Oh, life! There's always something or other not quite right with our lives...you don't make enough money, someone won't pay attention to you, the dog piddles on your PS2. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a place where everybody liked your company and you could do whatever you felt like, whenever you felt like it? That's what Nintendo is providing with Animal Crossing—a perfect world in a 3-inch disc.
Animal Crossing takes place entirely within a small village, bordered by an ocean to the south, rock walls to the east and west, and a railroad track to the north. The game begins when you name your character and move him into this town, which is randomly generated every time you start over. You're penniless in the beginning, but Tom Nook, the local shopkeeper, has a lovely little house (complete with a Gyroid, a little wooden creature who saves items for you) that he'll let you stay in as long as you work for him to pay for the place. A little indentured servitude, if you will.
After you finish up a few odd jobs for Mr. Nook, he'll chill out and let you pay off the money by yourself. Once this happens, you're free to do whatever you want—talk with the village's strange inhabitants, catch fish and bugs, go hunting for buried treasure, or simply try collecting as much random junk as possible. As you give Tom more money, he'll upgrade the size of your establishment, which gives you extra space to put in furniture, accessories, NES games, and more amusing stuff.
And, really, that's the game in a nutshell. Nothing big, you see. But somewhere behind this innocent simplicity, Nintendo has piled up sheer mountains of items to discover, topics to discuss, mini-games to enjoy, and secrets to unravel. The animals you run into—they move in and out of town as time passes—each have their own little idiosyncrasies they insert into their conversations. They all act kind of like that one slightly weird member of your family. They've always got something weird to talk about--your favorite color, how they played volleyball in school, how you've been putting on weight, or how they'd love to trade you for that stunning T-shirt you're wearing.
This would be fun enough by itself, but it's enormously enhanced by the GameCube's internal clock. The world of Animal Crossing cycles between night and day, just like in the real world. If it's 4 p.m. when you turn on the game, it will be 4 p.m. in your village and everyone will comment on how late you are in getting up. Your town celebrates holidays and holds special events all year, which means there's almost always something new to check out every day you play. (You might be tempted to mess around with the GameCube clock to see all this, but that's not a very good idea—if you go time traveling too much, you're liable to damage your town irrevocably.)
The more time you spend, the more neat things you discover. The Able Sisters let you design and create your own clothing; you can even put it up for sale and watch as your neighbors buy and wear your design. Up to four human players can live in the same town; otherwise, you can pop in your friend's memory card and visit his home village (and find out from the animals what he's really like). If you have a Game Boy Advance with a Link Cable, you can take a boat ride down to a tropical island filled with secret items. If you can find any NES games (they're kind of rare), you can play them on the TV screen or on your GBA. It could be years before you see everything.
Animal Crossing is not meant to be played for hours at a time. It's more of a half-hour-a-day thing, really. That's all it takes to see what's new, visit everyone in town, and maybe send off a few letters to your in-game buddies. And, coincidentally, that's all it takes to fall in love with the game's goofy characters and pleasingly charming take on life. Playing Animal Crossing is the perfect way to rebound from a bad day—it's impossible not to feel better after a visit to the village.