Animal Crossing Pocket Camp: First Impressions

So late last month Nintendo revealed its latest addition to its mobile lineup: Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. The news seemed to garner a pretty positive response: Animal Crossing (AC) fans have been begging for a new release for years now, and while this might not have been what we all had in mind, judging from the mobile direct it actually looks like a true AC game. I was originally going to wait for the North American release, however since getting early access to the game is actually a really simple process I decided to go ahead and dive in over the weekend.

I admit that I’m cautiously optimistic about this one. Strap in everyone: long review incoming!

Like all other AC titles: K.K. Slider is there to greet you!

The Basics:

The premise behind Pocket Camp is simple: Mayor Isabelle appoints you the new camp manager and assigns you with the task of making the place flourish. You do this by decorating the campgrounds with furniture you craft and inviting villagers you meet within the game world. One of the very first things you do is create your character, which thank the Gods old and new Nintendo finally gave us this option. Where I’ve read about players re-rolling their new saves for a map layout they liked or a preferred fruit tree, I rolled to ensure my character had a face I liked. It’s nice to know we can skip that process altogether and just craft ourselves. The character creation allows you to pick your character’s gender, eye shape, hairstyle, and skin, hair, and eye colors. I was happy to see that they offered off-the-wall hair colors like green and pink right from the start. You would be surprised how many games block such colors behind game progress or a paywall.

Once you actually meet Isabelle you’re given the choice of four styles to start your campground with. The one you pick will not only decide which collection of starter furniture you get, but also which of the four starting villagers you’ll have your first quest with (and most likely will invite to stay at your campground first). You are allowed to tap each one and see a preview of what the camp set will look like, so it’s perfectly okay to check them all out before you make a choice. I had a real hard time deciding between Natural and Cute, but I ended up swinging for pink just because I love Rosie the cat >__> <3

I want to take a moment to say that the whole theme around camp styles and the fact that there are these crafting items called “essences” with style attached to them feels very My Sims-ish, which I’m actually not against. I loved My Sims and how what you built and what you used to build those items would attract different types of townies, and therefore, different types of blueprints with them. I’m really hoping Pocket Camp takes that idea and runs with it so that players can have truly unique files to compare with each other!

It’s important to note that regardless of which style you decide to begin with the game makes it very easy to recruit all five of the starting villagers, and it’s actually advised that you do so that you can farm early player levels. We’ll get to that in a bit.

After that the gameplay is what you would expect from an AC title: you meet cute animal villagers, you do favors for them, you expand your house (or rather, your camper in this title) all while collecting things from the world. The game is indeed free to play (F2P) with a cash shop, and should be releasing later this month in North America. However if you follow the links from the start of this article you can go ahead and play the game via the Australian app stores.

Though I will caution that you might not be able to keep your progress once the NA version of the app is released. When you start a new game you are asked to pick what country you are from, and since Australia is the only option currently available, every account made with this method will be considered an Australian one. So even if you link your progress to a My Nintendo Account, there’s a very high chance that this choice might affect cash shop prices no matter which app store you are currently linked to. So if you plan to play your account and pick North America/United States/whatever country you are from, be prepared to restart when the game officially launches. I know that’s probably what I’ll be doing, so I’m treating this account as a test run and learning what I’d like to do in the future.

What the Game Does Well:

I’ll be the first to admit that I was super skeptical of this game after watching the mobile direct. On the one hand making an Animal Crossing title for mobile makes perfect sense: the AC series has always been a very chill, laid back experience, and since it runs in real time it fits to have the game on a device that most people will have on them throughout the day. That was really my only gripe with the console releases: I either had to change the clock on my system if I wanted to experience morning events or forever play during a set time frame. New Leaf helped a little bit by offering the ability to tell the townsfolk to stay up later or get up earlier, but it still felt pretty limited.

On the other hand Nintendo’s insistence to emphasize the importance of leaf tickets, this game’s premium currency, set off several red flags for me. Because usually when a developer pumps so much attention into its cash shop and premium currency it tends to spell out bad news for where the developers’ priorities are in a game’s development. But I’m happy to say that as of right now Pocket Camp does most of the things it offers very well. In fact there are very few low notes for me here.

