new, engaging mechanics the series would be smart to hold onto for the future.
Pocket Camp, which soft launched in territories outside of North America, has all the activities you’d expect from an Animal Crossing adventure. You’re still befriending neighborly animals, collecting fruit, hunting bugs, and customizing your living space. They work brilliantly as quick, daily diversions while waiting for a movie to start or riding the train to work. And every activity is made manageable by the world’s clever compartmentalized design.
Setting goals for yourself is tremendously easy because the world is segmented into activity-oriented locations. Two are focused on fishing, another on catching bugs, and so on. True, this setup removes some of the freedom you have to hunt and gather anywhere you want in the 3DS Animal Crossings, but having each activity tied to a location makes it a breeze to track down bugs or fruit while on the go. Like past Nintendo mobile games, though, I have found that even with the battery saver option both in-game and activated on my iPhone, Pocket Camp can be a major drain on my phone when playing for any extended period.
Having each activity tied to a location makes it a breeze to play on the go.
The downside to its segmented structure is that swapping between areas comes with a slight load time, which can be frustrating when I’m only playing for a few minutes on the train or while waiting in line at a movie. I’ve definitely postponed a task or two because I’d have to move three or four locations to reach them. It may only be a few seconds, but that can add up for an experience otherwise so well-suited to short bursts. And, annoyingly, you need an online connection the entire time, so playing on the subway or a plane is unreliable at best.
To keep up the pace, Pocket Camp offers both timed daily goals and long-term objectives, all of which offer a nice balance of work and reward. I can catch three fish, raise my friendship level with one animal, and visit another player’s town, and be rewarded that very day. Meanwhile, I’ll be working toward dozens of bigger things like populating my campsite. You can still play Pocket Camp as an open-ended sim, but as a player who’s paralyzed by too much freedom, I love having this structure.
Yet for every smart move the experience makes, again a small but noticeable nuisance can pop up, like having to sift through an additional menu or two to collect rewards for completing those goals. The intention is to not immediately fill up your character’s limited storage, but this system can be a waste of time for limitless items like currency.
Camp Your Own Way
Despite Pocket Camp’s slimmed-down world design, there’s still plenty of freedom in how it lets you customize your living space in classic Animal Crossing fashion. This time around, I’ve had access to a campground and an upgradeable RV, which leads to Pocket Camp’s best new characters, a trio of goofy, and debt-hungry, penguins. Thanks to some fun banter and amusing, mobster-lite personalities, I hope they become mainstays of the series.
You won’t spend your days scouring the world for a complete set of furniture to furnish your temporary home, though. In one of the biggest departures from the main series, you’ll primarily find new items through another Pocket Camp aspect I hope is adapted into future entries — a new crafting system.
Yes, there are still a couple small shops where clothing and items can be purchased, but I like never having to worry about finding the exact chair, lamp, or guitar I need. Crafting is pretty simple: you collect items in the environment like wood or wool or by completing tasks to then build the couch, bed, tent, or whatever other item I want to spruce up the place or need to complete a task. This both simplifies the randomized nature of item hunting and makes that hunt more engaging for me, particularly as certain animals will only visit your camp when you have the proper digs.
Crafting does take real-world time to complete, though. A simple chair may take two minutes, but a tent upgrade process can last 12 actual hours. This is where Pocket Camp’s paid-for new currency, Leaf Tickets, comes into play, letting you skip over these inconvenient stretches of downtime. That sounds scary, but after spending two weeks with Pocket Camp I haven’t felt the urge to buy a single ticket – yet — for building purposes. Yes, I could use more of them to more frequently enter the Quarry, a gem-collecting farm meant to earn you more bells, the other currency used for crafting and purchasing, but that aspect feels superfluous at best right now because I earn plenty of bells from my other daily tasks.
I haven’t felt the urge to buy a single Leaf Ticket – yet.
I had to specify that I didn’t feel the urge to buy Leaf Tickets for building purposes because while progression has been smooth, some of the series’ main characters are locked behind them. You can buy specialty items that make it possible for K.K. Slider and Tom Nook to appear. I haven’t found my experience lacking because of their absence, but it’s a sad side effect of the need to monetize that beloved character cameos are effectively locked behind a paywall.
Aside from that, you can avoid paying anything with some smart time management, such as setting larger projects to craft overnight. There’s little need for tickets to actually progress my campsite outside of the ones I’ve earned for free by leveling up and helping animals.
Friends in Need
I don’t mind waiting for Leaf Tickets because I really like helping Pocket Camp’s needy critters whenever I can thanks to the new friendship levels. Every action related to another animal — collecting fish or fruit for them, asking them to tell a story, or inviting them to camp — has a clear effect on my status at camp. Completing these tasks allows me to populate my camp with more colorful personalities, gain rewards, and add to an overall rank that offers even better bonus items and bells.
Inviting these animals to camp is important, too, if you’re looking to max out your friendship level. They react to the changes you make to your camp, so choosing your style wisely can boost your friendship levels further — Apollo the eagle always prefers items with a “cool” label over a “sporty” one, for example. As he’s currently my best friend at camp, I aim to make changes that benefit our friendship.
This system isn’t all that deep, but having a leveling system and crafting add a combined layer of RPG mechanics that really enhance the series’ more familiar systems. I never expected Pocket Camp to make such deep changes, but they’re appreciable ones I hope to see in the series’ future.