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.
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.
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.
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.