The Game Looks and Feels Just Right:

As you can tell from the screenshots Pocket Camp absolutely has the exact same look as its predecessors (I’m not sure if that should be praise for the mobile title or perhaps some flak shot at Nintendo for its other platforms). Like I already said the character creation is well put together, and the game’s user interface (UI) is very easy to use and understand without intruding on the limited screen space. That alone is a big plus for me because you would be surprised how many mobile apps can’t seem properly execute a good UI.

But more important than the graphics is how the game feelsPocket Camp honestly feels like every other AC game I’ve ever played, and while it’s technically still in early access, the app is very polished. The UI is responsive and the menu buttons feel like there’s weight when you use them. Visiting other players’ camps is mostly seamless (though there does seem to be a glitch going around). The music is charming and the characters are all fully voiced in the traditional Charlie Brown garble that AC has always used. Characters that visit and appear on screen all have little emotes they use, including other player characters that will appear from time to time. There was one female avatar that every time I passed her while bug collecting she would start bouncing on her feet with a smile, music notes appearing over her head. It sincerely made me giggle and made the hunt that much more endearing.

The same corny humor exists as well. While we’re no longer subjected to puns when catching bugs and fish, we do get little jokes from the characters themselves. The characters that run O.K. Motors (the shop responsible for upgrading your camper) always have a little bit of dialogue for you while they work. And of course there’s the gameplay: the gameplay is simple to pick up and translates well to a touchscreen. It takes a little to get used to tapping a fruit or a bug to have your character target it, but once you do it feels pretty seamless. I will caution you to be careful while bug hunting and fishing: I have never poked my phone as hard as I did when I caught my first fish! You don’t need brute strength here!

Customization Looks Promising:

One of the game’s biggest selling points is that you can decorate your campsite and your player in any way that you like. So far it’s delivering on that pretty well. You can still purchase clothes, socks, shoes, hats, and other face gear from their appropriate shops when they appear in the market place (so you have to keep an eye out!). You can also purchase new items rather than craft them if they’re being sold that day as well. I do admit that I wish these shops were available all the time and their inventories be random similar to New Leaf and City Folk, but for now you’ll just have to keep a look out for the different fashion vendors throughout the day if you’re looking for a specific piece.

Plenty of Ways to Earn and Use Bells:

While the mobile direct constantly tooted all the ways you could use this game’s premium currency, I’m happy to report that bells (AC’s traditional in-game currency) are used for the majority of Pocket Camp. When you craft new items you need bells alongside the crafting materials required. All purchases within the marketplace are done with bells only, including buying items from other players.

Speaking of which: there’s actually two ways to sell your excess items for more cash: you can either sell things like fruit, bugs, and fish for a static price in game, or you can sell them in the marketplace for other players to buy at a higher price margin (many items sell in game for only 10 Bells, however the marketplace won’t allow you to list an item for less than 30). You can’t sell clothes, crafted furniture, or materials used to make furniture to other players. You can only sell them in game. You can also, for now, only purchase new clothes and items in the marketplace with bells.

Now judging from all the videos that are out it looks like everyone gets the exact same map and resources, so it might seem redundant to only be able to sell fruit, bugs, and fish. However there’s a lot of potential there. I can already see there being a market for villager quest specific items, and since the game runs in real time a player might not have the chance to run and hunt for a specific item before a villager leaves the area. It’s also important to note that this isn’t really an auction house type of player market like you would see in MMOs. You can only look at items being offered by players in your friends list or by players whose avatars appear in your world. So unless you frequent a community built around the game (such as a discord or a subreddit) you probably won’t run into standardized prices for things much. This could be both a good and a bad thing, but it’s far too early to tell.

I will say though that I’m glad you can’t sell furniture or clothes to players, because it already looks like that’s what this game’s main premium cash-only items might be. And just about every F2P game I’ve encountered that allows players to sell cash shop items have seen their economies just tank down the toilet. So kudos for avoiding that particular cash grab, Nintendo.

No Stamina System:

Hallelujah! You read that correctly: Animal Crossing Pocket Camp doesn’t have a stamina bar anywhere in sight. So if you want to spend hours on end just fishing, you can do that. Want to completely rearrange and redecorate your campsite or camper? No stamina cost for that! Want to constantly hop between locations on your map? No. Stamina. Cost. For. That!

