Don’t look now, but I think Nintendo has already released its Animal Crossing title for the Switch. It just hasn’t released it on the console yet.
As part of its mobile gaming initiative, Nintendo announced Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp for iOS and Android devices last month. It’s an interesting take on the AC series, and incorporates a number of exciting new elements (item crafting, explicit friendship levels) along with some sad-but-necessary ones (microtransations…). As I watched the Direct presentation, it felt like the Big N was introducing a new, fully-featured Animal Crossing entry, unlike stripped-down games like Pokémon Go and Super Mario Run. It looked like a game that could have just as easily wound up on the Switch as on smartphones.
Then a crazy thought popped into my head: What if that was Nintendo’s plan to begin with?
Cross-console games are nothing new in the industry (heck, it feels like every game ever existed is getting a Switch port these days), but Nintendo’s tendency to keep its IPs to itself has kept it from joining in on this trend. Even when the company began to branch out onto mobile devices, its offerings were simplified versions of its games (Pokémon Go, Super Mario Run, etc.) that were heavily-customized for mobile hardware. Pocket Camp, however, doesn’t really fit that description: All of the important features of Animal Crossing (resource harvesting, villager interactions, home customizations) are present and accounted for, along with item crafting and the other cool features I listed earlier. If I had to guess, I’d say this a Switch or 3DS game that got redirected when Nintendo put together its mobile strategy, and one that could easily be brought back to Nintendo hardware in the future.
Fans have been clamoring for an Animal Crossing Switch title ever since the console was announced, and porting over Pocket Camp seems like a straightforward, economical way to satisfy these demands. But what would have to change to make this a reality?
- Map Layout: The game’s map is broken down into small sections for individual tasks (bug catching, fishing, shopping, and so on), likely to account for the resource constraints of smart devices. New Leaf, on the other hand, featured a (mostly) unified world, so for a Switch version, some of these separated areas would likely be expanded and combined.
- Control Mapping: The Switch’s touch screen is only available in portable mode, so Pocket Camp‘s controls will need to be remapped to the Joy-Con buttons. Motion controls offer an intriguing possibility as well: Imagine swinging your arm to catch a bug with your net or cast a line with your fishing pole!
- Price Structure: This is probably the biggest obstacle to a cross-device game. Microtransactions are a fact of life in the mobile gaming sphere, and Pocket Camp is no exception: The game is free to play, but real money can be spent to obtain crafting materials or speed up building times. Nickel-and-dime strategies like this, however, are not well-received in the traditional console market, which means the game would likely come with a $40-$60 upfront price tag. Furthermore, no one is going to pay $40-$60 for a game they can play for free on their phone, so Nintendo would have to come up with a way to induce players to invest in the game’s console version (Extra features? Larger maps? Discounted or more-prevalent Leaf Tickets?). If done right, however, this could actually be a boon for Nintendo, as they would give players the flexibility to “pay and play” however they wish.
Yes, there would inevitably be some backlash from fans who want their own dedicated version of Animal Crossing rather than some cheap mobile port, but overall I think there are enough positives here to warrant bringing Pocket Camp to the Switch in the future. Nintendo’s 2018 Switch lineup still has some room for a blockbuster title or two, and Pocket Camp looks has the potential to be the true New Leaf successor fans have been clamoring for.