NS Review – Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival (Wii U)
Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival’s board game mode has players doing almost nothing for its entirety. That’s not to say it’s never fun. ‘Funny’ might be the more accurate word, actually. It’s not everyday a video game puts somebody on the verge of a tears while lamenting their bad luck throughout the game, only to have their fortune reversed right at the end, crying with happiness and thanking Jingle the black-nosed reindeer for his benevolence. But any potential enjoyment will depend entirely on the players’ engagement with it. In terms of player input, it’s the furthest thing from a video game that I’ve ever played.
For context, I played this game with a friend for a large amount of time, using only what was included in the bundle pack: Isabelle and Digby Amiibo figures, along with three Amiibo Cards.
As far as the visuals go, Amiibo Festival is undoubtedly charming and cute. The colourful world and adorable characters are perfectly placed in a game like this, and seeing an Animal Crossing game in HD is a treat. The board changes aesthetically to suit each month, and that’s the type of Animal Crossing-esque touch this game needed more of. Keep in mind you won’t see many of the characters unless you have their Amiibo figure or card; you fill up your board and plaza with villagers by tapping in their Amiibo, so you’ll be playing in a ghost town without many of them.
The first thing the game does is throw players straight into a board game. The aim is to earn the most Happy Points through the month, with each turn representing one day. Players earn an extra point for every thousand Bells they finish with. Anyone using an Amiibo figure will gain an extra Happy Point per day, but non-Amiibo users have the benefit of pressing an actual button to take their turn. There are events that will be exclusive to particular months; for example the aforementioned Jingle only appears in December.
On their turn a player will roll the dice, and lose or gain Bells and Happy Points based on what their character has done. It can be quite endearing seeing the little things that can please or sadden the characters. When one character fell asleep on the beach and lost a bag of Bells to the tide we went from genuine “aww”s at their sadness, to laughter as the Bells floated extremely slowly out of shot while the character looked on from only yards away. It definitely suits the vibe of the game though. It’s so relaxed that I’m not surprised the villager didn’t dive in to save their Bells.
Regular visitors to the town include Redd, Katrina, Katie, Dr. Shrunk and Phineas. These characters appear randomly and anyone that lands on a space will trigger their event. The characters’ dialogue on these spaces quickly gets tedious, especially for the miniscule prizes they offer. This becomes all too noticeable because there simply aren’t enough visitors; the Gamepad was in danger of being thrown at our TV screen when Dr. Shrunk appeared four times in the same game. With so many Animal Crossing characters it’s a mystery why they couldn’t include more. An option to skip the dialogue would have been extremely welcome. Players can collect stamps from a Gyroid at each corner of the board for plenty of Happy Points, so most games ended up with our characters running around the edges rather than following the middle paths.
The game is typically won and lost through the stalk market, as Joan’s turnips have a ridiculous influence on who will win. Every Sunday, players can buy Joan’s turnips in packs of ten, and then try and sell them for a higher price during the next week. Each space will be given a turnip value, and from there the game becomes less about individual events and more about scrambling to land on the space that sells turnips for over 500 Bells apiece. A player becomes nigh-untouchable if they buy as many turnips as their finances allow, and then sell them for five times as much. It’s comically unbalanced, but it makes for the most exciting moments as everyone anxiously waits to see if turnip prices will rise in value or come crashing down.
There are no mini-games integrated with the board game (no Katie, I don’t count your ‘higher-or-lower card’ shenanigans as a mini-game) meaning the outcome is down to luck and gambling. The ending is barely ceremonious too. There’s no dramatic reverse-order reveal of the winner à la Mario Party, and the game is quick to ship the players back to the plaza for another round. It’s a suitable ending for how bare-bones and relaxed the game feels. There isn’t any drama or tension in the way anything is presented, and that’s something that even the lackluster Mario Party titles were able to accomplish.
Happy Points can be saved to each Amiibo figure after a game, and they unlock more costumes as they level up. This is a welcome if unsurprising feature, and it does offer some incentive to keep playing. You’ll need to play a terrifying number of games to fully level your Amiibo character though, and everyone but the most hardcore of completionists will grow bored long before this point.
Any Happy Points earned through the board game will contribute towards earning Happy Tickets, which are used to unlock the various bonus games. Desert Island Escape is the most engaging mode in the entire package; you navigate a small island with three villagers and must use your steps wisely to find items on the map. Three logs and a sail are needed to escape but you also need to ensure you have enough food each day. It’s a pleasant single-player game that can be enjoyed in a group more than many of the multiplayer offerings. You select your villagers via the Amiibo cards, and each character has a particular strength. I didn’t have any extra cards so used the same three characters every time; Stitches, Goldie and Rosie seem to enjoy being marooned.
The next-best experience is a surprisingly challenging trivia quiz about all things Animal Crossing. It would be fun if it wasn’t hindered by its design choices; the answers are shown on the Gamepad, while the question and characters are shown on the screen. Players can only ‘buzz in’ using their Amiibo card when the spotlight is over their character, and are penalised for buzzing in at any other time. Presumably this is to prevent players tapping Amiibo cards at the same time and potentially damaging them, but it’s an awkward and frustrating solution.
The remainder of the attractions are quick-fire minigames that use the Amiibo cards as the controller. There’s the whack-a-mole style game – Resetti Bop – that is devoid of any fun because the NFC reader isn’t responsive enough. Acorn Chase has you awkwardly navigating three villagers to collect all of the fruit, each card representing a direction in which to move. It’s as fiddly as it sounds. Balloon Island is a pachinko-style game that has the least player input of the lot. I recommend unlocking Fruit Path last or not at all. Generally the minigames are a drab affair and there’s an inevitable danger of damaging the cards too, which nobody wants.
Happy Tickets can also be used to add buildings and attractions to your board. This starts with aesthetic extras like flower arrangements and parks, along with series regulars like the Reset Centre and café. Essentially your board is your own town; the additional buildings can trigger different scenes and unlock new pathways on the board. You can add villagers to the town by with their Amiibo card. It gives a satisfying sense of progression in a similar vein to the main series, with the player able to personalise their own town as much as the game allows. This doesn’t go further than simply placing them somewhere on the map, but it’s nice to have that familiar feeling that the main games offer in abundance.
Sadly it’s not quite enough to give the same sense of accomplishment, and Amiibo Festival is lacking in too many areas to be recommendable. I had some fun playing it for a brief time, and Animal Crossing aficionados will find something to their liking, but even then the basic package is overpriced. There are now 200 cards to collect, and soon there will be 12 figures. To take a slightly stringent perspective, this means a ridiculously large amount of money spent to enjoy the full package, characters and all. The game’s director had sincerely admitted that the game is a vehicle for the Amiibo products, so it’s to be expected, but a lot more content is needed to justify this.
Some content will be locked even with the basic bundle. I didn’t have enough cards to play Mystery Campers or Amiibo Card Battle, so you will need to get more of them if you want to experience everything available. You’re not missing out.