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Critics are Missing the Point of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

You can build hedge mazes, you can pretend to be Freud, but if you expect Pocket Camp to give you a "real" Animal Crossing experience, you're going to be disappointed.

Opinion by Nadia Oxford, .

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp has been out on iOS and Android for a week now. I'm still playing it and enjoying it. Is it a top-tier release in Nintendo's beloved town-building franchise? Heck no—but it's not meant to be. Is it a good way to kill a few minutes on the can? You betcha.

Pocket Camp has certainly stirred up a plethora of feelings and opinions. On one side, there are people making silly memes and Tweets. On the other side, across a No-Man's-Land of general disinterest, there are people are, well, angry about Pocket Camp's existence.

"Goldie come over we'll watch Mushishi and eat Pocky 'til we puke."

Ars Technica writer Sam Machkovech calls the free-to-play game "FarmVille-level rot" that exploits fans of a cute and innocent franchise.

"This is a scam," Machkovech writes. "Nintendo should be ashamed for attaching such predatory practices to one of its most family-friendly properties."

The "predatory practices" refer to Pocket Camp's Leaf Ticket-based economy. Like 99% of free-to-play mobile games, Pocket Camp has a hard currency—the aforementioned Leaf Tickets, in this instance—that are used to automatically run out countdown timers, fill up crafting materials that usually take time to procure, and so on. Leaf Tickets are purchasable with real-world money, but the game also doles them out as rewards for levelling up and completing certain tasks.

While I can understand why someone might be disappointed to see the free-to-play formula applied to the happy-go-lucky world of Animal Crossing, I hesitate to call Pocket Camp "predatory." I've reviewed mobile games in the past. Lots and lots of mobile games. I know from predatory practises, and there's just not a lot of shady stuff going on in Pocket Camp.

Never trust a pig who's good at barbecuing.

Leaf Tickets aren't hard to collect if you play consistently and finish the daily challenges. Your animal pals will visit if you fulfil their (admittedly bizarre) requests for specific furnishings. Basic building materials like wood, paper, and cotton can take a bit of time to stock up on, but you're not expected to wait an obscenely long time for a bale of cotton or a splinter of wood; materials come to you in a steady trickle. There are no stamina meters. You can play for as long as you like, and there's always something to do.

Nintendo could have forced us to "win" buddies by participating in a Gashapon-style draw, a la Fire Emblem Heroes. It could have ticked off stamina points every time you change maps. It didn't. It might be a little sad to say "Hey, this free-to-play game won't rip you off too badly! Nintendo sure is magnanimous," but that's the mobile market for you. Like it or not, it's hot, hot, hot. Claim your victories where you can.

But I also believe Pocket Camp's critics shouldn't be comparing this bite-sized slice of Animal Crossing to a full-fledged release like the excellent New Leaf. There's a reason why Pocket Camp puts you in charge of a camp site and not another town. It's a taste of the series, and a "taste" is exactly what Nintendo wants to give prospective fans with Pocket Camp and Fire Emblem Heroes (and Super Mario Run—a great game that has no in-app purchases, Leaf Tickets, or timers, but people rebelled against its price). Nintendo is using mobile games as a bridge between sometimes-gamers and its properties. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp isn't a pushy game (by mobile standards), and the average person who exclusively plays mobile games will find a lot to love about it. Will they "graduate" to New Leaf, or to the inevitable Nintendo Switch version of Animal Crossing? They just might.

I'd like to tell him one of us is going to have to go home and change.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed with Pocket Camp's "stripped down" format when I first played it, but I quickly began to enjoy myself a lot more when I treated the game as a psychological analysis of my friends instead of as a traditional Animal Crossing experience. I like visiting my friends' camp grounds and seeing what they've done with their Campers and their tiny plots of property. Which themes do they favor? Which animals do they invite to hang out? Caty visited a camp ground with a hedge maze and a pizza at its end. That's awesome, and I hope Nintendo adds a frozen janitor statue / accessory to the game so I can build my own hedge maze and put it right in the middle.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp isn't for every hardcore Animal Crossing fan, but when you take it for what it is, it's a charming little distraction that gives you quite a bit of content for its $0 price tag—and if you play regularly and gather materials at a steady pace, you can keep that price tag at $0.

