Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a perfectly serviceable entry into the series, until the new mobile game reminds you that could be spending money on it.
When you open up Pocket Camp it’s unsettling how much it looks and feels like the other Animal Crossing games. You’re first greeted by K.K. Slider, then Isabelle, two fan favorite characters, who get you set up in your campsite. From there, things feel comfortingly familiar. You can earn bells by completing favors for villagers, and in turn you can use those bells to buy new clothes as well as some furniture to upgrade your campsite. In Animal Crossing games, you’re a newcomer to a small village in the woods. The details of your arrival are different from game to game—in the most recent one, New Leaf, you become the mayor—but the overall goal is the same. You meet some animals, weed the weeds, and generally make your town a nice place to live. The same is mostly true for Pocket Camp, except it’s a camp rather than a town.
There are more explicit overtures towards the other games as well. Last year’s update to New Leaf added Town Initiatives, new quests that will earn you extra rewards. In that game, there were daily quests as well as quests that didn’t expire. They would earn you tokens to spend, interestingly enough, at a camp ground. That system is replicated almost one to one, except those tokens don’t exist and instead you can earn a variety of different rewards. There’s some throwbacks to Happy Home Designer as well. In that game you could visit other players’ homes and give them ratings, as well as leave them messages. That system has been simplified here. Sometimes you’ll run into players on the map and be able to visit their campsites. Once you’re there you can give them kudos. You can also visit any campsites from the villagers in your friends list at any time.
There’s even a few features I’d be happy to see in a future Animal Crossing game. In Pocket Camp, you can also set up a “Market Box” where other players can buy items from you. You can sell four items, and those items can’t be recovered from the Market Box regardless of whether or not they sell. It’s a bit clunky, but it has potential, especially as players begin to figure out what items you’ll need and which you can safely sell.
Even so, some aspects of Pocket Camp strain against the relaxing, friendly vibe of the Animal Crossing series. While you can buy a few items of furniture, for the most part you craft it. You earn crafting materials by completing requests from villagers. Once you collect all you need you go to the menu, select what piece of furniture you want, and you wait for it to be “completed.” A lot of objects only take a minute or two. Right now I am at the beginning of a seven hour wait to build an amp.
This is where Leaf Tickets come in. You can use leaf tickets to expedite a lot of the timers in Pocket Camp and otherwise make the game go a little quicker. Want that amp right now? You can use a Leaf Ticket for that. Not enough crafting materials for that lamp? Leaf ticket. Want to be able to craft more than one thing at a time? That costs 80 Leaf Tickets. You can also use Leaf Tickets to buy special paint jobs for your van, some of which cost up to 150 tickets. You can earn Leaf Tickets through quests, which is nice, and the game is pretty generous with them. After two days of playing I have 176 tickets. But if I bought this fancy paint job with the flowers all over it, I will have fewer tickets to use to expedite furniture orders.
The option to just buy your way to shorter timers and more materials is everywhere in this game. In the mainline Animal Crossing games, waiting is often the point. When you shake a tree for fruit in the main game, you won’t be able to get more fruit from that tree until the next day. Sometimes your animal friends will want to come over, but they’ll use vague words like “soon” or “in a little while” and you just have to remember to check in with them. In Pocket Camp, where the timers are very visible, I feel like I’m being taunted. Sure, fruit re-grows more frequently, after only a three hour wait, but knowing I have the option to spend money and instantly regrow it feels sleazy. When the wait is indeterminate and vague, I don’t feel that bad checking in on my town occasionally to see when things get done. When I know that amp will be done in another seven hours, I feel a stronger urge to just spend some money on it. Most of the timed quests reward you with Leaf Tickets, so I’ve got a stockpile for now, but I wonder how long that will last. Right now there’s also a special offer on Leaf Ticket bundles, as a pop up in the corner of my screen keeps telling me.
The most annoying example of this is Shovelstrike Mountain. Unlike the other Animal Crossing games, you can’t freely roam around in Pocket Camp. The map is split up into discrete areas—you fish over here, collect fruit over there. One such area, Shovelstrike Mountain, can only be entered once you ask five of your friends for help. Or, you can use twenty Leaf Tickets. Hm, I thought. Must be some great rewards there! No. You have five chances to use a shovel to break five rocks to find geodes, and then you get a reward based on what you find. I earned 1,500 bells and eight preserves. Bells really aren’t hard to come by in Pocket Camp—I’d had over 10,000 of them that morning—and I’d already earned 40 preserves by just completing requests. I have a sizeable friendslist and was able to get help from friends to enter Shovelstrike Mountain quite quickly. Most players aren’t like me, and can’t gain a dozen friends in about fifteen minutes because they have over ten thousand followers on Twitter. Prior to tweeting out my friend code, I only met two or three other players a day, and there was no guarantee that they would accept my friend request or accept my request for help at Shovelstrike Monutain. In fact, I almost did spend Leaf Tickets on it before realizing I had other options. And once I got there, the results were incredibly disappointing. I can’t help but think that other players are going to feel ripped off by this deal.
There are times when playing Pocket Camp feels just like playing any other Animal Crossing game. When you make friends with a villager or even when time passes and the game goes from afternoon to night I get a strong pull of nostalgia. Becoming friends with villagers is especially cute. After you complete enough requests for them, they’ll invite you on a short outing and you’ll see an animation of you and your friend checking out their bug collection or standing around a barbecue. It’s the intimacy of these moments that I love, and that remind me of the series that I’ve enjoyed for years. These games are a place of comfort, with an ethos that asks you to sit back and enjoy the country life.
Other times, Pocket Camp feels more like something Tom Nook would sell you—something predatory, dishonest, and trying to squeeze more and more money out of you. These two things butt heads against each other, and they make the world of Animal Crossing feel a little tainted. I would actually pay an embarrassing amount of money for Animal Crossing on the Switch, and even though I am enjoying Pocket Camp for now, at the end of the day it’s leaving a sour taste in my mouth.