Some reading this may think that’s an exaggerated response, however I’ve been playing mobile apps pretty consistently for roughly 3-4 years now. It never surprises me anymore when I see game after game exploit the exact same resources or gameplay mechanics behind a stamina (and therefore potentially: monetary) system. And Animal Crossing is just full of different things that, if Nintendo had wanted to, they could have completely gutted the experience for a quick buck. Thankfully they didn’t.

Instead the game has other barriers which we’ll address in the following “gray areas” section, but for right now it doesn’t look like they’ll be too intrusive. Things actually progress faster than they do in previous titles. For example in Pocket Camp it only takes three hours for a fruit tree to respawn its loot, whereas in previous games we were talking three days (I think it’s three days at least). If you pay off your loan for a camper expansion you can immediately get the next one and start paying off that loan. In previous titles you had to wait until the next day to get access to your new house. So while the timers for things like amenity and furniture construction are a bit concerning to me, the timers for materials don’t really affect your gameplay at all. You can hunt and fish to your heart’s content all day if you wanted to.

The Game Showers Players in Premium Currency (for now):

Within the first 20 player levels of game time it feels like you’re constantly rewarded for doing even the most menial of tasks. Pocket Camp features the typical daily log in prizes that have become synonymous with mobile games, and the prizes actually aren’t bad. The game also features daily goals (such as “collect 3 seashells” or “send kudos to 3 players” ) and overall stretch goals. Daily goals will reward crafting materials while stretch goals (such as linking to a My Nintendo account) are one-time goals that can offer premium rewards as well as materials. You also receive Leaf Tickets simply for leveling up: so far it looks like 10 tickets per level.

I can say I’ve earned over 200 tickets since starting the game, and that’s without linking to My Nintendo. That being said I don’t know what the current player level cap is (if one exists) or how progression will feel after you hit level 20 (because I haven’t made it past 20 yet). However unless Nintendo adds events or more stretch goals there is the possibility that our supply of free Leaf Tickets can dry up relatively quickly. So don’t spend them all at once!

A Surprisingly Cheap Cash Shop:

I think Pocket Camp is the first mobile game where a $70+ premium currency package just…doesn’t exist. Which trust me: I’M GLAD for that. The most Leaf Tickets you can purchase at any one time is 200, which for now appears to cost $7.99. There are no cash shop options beyond that for purchasing Leaf Tickets. Now keep in mind that these prices could change before official release, but for now it looks like the shop is consumer friendly.

The Game’s Gray Areas:

Normally when I write a piece like this I have three sections: the good, the bad, and the in-between. Yet so far I haven’t found anything in Pocket Camp that’s terrible or bad. In fact, the game is really addictive! That being said: no game is perfect, and while I’m enjoying myself there are a few things in this title that I can’t help but feel cautious about. Some of these things may be nitpicks, others are warning flags from previous experiences in mobile games, but all of the following could potentially impact the game’s success over time.

There Will Be Cash Shop Only Villagers:

Right now if you start an account you’ll be greeted by a special notice that you can actually host series icons K.K. Slider and Tom Nook in your campsite. For the first 45 days after you start a new game two pieces of furniture will be available in your crafting menu: a chair that corresponds to either character. Each costs 250 Leaf Tickets to craft, and can only be crafted with Leaf Tickets. Once you purchase these items the character in question will visit your campsite (and I assume you can do quests for them and get more items in return. I have not been able to craft one of these yet).

On the one hand: I’m not surprised. F2P games have to make their money somehow, and like I’ve already said it’s actually not that hard to earn 200+ tickets. I’ve probably earned closer to 300, however I’ve spent some to test certain game functions and advance the game’s stretch goals (I’m not keeping this current account, so why not?). And now that we know that 200 tickets are basically $8.00, You’re looking at spending roughly $11-13 USD for one character.

