When the original Doubutsu no Mori (Animal Forest) was released earlier this year for the Nintendo 64, designer Takashi Tezuka and his team knew they had created something special. The game became one of the few N64 titles in a while (other than those starring Mario) to sell a respectable amount of units, and gamers outside Japan clamored, wondering when this involving piece of software would make it to the West. Word got out that Nintendo was planning an American version of the game to be released by the end of the year, and there was much rejoicing. E3 2001 soon appeared, and Nintendo surprised all comers with their extended GameCube lineup, which included an enhanced port of Animal Forest. Now with the N64 practically dead and buried, Nintendo has instead decided to debut Animal Forest to Western gamers with a polished GameCube version. On December 14, the Japanese version of Animal Forest Plus was released and its changes and additions can now be explored.

Never felt quite so sunny

   The premise of Animal Forest has not changed in the slightest: taking the role of either a male or female human, players are shuttled by locomotive to the magical Animal Forest to start a new life. Beginning with staking claim by purchasing their own house, players start a daily routine of earning money, checking the village bulletin board for notices of new events or messages from other inhabitants, and receiving letters sent by acquaintances and delivered by a postal pelican. The theme of communication holds quite a bearing on the game, as talking with shopkeepers or even random villagers affects your character's growth and others' opinions about you. It's a gradual transformation though, because Animal Forest is literally a year-round game. The GameCube's internal clock dictates the advancement of daily life in the forest: day becomes night and Winter becomes Spring just as it does in the real world, and the citizens celebrate holidays on the same days us flesh-and-blood humans do. Graphics in the game are virtually the same as those in the N64 version; aside from some slightly enhanced clarity in textures, the polygon counts are largely the same as on N64.

There'll be smooth sailin' 'cause I'm trimmin' my sails

   Animal Forest Plus also holds the unique distinction of being the first GameCube game to offer Game Boy Advance connectivity. Using the GameCube's GBA Cable (released alongside the Japanese version of the game), players can download a minigame known as Animal Island to their Game Boy Advance units. The island also appears in the 3D GameCube version whenever the GBA is connected, enabling the player to take a ferry to the island and interact with the lone animal that lives there. Once the GBA is disconnected, Animal Island becomes a virtual pet game of sorts as you feed and take care of the island's lone inhabitant, as well as earn items that can be sent back to the GameCube. Animal Island is stored in the GBA's miniscule RAM, so once the power is turned off completely or another game is played, all of its data is erased and will have to be downloaded again. (Luckily there is a standby mode in case a break needs to be taken.) Aside from Animal Island, one can also download a "painting" program and design or edit patterns of certain textures for the GameCube game, which can be applied to rugs, your clothes, wallpaper and even the flag that waves outside your home. This texture creating can already be done in the main game by visiting the village tailor, but being able to do so while on the go provides some degree of convenience.

   Another way to communicate in Animal Forest is with some of your real-life friends. Up to four people can become residents of Animal Forest, all living in seperate houses on one person's memory card. Although simultaneous play isn't part of the fun, players can still send letters and post messages on the bulletin board to one another. Alternatively, one player can "visit" another's village and become an NPC of sorts, without having to play on the other's system. The value of this form of communication seems to be peripheral rather than beneficial to a purely single-player experience.

Ask me when will the day be

   One part of Animal Forest Plus that is sure to draw in otherwise uninterested gamers in the inclusion of a small selection of Famicom (NES) games. One can purchase a Famicom unit for use in their house, and acquire game cartridges through stores, contests and other such events. The original N64 roster of games consisted of fun but ultimately forgettable titles such as Pinball and Clu Clu Land, but the GameCube version adds some more appreciated classics, including the boxing game Punch-Out!!.

   Animal Forest Plus may not claim the same amount of fanfare as today's most-hyped next generation games, but its ever-changing, ever-growing world and uncommon concepts in communication and connectivity seem to represent the best of these new times. Nintendo has so far refrained from announcing an English version of AF Plus, but hopefully more gamers outside of Japan will be able to appreciate Animal Forest's simple looking exterior and experience its incredibly deep interior sometime this year.

Preview by Ray Barnholt, GIA.
Animal Forest Plus
Developer Nintendo
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Simulation
Medium Disc
Platform Nintendo GameCube
Release Date  12.14.01
Spaceworld: Animal Forest GameCube / GBA connectivity
23 screenshots