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RELEASE DATE (NA): November 13, 2015 GENRE: Party/Board Game
// review by SoyBomb

Y amiibo amiibo!

Imagine a slightly younger me, visiting the local game store in search of wild and exotic deals, only to come across a large stack of boxes in a bargain bin. This was indeed a pile of unsold copies of Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival for the Wii U, complete with the game disc and two amiibo characters, all for the low, low price of $4.99. It was practically a steal! After all, a single amiibo can run two or three times that price, and this package included two AND a bonus retail game! How could I refuse?

Well, actually, I did refuse the first time because I wasn't all that interested in Animal Crossing having never played one before. But the second visit, I caved and made the purchase. And I have tried out this mysteriously cheap game, and, having done so, I can conclude that it was worth the hefty price tag.

Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is a Wii U retail-only release developed by NDcube, the folks behind the more recent Mario Party games from Mario Party 9 onward. With "amiibo" in the title, it's probable that this game was meant to capitalize on the Wii U GamePad's amiibo-reading functionality (as well as to sell a few extra amiibo figurines on the side). The game's director has even said directly that he made the game just so that Animal Crossing amiibos would be produced.

amiibo Festival is unlike any other Animal Crossing game. Whereas others are life simulation games, amiibo Festival plays like a board game similar to Mario Party... except without the mini-games... and a lot of the fun. Up to four players will need to tap their respective AC amiibos to the GamePad, and that will be their character. I ended up with an Isabelle and a Digby amiibo in my package, so I played as Digby because that's a hip name, and he sported a killer preppy ensemble.

Once everyone is settled and the turn order is determined (randomly, without your input), everyone has one month's worth of turns to rack up Happy Points and Bells (money) by landing on spaces with good or bad consequences. The month you play in matches whatever the Wii U calendar says, and the weather will reflect this as well. (Also, special events will occur on holidays and notable dates. I played during the month of April, and I had to deal with April Fools' gaffes, Easter follies, and a bit of preachiness on Earth Day.) After the month is completed, or your timer runs out, if you choose to implement one, the game is over, and whoever has the most Happy Points at the end is the winner. Any remaining Bells each character has is converted to Happy Points, so if you didn't have many points but racked up the cash, you could still win in theory.

Players can also win or purchase cards for use in gameplay, such as being able to move a specific number of spaces in a given turn or changing all the spaces on the board to deliver positive or negative results for everyone. Most of the time, however, you'll simply roll the die and move about, hoping whatever space you land on next will grant you good fortune. Landing on a purple space, for example, will dump you into an unfortunate scenario where you'll lose Happy Points (due to some sort of sadness or depressing situation) or money because something foolish happened, like you accidentally knock down a vase or have cherry blossom leaves fall in your tuna salad during a picnic. You know, truly outrageous events such as this... There are also four gyroids to visit in each corner that will give you a stamp; collect all four for mega-ultra-bonus Happy Points!

What fun. Much slow.

Characters from the Animal Crossing universe will pay you a visit as well. Joan the Sow will bring you turnips weekly that you can buy for a cost and then try to sell throughout the week for a profit. Katrina the fortune-teller can help bring good luck your way. And unfortunately, the extremely unfunny and far-more-boring-than-I-expected Dr. Shrunk also makes an appearance from time to time to give you free cards. Though he does provide something pleasant for your inventory, surviving through his dialogue is an absolute slog. Come to think of it, there IS a lot of unnecessary chatter in amiibo Festival used mostly for padding.

This leads to my biggest problem with amiibo Festival: the gameplay isn't terrible, but the pacing certainly is. This game moves along SLOWLY. If you're playing with friends, it's not so bad, although having to pass the GamePad between players and needing to tap the amiibo to the controller each time to roll dice adds a sluggish element to the mix. In single-player mode, however, you automatically have to play against three CPU-controlled characters, and you could easily have a couple of minutes of nothingness pass while the other participants take their actions... that is, unless they land on an event space, where you have to read what happened and press B to continue.

Finishing the main board game element twice unlocks additional modes and mini-games, such as Desert Island Escape, where team members have to work together to, uh, escape the desert island. Or how about Resetti Bop, based on that weird mole guy, where you pop balloons with hammers for some reason. Or Quiz Show... a... quiz... show... The problem is, will the majority of players really want to tackle this multiple times to earn those modes, or will they be too bored from the lethargic gameplay to keep going? Perhaps they'll push themselves forward if they paid full retail price for this.

At least the game looks pleasant enough. Every colour of the rainbow makes a million appearances throughout the "festival". All your favourite Animal Crossing characters are rendered in fine HD for the first time, perhaps quite a stark change if you've only been playing the portable titles. And the music... well, it's... there. Cheerful and tucked nicely in the background, it... was there, I think. Although there's nothing technically wrong with the soundtrack, I believe it's there to fill an otherwise empty void and nothing more. It sounds more like constant music from a menu.

I didn't love my trip to the amiibo Festival, but I also didn't hate it. In fact, I'm fairly neutral about the experience. It's a competent enough pastime of a game, but there simply aren't enough moments of excitement mixed in with the slow gameplay to recommend it to anyone unless they, too, can find a boxed copy for five dollars like I did. Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival is a leisurely-paced board game meant to sell Animal Crossing amiibos and nothing more. It does its job.

Well, actually, it DOESN'T, since there were so many unsold amiibos in my local shop.

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