Which is cheap in mobile land. Very cheap (I mean…in other games you’re looking at hundreds for a guaranteed premium character!). However just because it’s cheap in comparison to other mobile titles doesn’t necessarily make something a good value. Now if these characters are just like other villagers and offer rewards like clothes and furniture blueprints upon raising friendship levels with them: then I would argue in the long run it’s absolutely worth it to nab the one you like. Hell, if either of these two are some of your favorite characters then that alone is worth the $11 price tag, in my opinion. These games are far more enjoyable when you have the characters you’ve come to love in your account, so I’m not against someone spending money just because they like a character.

But there’s multiple reasons why I consider this a gray area. For one thing Nintendo seems to have a fetish with pricing items in their games for amounts you can’t directly buy in the cash shop. I can’t purchase 250 Leaf Tickets. I can’t even purchase 50 tickets: I can buy 200, I can buy 45, and the lowest pack I can buy is 20. That means to purchase Slider or Nook I have to go through the steps of buying a minimum of three different cash shop packs. That’s just plain stupid, and depending on where you live, can actually cost you more money.

Reason number two I’ve already touched on a little bit: we don’t know how long Pocket Camp’s generosity is going to last. So we could very easily go from earning 300+ tickets within the first weekend of play to not even seeing 20 tickets for weeks. Hopefully I am wrong and Nintendo will continue to pump new stretch goals and events that will give F2P or C2P (cheap to play) users multiple chances to earn currency.

The final reason is I know for a fact K.K. Slider and Tom Nook won’t be the only cash shop characters. You can bet your butts that there will be limited seasonal characters or possibly even furniture sets (I smell Christmas~). We don’t know if they’ll also be 250 tickets apiece, or if the prices could potentially spike. We also don’t know what sorts of events the game will have and how much they’ll revolve around these premium items. For example if, like in previous games, snowmen can appear during the winter that you can build and earn furniture from: will that be available to everyone? Or will that be locked behind a paywall? Only time will tell which path Nintendo chooses here, and it’s something I plan to keep my eye on.

Shovelstrike Quarry:

Shovelstrike Quarry is similar to the multiplayer island in Animal Crossing New Leaf: you could visit the island with friends via wireless connection or go by yourself. That island was filled with rare bugs, fish, and other items that would let players earn lots of bells rather easily while also hunting for rare furniture. In Pocket Camp the Quarry serves a similar function: you can access it alone or with friends to harvest minerals (that sell for bells) and earn craft style essences (natural, cute, etc.) required to build higher end amenities and furniture.

To access the quarry you either need to request the help of 5 players on your friends list, or pay 20 leaf tickets. For solitary players this is a rip off, because for 20 tickets you really don’t get much out of it. Even those with large friends lists may find trouble getting help because the players have to agree to the request, and then be willing to play a free-for-all rock smashing game similar to the medallion tours in New Leaf. So without proper communication both setting up these runs and then ensuring everyone walks away with equal spoils could be an outright mess.

If you plan to make use of the quarry (which you might have to. I don’t see any other way to farm essences other than fulfilling quests from villagers, and they typically only give 1 apiece. You need 30 just to build some of the starter amenities for your camp.), I highly suggest looking for communities in places like Reddit and Discord to set up parties for it.

I feel like if Nintendo wants us to cooperate with other players on this scale then we need chat features to communicate like we had in New Leaf. Right now there are none, so players have no choice but to rely on third party sites for that communication.

The Ticket Cost to Build Items is Really High:

We saw in the mobile direct that the swimming pool amenity could take about 72 hours (so 3 days) to build. The video then goes on to say that tickets can be used to speed up this process.

Well, I’m here to tell you that if you were hoping 1 ticket = 1 amenity or furniture, you’re going to be disappointed.

For the Natural Tent, which would take 12 hours to complete, the game wanted 55 Leaf Tickets to speed up the process. Now the amount of tickets required does decrease the less time you need as time moves forward for that one object, however it’s not by much. With three hours left to go the game still wanted 30 tickets to finish the process.

To craft a piece of furniture or amenity while short on materials, the amount of tickets will also vary depending on how many materials you’re short on. For example to craft the Picnic Set the game wanted 266 leaf tickets (this is a 48 hour amenity by the way. So that sweet pool in the video? Definitely more than that). Again it seems that the amount you need to cover materials will change depending on what materials you have on hand.

