Over the past few years, communication in games has become a two-way street -- no longer does the player just respond to a static series of challenges, but the game responds as well to how those challenges are met. This has brought a more personalized experience to gaming, and Nintendo seeks to take that experience to a new level with Animal Forest.
Animal Forest puts you in the role of a de facto Dr. Dolittle. The game begins with a train ride into a forest where animals have set up their own human-like society: purchasing a house means working through a racoon realtor, letters are delivered via pelican, and the police dog actually runs the department.
Playing Paul Bunyan
How you fit into this animal community is dependant on your actions. You can buy clothes and furniture according to your tastes, as a job provides money for both necessities and more fun items such as CDs and pets. By cutting down trees or digging up the ground, you can have a distinct effect on the physical environment of the forest as well.
What takes Animal Forest beyond mere interaction is the level at which you communicate with your fellow forest dwellers. The game emphasizes the relationships between you and the animals, all of whom have distinct personalities. Treating the nerdy goat kindly means you develop a closer friendship with him, which may affect how actions unfold or your friendships with other animals.
The forest during winter
What also sets Animal Forest apart is the real-time clock, which also acts here as a real-time calendar. Not only do night and day correspond to life outside the game, but so do the months and the seasons. This means Christmas Eve for your family is also Christmas Eve in the forest, and the game can't be fully exploited unless played at various times and days throughout the year.
Special cards are awarded when tasks are completed correctly, and Nintendo has promised over 20 items and 600 cards to be collected. Your unique character can be saved to a controller pak and introduced into another Animal Forest cartridge, where the creatures, items, and relationships may be wildly different. NES systems can also be found inside forest houses, and each system may hold a different classic game.
With the recent announcement that Animal Forest is set for a worldwide release, the barren Nintendo 64 release schedule has gained its most promising title. If Animal Forest can take advantage of its unique set-up and extensive real-time world, then it may prove a more compelling play then any communication game yet seen.
Preview by Ed McGlothlin, GIA.