As I'm writing this, I have two things building in my campground in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. The first is a dope tent with flames on it and a motorcycle parked out front, the second is a green desk. The desk will be done in a few hours, the tent in many more than that.
The waiting doesn't bug me. I'm used to waiting while playing Animal Crossing. Somehow, the specially timed waiting of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp isn't bugging me at all, even if it is sometimes painfully a mobile game. But it's a surprisingly generous one. It's a stress-free Animal Crossing.
The game isn't out yet—at least not where I'm at, in the United States. To play it I made an Australian Apple account, downloaded the game easily from their AppStore, where Nintendo's currently testing it out. The version in-game isn't even in version 1.0 yet. The game is definitely missing some features so far—there's no clothes crafting, nor easy access to friends yet. Yet, there's enough there that I'm not bored with it yet. That's the last thing I expected from an Animal Crossing game relegated to mobile.
Sometimes mobile games are curses. Nintendo hasn't had much luck in their offerings. The best of the batch has been Fire Emblem Heroes, which is essentially a more-polished gacha game wrapped in strategy RPG dressings. Other than that, Nintendo's had Miitomo, hardly a game at all, and Super Mario Run, which alienated players with its $9.99 price tag gated behind a "free" level. Fire Emblem Heroes has proved itself to still be a moneymaker for Nintendo. The rest of their mobile slate: not so much.
When Animal Crossing was first announced for smartphones, I was worried about it. I figured it could either be the best thing ever or the worst thing ever. Surprisingly, it's maybe the best possible outcome for the franchise's mobile turn. Given that Animal Crossing already is a game that moves in real-time, it'd be hard to imagine a flat-rate price tag version of it—one that wasn't free to play and inching forward with wait timers and the like.
On the surface, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is more dense than expected. There's multiple areas on the map to explore; 40 critters to slowly befriend and invite to your own camp (provided you have the amenities and furniture that they adore on hand). Friendships go up to level 20, where upon maxing out you get whatever clothes they're wearing and other items. (In a sick way, it's almost like you're learning enough about them to steal their identities.) In the early goings, befriending animals and inviting them to your camp is relatively easy. As you progress, it gets trickier. They require expensive, more time intensive furniture to be built. Like a drum set that cost six hours of time, or a desk that cost just three.
This core loop is where Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp feels vastly different from past Animal Crossing games, even the lackluster (but still calmly soothing) Happy Home Designer. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp isn't about managing a town as mayor, or living a quiet peaceful life. It's about decorating your campground and camper, and making it enticing enough for other players and NPCs to visit. But where it's similar is in the moment to moment, beyond its new crafting.
Just as in all Animal Crossings, you're given ample opportunities to fish, catch bugs, and shake trees for fruit. There's plenty of spots to do these things—in fact, on multiple occasions already, my inventory's maxed out, leading me to sell a slew of items. Even in times of waiting in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, there's always neighbors dwelling in areas to talk to, whether they have requests for you to fulfill or not. In typical Animal Crossing fashion, they each have distinctive personalities, things they like and dislike. They're cute and fun to befriend.
Essentially, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a less-stressful Animal Crossing. The only debt hanging over your head are the loans for upgrading the size of your camper, and Tom Nook isn't constantly nagging you about it either. The knowledge is instead tucked away in your in-game phone's apps, ready to be paid off in chunks or in its entirety whenever you're ready. Also, there's no pressure of animals moving away. Animals come and go naturally, as you level up more swing around the familiar areas. You can replace the ones who reside in your campground too, should the time come when it's full and a new camper starts lingering about the other areas of the world and you want to change your camp's dynamic up a bit.
That's the pleasure of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp: there's no pressure to really do anything. Everything is at your leisure; the activities, crafting items, the shopping. Animal Crossing, as a series, has always been a game about leisure, while reminding you of the responsibilities you must face head on, like debt and loans. In Pocket Camp, they aren't as upfront about it. And even with the presence of typical mobile game microtransactions, it's easy to cruise through without ever even having to drop a penny. (You can read my guide for tips on that, if you so wish.)
I'm sure there will come a time after the North American release of Pocket Camp (where I will surely redownload it and start from scratch—I have no shame) where I throw a few dollars or so into it. The game's premium currency, leaf tickets, are relatively easy to come by while playing Pocket Camp, but they remain a luxury compared to bells. After saving up enough leaf tickets, I let Pocket Camp's new resident penguin mechanics pimp my camper. (It's floral print now.)
In the meantime, I'm surprisingly pleased with Animal Crossing on mobile, in ways I didn't expect to be. In the future, I can see it becoming a more relaxing part of my routine; something I play when I wake up and before I go to bed every night because it's easier to access because it's finally on my phone. It's inherent mobility makes me excited for the future of Animal Crossing too, both in how the mobile version improves and its inevitable hop into the next console generation. I'm counting on that Switch version, eventually. Somewhere, somehow. (Don't let me down E3 2018.)