Just the right mix of charm and fun, Animal Crossing: New Leaf explores the lighter side of being a town mayor.

User Rating: 8.5 | Animal Crossing: New Leaf 3DS

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the latest in Nintendo's charming series that features plenty of bug collecting, fishing, diving and shopping in an attempt to build up your small hamlet of a town into a bustling center of activity, both for yourself and your neighbors.

When you start the game, you are given the option of choosing your name, gender and your town name, via a conversation with the legendary cat Rover. You're soon deposited in your new town, with no money or anything. Not to worry, the helpful Tom Nook soon gets you set up in a tent, for a modest fee, of course.

There is a tutorial of sorts that gets you up to speed on bug catching and fishing and digging up fossils, as well as collecting seashells and picking fruit to earn your first bags of Bells (the currency in the game).

When you first start the game, you confirm the date and time and the game runs in real time, based on your date. This means that day will slowly turn into night in game, certain bugs and fish are only available at certain times of day, special events happen on special days of the year,etc. As the seasons change, your town will experience rain and snow as well. Nights in the game are particularly peaceful and relaxing and you may find yourself popping into your town right before bed and catching a few fish or chatting up your neighbors.

Neighbors will move into your town randomly until you have about ten or so homes built in your town. They will give you little quests, like giving you items to deliver, bury time capsules for them to be unearthed later or sending you on errands for furniture or fruit. They will also get the urge to leave occasionally, and you can ask them to stay if you've grown attached to them, or if you want a change, you can let them leave.

The main difference in this version of Animal Crossing, compared to the previous one, is the fact that you are now mayor of your town. This means you can enact ordinances, like early riser or night owl ones which let shops open earlier or stay open later. You can also start public works projects, like fountains and street lamps, as well as upgrading certain stores. You can get donations for these projects, but your neighbors seem like a pretty frugal lot, so you'll have to fork over most of the Bells yourself.

Your animal-esque neighbors aren't just mindless zombies, either. You'll see them frequent the same shops you visit and buy items. They'll shake down trees for fruit, swing nets to catch bugs, cast their lines to reel in fish and even spend time relaxing at the local museum or coffee shop.

When you tire of your town, you can ride the rails via your local train station and hit up some of your friends' towns. Anyone that is on your friends list and opens their town gates is fair game. If you add them as a best friend, you can then see when they pop online and can type messages to them from your town as well.

Early in the game, you gain access to a tropical island where it's always sunny and there's an exclusive island store that would make Gilligan giggle like a schoolgirl. There are also a ton of mini games that you can play there as well, like balloon popping, ore finding and bug catching, to earn medals that you can spend at the island shop.

The visuals are simple and effective, bright colors pop during the day and at night the more subdued palette adds to the tranquil atmosphere. The cheery, upbeat music punctuates your town during the day and slowly fades to a subtle yet whimsical melody as the sun sets.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is dripping with undeniable charm. Whether chatting up your virtual neighbors or enjoying a local brew at your friendly town coffee shop, there's something around the corner thats bound to put a smile on your face.