Animal Crossing is one of those games that sounds a little... naff, we suppose, on the surface. After all, how can spending a day weeding, paying off a mortgage and playing postman for a herd of talking animals sound that exciting? But there's something about Animal Crossing's unhurried, free-form nature that makes it the ultimate relaxing game, whether you like kicking back your heels and fishing in the stream, collecting every single piece of furniture like some kind of obsessive-compulsive wardrobe-loving magpie or enjoy terrorising your neighbours with a butterfly net. A seemingly never-ending cycle of mortgages and house expansions give you some kind of goal to work towards, while your friendly animal neighbours always have something for you to help with, meaning that life in the world of Animal Crossing is never dull, no matter how it might sound to an outsider.
While it's not really the Wii U Animal Crossing release we were all hoping for, Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival, which was announced at last night's Nintendo Direct presentation, is a rather unexpected, cute little party game featuring characters from the much-loved life sim. Essentially a board game, you play through the months of the Animal Crossing calendar, competing with your friends to make your villager the happiest one in town. As you play, little note pages pop up, telling a little tale of what happened that day, whether it was a game of tag, having a makeover at Shampoodle or taking part in a video game tournament - although there was no sign of any Mario Party-style mini-games, which is a tad disappointing, especially as you'd imagine Animal Crossing would lend itself to a fair few little games - weeding competitions, fishing face-offs and hide and seek to name but a few...
As you can probably guess from the title, your Amiibo collection will be front and centre with Amiibo Festival - with new figures of Isabelle and Tom Nook being added to the line up. Whether they're essential to the game or whether they simply add another layer to the experience remains to be seen, although we're betting on the former. You'll be able to save your accumulated Happy Points onto your Amiibo too, and use them to "expand your own game even more", suggesting there'll be some kind of unlock system tied to your total points too, while special Animal Crossing Amiibo cards can apparently be used in "fun mini-games". But don't worry if you're currently Amiibo-less - it looks like Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival will come bundled with two figures, of your assistant Isabelle and her brother Digby, the Happy Home Showcase overlord/guardian, as well as three of the cards, meaning you and at least one friend should be able to play from the get-go.
But Nintendo haven't forgotten their 3DS fans either, promising a handheld-specific, unique Animal Crossing spin-off, which plays up to one of the franchises strengths - interior design. The Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer lets your creativity run wild in a game that's entirely about designing, furnishing and decorating houses, both inside and out, for the series' cutesy anthropomorphic animal inhabitants. Again with the whole Amiibo thing, Happy Home Designer will support the new collectable Amiibo cards, each with a different Animal Crossing character on - by tapping these to your console, you can bring the character in question into your game, some of which will have requests for you to complete. Included in the box with a copy of the game and a couple of Amiibo cards is the new Nintendo 3DS NFC Reader/Writer device, which wirelessly communicates, via infrared, with your 3DS console, letting you summon the Amiibo character into your game - although in theory, those of you who upgraded to the improved new 3DS/new 3DS XL consoles should have the NFC Reader functionality already built in.
Both Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival and Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer will be hitting stores before the end of the year, with the former coming to the Wii U sometime around Christmas and the latter hitting the 3DS on the 25th September.