Animal Crossing: New Leaf has been a long time coming. First announced with the 3DS back in 2010, it's been out in Japan since last November, selling ludicrously well whilst we cast jealous glares in their direction – but it seems we won't have to wait too much longer, as it's due to hit Europe in June. The game begins, as always, with you moving to a new town inhabited by animals – but there's been a mistake and you've been mistaken for the new Mayor by the town secretary, Isabelle. Not being one to disappoint them, you take to your new duties like a duck to water and set about creating your own personalised town – building a bench here, some street lights there and just generally making the place a nicer place to live.
Lets rewind a bit. The Animal Crossing games revolve around an addictive cycle of earning money by doing all manner of everyday things – delivering letters for the other characters, a spot of fishing and fossil hunting or selling off fruit shook from the village's trees - and then spending your hard earned cash on more furniture or a larger house to put it in. Customisation and collection are the name of the game, whether it's changing your home's furnishings and decorations or your human character's appearance and clothes, to catching all the fish and insects to fill up the town museum – there's always something to do, and the game carries on pretty much indefinitely. There's also a huge number of anthropomorphic animals to befriend, who's fragile self-esteem requires them to be constantly showered with gifts, letters, and attention lest they go off in a huff and think you've forgotten them.
With Animal Crossing: New Leaf, your creative freedom has now been extended to the entire town – you can now erect all manner of community buildings to brighten up the place, from bridges and bandstands to windmills and flowered arches and many, many more – including a camp site, which lets characters from outside your town come and visit for a few days. They've also upped the ante with the customisation options too, letting you create your own patterns for many of the furnishings you buy – as well as giving you the ability to totally change the exterior appearance of your humble abode. Before you could only change the colour of your roof, but now you can live in everything from an elegant stone town house to a tasty gingerbread abode and all sorts in between. Outfits aren't limited to single cover-all pieces either, and are now split up into tops, bottoms and shoes, giving you even more choice than before.
Season veterans may well be surprised to hear that the tyrannical loan-shark-come-landlord-come-shop-keeper Tom Nook has been usurped by loads of other shop keepers selling a wider variety of stuff. The Re-Trail shop, run by a couple of alpacas has partially replaced the racoon's retail empire, letting you flog all your unwanted shells, fruit and stuff on for precious Bells (the game's currency). It's also more of a second-hand shop, in which you can put your unwanted furniture and items up for sale for visiting friends or animal inhabitants to buy instead, as well as letting you re-upholster your furniture with new designs. Tom Nook himself is still present and correct though, having teamed up with insurance agent Lyle to provide you with new rooms, expansions and other additions to your house – after all, it's hard to keep the cold-hearted megalomaniac down, especially when he smells the potential to make a quick bell or two.
The new Main Street area houses all the important shops and stores – including the obligatory General Store, run by Nook's nephews Timmy and Tommy, which sells a different selection of furniture every day, along with staples like medicine, paper and equipment like shovels, fishing rods and slingshots. With all the new clothing options, there's obviously stores for shoes (obviously the shoe-shiner from Let's Go To The City made a killing), alongside the Able Sisters clothes shop for all your other outfits and accessories. Perfect for displaying some of your favourite collections or stashing items you've run out of space for, you can also upgrade the town museum to add a second floor for your own exhibits. There's a few new items too, such as the Megaphone, which lets you shout the names of your villagers into the 3DS' microphone to call out to them, and the direction they yell back from lets you know whereabouts they are – which is sure to come in handy when you have an urgent delivery to make.
Time in Animal Crossing passes at the same speed as in the real world – night time will be dark, Christmas day will be Christmas day, and your virtual friends get fed up if you don't show up for months at a time. But now you're mayor, you're also able to pass laws to tell your denizens how to behave, like some kind of cute and fluffy dictatorship. You can choose to to turn your town into “an early bird town”, where everyone presumably rises early and goes to bed early, or force them to become “a night owl town”, where shops stay open long into the night – perfect for those who, like us, tend to do most of our playing before bed. There's also a couple of more obtuse options, letting you make your village into “a beautiful town” or “a wealthy town” - perhaps boosting your inhabitants interior design skills or making them more flush with their cash.
With the jump to Nintendo's next generation handheld also comes a giant leap in multiplayer options. Much like before, you can have your friends over to play in your town, fishing and bopping villagers with bug nets to your hearts content, or competing in a whole host of tropical island mini-games together. Arriving via Kapp'n's boat from the mainland, you and your friends can swim in the sea, dive for treasures at the bottom and buy island-exclusive items. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the island are it's tours, where players work together to find all the fruit in a maze, or bash a motorised Resetti with hammers. Depending on how well you do in each mini-game you'll receive a medal, which can then be exchanged at the store for souvenirs to take home. You can also admire random people's houses through the magic of StreetPass in the Happy Home Showcase on Main Street or visit a stranger's towns over the internet by falling asleep in the Dream Suite – a convenient way to explain why nothing you do is saved to prevent random players can't wreck your village while you're away.
It certainly seems like the new Animal Crossing is going to be chock-a-block with things to do, which makes the four month wait all the more difficult - we don't know about you, but we're counting down the days until it's release on the 14th of June. Especially now they've fixed our one little niggle – that everyone was always in bed whenever we tried to play. Hooray!