I have to admit that I really don’t like that, because it makes it that much harder for players to budget their premium currency. How do you know how much to save for a specific item if you don’t even know how much that item will cost? On top of this we don’t know if there’s a cap for these prices. Who’s to say 1k leaf ticket items won’t exist? We’re already over a quarter of the way there and it’s early access. Combine this with the potential for the game to become stingy, and we’ve got a problem.

That being said most Animal Crossing fans are used to waiting multiple days for new expansions in their towns, so in that regard it shouldn’t be a problem. However, there are many mobile titles that exist where it can take literally (yes, correct use of the word here) years to build complete sets without using cash shop bonuses. Animal Crossing fans have also never had the opportunity to bypass these limitations with cash until now, and just like with Fire Emblem Heroes I have the feeling Pocket Camp will be the first mobile game for a lot of people coming in to play it.

Heed my warning, newbies: that temptation is strong. Make a budget, now, if you plan to use this feature. “Oh it’s only $11 for 200 tickets” can very easily turn into hundreds of dollars within a blink.

There’s no indication from Nintendo yet if there’s a cap on how long an item can take to build. If they decide to launch events that require getting something built by a certain due date, they could really cash in on that opportunity, and it’s a scary thought.

And it’s not just amenities with this problem: average furniture sets to ensure a villager comes to stay at your campsite starts hiking up in materials and time needed relatively early. I’m player level 16 and I’m already crafting items that need 8+ hours and style essences (Blue set for Punchy the cat). So I’m very, very concerned about how far this will go.

Getting Access to Different Villagers Seems Very Linear Right now:

Now this is a nitpick, however I have yet to see villagers who just randomly appear for no reason like you could find in previous games. You unlock new villagers to come to your camping world by leveling up (and if I remember correctly, by doing certain villagers favors). Now I don’t know yet if the primary style you have stacked in your campgrounds affects who is unlocked (I feel like I get a lot of cute and natural style preferring characters), but if it doesn’t that means everyone gets access to the same characters at the same time.

That’s a little disappointing for me, as half of the fun of building up your town in previous games was never knowing who would move in next. You also can’t “trade” campers between players. In previous games if one of your villagers was considering moving away, you could invite another player into your town. That player could then talk and do favors for that villager, leading that villager to very likely move into your friend’s town. This was a really fun way to help players build themed towns and share letters by letting villagers carry them. That’s not possible in Pocket Camp for the time being.

There’s no Benefit to Visiting Other Players:

Even though visiting players is a very seamless process, there’s really no reason to do it other than to take care of kudos related stretch and daily goals. You can’t interact with the villagers being hosted in another person’s camp. You can’t really interact with the player either. You can give them kudos and view their marketplace listings, but you can do the latter in your own account’s open world if the player’s avatar is there (which they can’t control. It’s random).

So really the only other reason to visit a person’s camp is to see how they laid out their furniture and amenities. Which I admit is still nice, and I’ve already gotten some ideas by visiting people. But it gets old really fast, and I feel like this was an opportunity wasted. I’m really hoping Nintendo adds more reasons for us to visit each other in the future.

Final Thoughts: There’s a lot of Potential Here (Both Good and Bad)

Once again Nintendo is serving up a well polished app and is proving that their presence on the mobile platform is a game changer. Animal Crossing Pocket Camp is a very fun experience so far, and is an addictive yet also relaxing game to play. I absolutely plan to take my experiences from the Australian early access and use them to have even more fun once North America finally gets its own launch.

That being said there’s just too many unknowns right now for me to confidently say that Nintendo did the Animal Crossing series justice. There’s early warning signs of exploitative practices being put into play. Unfortunately it’s also way too early to tell if this game’s gray areas are simply false positives, or honest signs of a downhill spiral. Only time will tell.

I’m personally hoping that Nintendo continues their track record of relatively fair mobile practices, because what we have so far is fun, relaxing, and nostalgic.

That was one HELL of a long review, but if you made it through I sincerely thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Pocket Camp? Have you tried playing it already? Will you be playing once it launches in your country? Feel free to let your thoughts be known in the comments below!

See you later~! ( ´ ▽ ` )ノ