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Comments 22

  • Avatar for swamped #1 swamped 16 days ago
    I get why the game isn't for everyone, but the "predatory" argument is pretty weak. If anything, Nintendo doesn't give you enough reasons to buy leaf tickets. Other than van skins and KK Slider, it only serves to speed up the game play, but there's no real reason to do that. There seems to be a finite amount of content and once you reach the end, the game loses its value. I got the same impression from Magikarp Jump.

    I really see it as a gateway to "real" Animal Crossing, especially since the game rewards you for connecting to a My Nintendo account.

    I assumed most of my issues with the game originated in Happy Home Designer, which I never played. Why am I collecting furniture I don't like and will never use? Otherwise it's just fine.
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  • Avatar for hellomrkearns #2 hellomrkearns 16 days ago
    9443 7065 258
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #3 benjaminlu86 16 days ago
    I get what I consider a "real" Fire Emblem experience from Heroes, though, at least from a tactical and mental effort expenditure standpoint.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #4 Kat.Bailey 16 days ago
    @benjaminlu86 Fire Emblem Heroes isn't close to a real Fire Emblem experience.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #5 Roto13 16 days ago
    @benjaminlu86 Gosh, Fire Emblem Heroes isn't close to a real Fire Emblem experience. It's like saying Checkers is close to a real Chess experience.
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  • Avatar for WiIIyTheAntelope #6 WiIIyTheAntelope 16 days ago
    I dislike microtransactions and mobile gaming just in general..but calling Pocket Camp out as a predatory game is just straight up wrong. It basically throws leaf tickets at you every time you every time you touch it. There's a million games on mobiles that are predatory in nature like Candy Crush and their "randomized, but not really"puzzles. In contrast Pocket Camp really doesn't even offer anything worthwhile to spend money on. Unless you were one of the people who kept changing their system clocks in the older games to skip the wait timers.

    Not that I would ever do a thing like that, obviously.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #7 benjaminlu86 16 days ago
    @Kat.Bailey In terms of strategic depth and mental effort, I find FEH to be the full vertical slice of real Fire Emblem tactics gameplay. It's missing story and characterization, but the gameplay is all there. In fact, I might say it's more strategic in some ways because of the oppressively low movement range which encourages more thoughtful positioning decisions, as well as the predictable Special triggers which allow you to plan cooldowns for future turns. The maps are exquisitely designed to support these positioning puzzles with cleverly placed trees and choke points (the Grand Hero Battle maps are particularly good at this). To the extent that you consider the "core" of Fire Emblem to be the gameplay as opposed to a waifu simulator, I contend that FEH absolutely captures it while still being playable in short bursts.
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  • Avatar for ghostsandgoblins #8 ghostsandgoblins 16 days ago
    I think of the Nintendo mobile games as supplementary to my 3DS, so the "full experience" distinction doesn't mean much for me. That also only makes me concerned about the social impacts of monetization.

    The mobile games just tide me over until I can play my 3DS and each add in some way to my enjoyment of their full length counterparts

    For my purposes, these games have been great, and I'm looking forward to more releases. I'll be perpetually crossing my fingers that one will be playable in airplane mode.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #9 MetManMas 16 days ago
    Yeah, I really wouldn't call Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp all that exploitative. With the exception of a few exclusive furniture items and paint jobs for the camper, all Leaf Tickets really do is save time.

    Whether it's finishing furniture faster, or making furniture without all the required goods, or getting in the quarry without/after friend vouchers, or buying additional fertilizer/nets/honey/calling & request cards to get fruit/fish/bugs/friendship with desired animal guests faster. There's no arbitrary stamina bar or lives bullshit preventing you from doing ANYTHING AT ALL for a while unless you spend money, there's no gashapon where you can spend $1000 and still fail to unlock everything.

    The game is literally a taste of Animal Crossing experience. You can customize your camp and camper with furniture and your appearance with clothing, you can do favors for animals to get stuff, you can fish and go bug catching, you can visit your friends' towns...err camps, and so on. And this game got me to start playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf (and my 3DS in general) again and has me frothing at the bit for a new installment on Nintendo Switch, so...mission accomplished.

