Developer: Nintendo EPD, Nd Cube
Earlier this year, Animal Crossing decided to branch out a bit. Certainly, it's been pollinating multiplayer franchises in Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8's DLC, but for once it inspired a spinoff in the form of Happy Home Designer — a game about doing only one thing of many which are offered in a traditional Animal Crossing title. Our interest quickly withered, and cast a shadow on expectations toward the upcoming Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival game just months away.
Furthermore, the developer of AC: amiibo Festival is no longer in-house, but Nintendo subsidiary Nd Cube, otherwise known for lackluster titles such as the last two Mario Party console games, Mario Party: Island Tour, and the Wii Party series. None of this sounds particularly appealing, but who are we to judge a new project before it hit shelves? The only choice was to wait for amiibo Festival to arrive on store shelves and play it for ourselves.
Just as time passes in Animal Crossing, time passed at the same rate in the real world until, inevitably, Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival was released. So how did it turn out? Have we drawn out an introduction simply to be cruel before tearing into a game? Maybe just the opposite?
In fact, it may be that having hopes lowered as amiibo Festival neared came to help it in our case. While I'm not sure what to have expected, the closest parallel to draw was Mario Party, and this certainly isn't that, and thank God for that. Instead, AC: amiibo Festival is much more of a family board game than anything — and to that end has no formal competition outside of itself when drawing up designs on how to play.
Minigames do exist, but must be unlocked over time by playing rounds of the board game. We'll get to them in time, stop rushing me. Relax a little bit. Take a load off and take your turn on the board.
Set at a much more relaxed pace than Mario Party or any subsequent party or board game, a round of amiibo Festival takes place over a month of the game — each turn comprising of a day in that month. Depending on the month chosen, certain holidays and events will occur on their date, along with seasonal changes to match. Play in December and it's snowy, play in January and it's still snowy — you get the idea. To be clear, amiibo Festival isn't tethered to your system clock, but entirely up to players what month they play for both practicality and variety's sake.
Certain traditions are scattered over the course of the week, as well, with one of the more impactful aspects being Joan's turnip market, allotting turnip values to spaces for a bit of gambling to take place while the market fluctuates before closing at the week's end. We're getting a bit ahead of ourselves here, but the point is that Animal Crossing events translate more smoothly than expected, and are used in a generally rational manner.
Players are competing to finish each month with the most Happy Points — this game's version of whatever the hell other party games use to determine a winner — which can be accumulated by earning them outright through events on the board, and additionally broken down into one for every 100 Bells players finish with. The only other means of grabbing Happy Points are to stop by all four stamp locations on the board (usually placed at the furthest ends) to fill out a card for incrementally increasing amounts with each fraction gained. It's a fine scoring system that's easy to grasp, and just as easy to be steamrolled by a player who's had bad luck, but a king's ransom in their wallet.
Moving around the board first involves rolling for an amount of spaces to move, done by placing a player's respective amiibo over the Wii U gamepad. Depending on where they land, they'll watch an event play out which will give or take Bells, Happy Points, or both (with an occasional item now and then), and at this point we've reached the core game: watching cutscenes.
While there's probably a more demeaning way to phrase amiibo Festival's gameplay, it's exactly the sort of thing that people are so upset about the game being about. Players roll, move their character, watch a brief event play out, and reap the tile's consequence. Events change, rotating between callbacks like a fishing tournament, or interacting with a special visitor when landing on their space, but the outcome is almost always a transaction of Bells or Happy Points. It sounds boring, and for anyone who's not invested in Animal Crossing, will also be boring. For those entering amiibo Festival out of fondness for the franchise, the outcome is more difficult to predict, as for me I ended up really enjoying what amiibo Festival delivered here.
I can wait while you go back and read the last sentence again. And in my defense, I'm also not insane. The fact is that Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival delivers the exact experience that was missing for me in Happy Home Designer, being a relaxing one. Where Happy Home Designer gradually felt oppressive in offering no side activities outside of a day job scenario, amiibo Festival takes the relaxing atmosphere of Animal Crossing and brings it into a laid-back board game that's perfect for winding down at the day's end.
Watching the adorable interactions between your character and their day about town is a huge part of what's so endearing about Animal Crossing, and Nd Cube understands that essence, at the very least. The board game is almost secondary, although necessary, but a vehicle for delivering the warm minutia of nattering animals and their simple relationships.
And so, this was my experience with Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival. I played it in evenings with my girlfriend, and with rounds lasting about 45 minutes on their own, enjoyed a low-key game that was more interactive and reliably comforting than watching something on Netflix.
That's not to say it's a remarkable title, but it's certainly perfect for one or two very specific use cases. By my measure, you're either an Animal Crossing addict, or you're looking to wind down with some video game comfort food. It helps if there's a combination of the two, but outside of these areas are a swath of folks who'll find the low-energy game to be tedious, dull, or a cheap cash-in on amiibo. The last category being true for the most part, as the team openly stated they began the project as an excuse to create Animal Crossing amiibo. While the amiibo turned out to be high-quality figurines, it's difficult to support decisions like offloading your ip to the first developer you reckon can accommodate that impulse — whether or not you're patient enough to wait for a better opportunity.
It's also rather slim on actual content. There may be 12 months, but I can't recall any variation in the board layout between them. Holidays, as well, are cemented in the reality of real-life holidays. The minigames that exist are shallow distractions set outside the board game in the town center, most of which are conceived around what players can do with amiibo cards, and a few which require more amiibo cards than are provided in the game. While Nintendo was gracious in providing us with the amiibo bundle for review purposes, we've not played the two minigames requiring six amiibo cards due to not going out and buying them outright. An extra card pack will be a necessary purchase for anyone looking to see the entirety of playable content.
Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival integrates the Animal Crossing universe quite well into a digital board game designed to encapsulate the relaxing experience players enjoy in traditional Animal Crossing games. The major hangup is midway between whether that's a game you have the patience for, and how interested you are in collecting amiibo paraphernalia to expand the base game. It's digital board gaming at its most basic, with a surprisingly sincere effort from a developer that seems burnt out on the genre. There's even a bit of cross-game support with Happy Home Designer data, where homes can be imported into amiibo Festival's boards for added zest.
There's absolutely no cause for this to be a title using amiibo or any other accessory, but presumably we're all hoping for the same thing — being that Nintendo has a life planned for the Animal Crossing amiibo beyond an obvious board game spinoff. All I'd really like to see are resources redirected toward the main series, rather than force-feeding us side projects to accomplish franchise status. Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival worked for me, but I suspect on accident, as the misappropriation of amiibo are an unmistakably financial obsession spoiling Nintendo's original zen garden. Here's hoping they weed out those issues before cultivating their next design.