The world of Animal Crossing and mobile gaming are a match made in heaven. The former prioritizes focusing on small moments in order to piece together a greater picture. The latter is an activity that can be done on commutes, while waiting in the doctor’s office, or literally anywhere else. It’s such a lucrative space for gaming that more and more traditional game companies are moving into the territory. Just look at Blizzard with Hearthstone, and Nintendo with Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is Nintendo’s third foray into the mobile space. It takes the daily grind of Animal Crossing and distills it into its simplest form, making a game that’s digestible for short, quick-fix play sessions. But, ultimately, this distillation of the series’ core gameplay is both a good and bad thing. While Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a return to the Animal Crossing format we know and love, it’s hard not to feel like its still missing something. This is a game of consequence with no weight, and unfortunately, it’s missing many of the cause-and-effect circumstances that make console Animal Crossing so wonderful.
Make Stuff, Make Friends
In Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, you are tasked with building a campsite for the world’s many anthropomorphic animal residents. The focus is on making friends and luring them to your camp by crafting and installing objects they love. You can arrange your campsite any way you like, and craft any items that you have enough material to build. Yet this time around, how your site is laid out is largely dependent on the friends you want to make.
The core gameplay loop goes like this: You meet a friend in one of five different environmental zones outside your campsite, then you bring them goodies to raise your friendship level with them. These goodies are fruit, fish, and insects, all of which can be caught and harvested in these zones. (Granted, for fruit there is a timer; you can only harvest from trees once every three hours, or use fertilizer to speed up the process and negate the wait.) When you give an animal these items, it’ll raise your friendship level and they will also gift you crafting parts. Crafting parts include things like cotton, wood, and steel, all of which can be used to craft items like tables, hammocks, and new tents for your campsite.
Once you raise your friendship with an animal to a certain level, you can invite them to your campsite. However, they won’t join you until you’ve crafted a set of five specific items and placed them inside.
And — that’s it for the most part. Once you get an animal to your campsite, you can continue to bring them goodies in exchange for materials and bells — the traditional Animal Crossing in-game currency — and if you hit a certain level of friendship you can even get the costume they’re wearing for your avatar. This loop is the main focus of Pocket Camp, and I have to admit: it’s fairly shallow.
Pleasant, But Missing Something
Yes, it’s relaxing and somewhat cathartic to complete menial tasks in exchange for cosmetic details and gathering more animals to your campsite — which in a way, is also aesthetic. Waiting for your trees to regrow fruit or for a certain animal to pop up, or rearranging your campsite or decking out your camper are exercises in mindfulness — the waiting and re-tooling is about living in the moment and appreciating it. And commodification of friendship has always been a thing with the Animal Crossing games. However, Pocket Camp in its current state offers very little in the way of challenge and depth. Right now it’s endless errand-running in a race to make the prettiest camp with the coolest animals hanging around.
There’s plenty of other things to do though, like adding another level to your camper and visiting your friend’s campsites, or even lending them a hand mining gems in the quarry. But other than lending a shovel, giving them kudos, or buying some of their stock off them in Market Boxes, there is very little interaction between you and other players.
And of course — there’s the freemium aspect of the game. Leaf Tickets are earned through gameplay and can also be purchased with real world cash. These can be used to speed up crafting of an item, buy high-ticket items or missing materials, and many other things. Basically, their function is to eliminate the wait time that comes with crafting and waiting for natural goodies to refresh.
While it’s possible to not buy Leaf Tickets at all and still get ahead in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, speeding things up allows you to get more done more quickly — putting you ahead of the curve against your friends. So spending money is just another way to show off — and as we’ve already established, this flashy commodification of getting people to like you is what Pocket Camp is all about.
In its current form, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a very bare bones experience, albeit one with a surface-level satisfying loop. But given the popularity of the IP and Nintendo’s rolling commitment to new content for one of its other mobile games, Fire Emblem Heroes, we’re hopeful that we’ll be getting more for our campsites in the future.