    If there's one thing I hope the AC team keeps from Pocket Camp in the new entry, it's letting us night owls be able to actually do stuff at night. The town ordinance to keep the stores open a few more hours ain't enough. Like, give us some bat vendors with stores open at night if you need an logical excuse.

    Speaking of, I would love bat residents in general to be in the next Animal Crossing.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #10 MetManMas 16 days ago
    @swamped I'm sure Nintendo will be adding more content to Pocket Camp eventually. Like, we already know from the game's UI that clothing crafting is planned for it, and there's loads and loads of other villagers and items that could come down the line.Edited 3 weeks ago by MetManMas
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  • Avatar for otenko #11 otenko 16 days ago
    I am enjoying Pocket Camp so far (playing since soft launch), however it's already being a bit boring. The gameplay is good but very simplified.
    I already completed the stretch goals and I think the monetization is ok. At least, when you buy leaf tickets you know what you get instead of random crap like a lot of games are doing now. You all know what I mean.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #12 LBD_Nytetrayn 16 days ago
    I think someone wanted to piggyback off the "they're encouraging children to gamble!" narrative following Star Wars Battlefront II lately, and didn't properly research their mark.
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  • Avatar for Damn_Skippy #13 Damn_Skippy 16 days ago
    My only complaint is the lack of variety in the animal's comments, which was traditionally the most entertaining aspect of the AC games. Otherwise it's a pretty sweet way to spend a hung-over Sunday morning.
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  • Avatar for ghostsandgoblins #14 ghostsandgoblins 16 days ago
    @Damn_Skippy Maybe I was unlucky with New Leaf, but my village kept being populated by multiple skins of the same personality. It took some of the charm away from the villagers when you'd hear the exact same dialogue multiple times in a row as you did your tasks around town.
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  • Avatar for ghostsandgoblins #15 ghostsandgoblins 16 days ago
    @MetManMas I love the bat idea, and I definitely wanted more functionality from New Leaf in the middle of the night. Another idea would be an underground economy. Put Crazy Redd in the Tom Nook role for the black market, and you could have rats or snakes working for him. Worse prices, but you don't have to wait for the squares who only open during the day.
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  • Avatar for Damn_Skippy #16 Damn_Skippy 16 days ago
    @ghostsandgoblins True, but at least there were ten personality types instead of four. That being said, I was mildly amused when a reindeer called me 'saltlick'.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #17 riderkicker 16 days ago
    Animal Crossing or Animal Gaol?
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  • Avatar for ghostsandgoblins #18 ghostsandgoblins 15 days ago
    @Damn_Skippy Maybe my favorite lines of dialogue in a video game ever were from Rasher: Do you have something to say to me? Is it Swine?

    The surly villagers were my favorite.Edited 2 times. Last edited 3 weeks ago by ghostsandgoblins
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #19 Roto13 15 days ago
    @benjaminlu86 The smaller teams, lack of pairing up, lack of character building and classes, lack of gear, and tons of other important elements make Fire Emblem Heroes an incredibly dumbed down and simplified version of Fire Emblem.
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  • Avatar for swamped #20 swamped 15 days ago
    @Damn_Skippy Yeah this aspect has really thrown me off. I thought at first personalities were linked to preferred theme, but now I have natural females calling me their biggest fans like a snooty, which almost all the other cute themed ones had been? They seem to throw a lot of duplicates at you fast.
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  • Avatar for benjaminlu86 #21 benjaminlu86 15 days ago
    @Roto13 Call me old-fashioned, but I found the pair-up mechanic got very tedious very quickly. On paper, it's a fine optional thing, but to not try to optimize it seemed like a waste so that entailed intense planning of all future pair-ups turns and chapters in advance.

    As for lack of gear and character building, I'm not sure if you've even played the game recently because there's tons of customization options and character build diversity is the highest it's ever been. They also added a rudimentary support system as well.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #22 Roto13 15 days ago
    @benjaminlu86 And yet all of those things are greatly simplified to the point of being unrecognizeable.
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