Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Animal Crossing: Wild World

Animal Crossing: Wild World

Spring 2006 Video Games
Ages: 8 & Up
Price: $34.99
Gaming System: Nintendo DS
In this sequel to Nintendo GameCube's offbeat, family-friendly Animal Crossing game of a couple years ago, players create themselves as big-headed little characters who live in an graphically-rich virtual real-time world where there's always something to do and someone to meet.

Players start off with a sparsely furnished home in the village. Earning money to pay for additions and upgrades to their furnishing, personal possessions and lives in general, they wander the expansive village grounds, streams and forests to catch bugs, collect fossils, hook fish, shake tradable fruit from trees (yes, money grows on trees here!), gather items, even slingshot valuable stuff from the blue sky to donate to the village's museum collection or sell for cash.

All that work translates into accumulated possessions—hats, sunglasses, new clothes, new furniture, etc.—that is all inventoried automatically so a player can check his or her goods any time.

There's also lots of chatting with towns folk, wacky characters and animals that cross your path—some of it helpful advice on proceeding through the game. The dialogue seems needlessly endless at times, however, even tedious. It's all typed out as it's spoken in dialogue balloons but the sound is in Animal Crossing gibberish that gets annoying fast. The soundtrack, too, is fantasy-world weird and after awhile requires turning down the sound.

Regularly-scheduled events, such as fun flea markets, holiday celebrations, and visits from interesting strangers from other villages, are posted in real-time. Even when the DS is off and the young player's sound asleep, life goes on in Animal Crossing, you see. That event scheduled for tomorrow at noon really does take place tomorrow at noon—one of the intriguing charms of this game.

The biggest change over the original Animal Crossing is that the DS version is Wi-Fi enabled, meaning that a player who has a wireless Wi-Fi connection to the Internet can play in his village with up to three other similarly equipped friends, and he or she can go to their villages. It's a technological wow that for some makes the game and for others might prove to be a so-what element that convinces the kid that playing with a real-life friends in real life is somehow better than in a virtual reality on a 3-inch-by-3-inch screen.

Caveat: This is an engaging game experience. Maybe too engaging for some kids. The inevitable downside of a well-made game like this one that sort of plods along almost like life itself is that it lasts seemingly forever (several weeks of play). And kids sometimes tend to displace real life with its small-world fun and games. Ironically, many of the “activities” in the village that seem like so much fun are basically the chores kids avoid in real life—menial tasks like housecleaning, watering flowers, digging holes, chopping wood, landscaping, etc. In fact, they're the very tasks they sometimes don't get done because they're playing video games!

But there's a real upside to the game as well. Players may find out that work, even menial chores, can add up to personal accomplishment. Those who stick to it eventually pay off their house mortgages and enlarge their homes, filling them with all sorts of nice accessories right down to choosing different wallpapers and new furniture. In that sense, their virtual home becomes a reflection of themselves—an accumulation of the choices they've earned.

So in this game, there's no goal per se, such as defeating the evil aliens, not even winning the ballgame. The only goal is to do well and improve your virtual life by interacting with others and working hard. Not a bad lesson to learn—virtually or in real life.

Don Oldenburg   ©2006 Parents' Choice
A former feature writer and consumer columnist at The Washington Post for 22 years, Don Oldenburg is the Director of Publications and Editor of the National Italian American Foundation, in Washington, D.C. He regularly reviews books for USA Today and is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion" (Avalon Travel). The proud father of three sons, he lives with his journalist-author wife, Ann Oldenburg, in McLean, VA.

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