Nintendo’s Animal Crossing franchise has never been a flashy series, albeit sometimes a disturbing one. The plot is consistent; you move to a bucolic hamlet populated by anthropomorphic animals, wander around collecting things to trade with them and discover the vicious nature of capitalism when Tom Nook comes to repossess your house. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, out a day early for Android and iOS, is, if anything, even more gentle, and maybe just the ticket for frayed nerves this Thanksgiving.
You play a “camp manager” who tools around in a camp bus meeting animal buddies, collecting various items to give to your animal buddies, and using what they give you to build various bits of furniture and other attractions to get them to visit your campsite. It’s not remotely complicated; usually, you can find the items right near the animal in question. In theory, you can use in-app purchases to speed up the game, but much like Nintendo’s other mobile games, the in-app purchases never feel necessary to have fun or complete goals. Mostly the goal is to listen to some soothing music, poke at your screen, and get away from your troubles for a little while. You can also befriend other players, when you run into them, and connect a Nintendo account.
If it all sounds very easy and kid-friendly, well, it is, although a game about giving people stuff so they like you is maybe not a message very young children should get without some discussion. The graphics are colorful and simple, with the animals looking stuffed and muttering cheerful gibberish for dialogue. But the Animal Crossing series is really all about forming a separate life. The games have no real “ending” in the conventional sense. You can wander their cheerful woods and fish their clean rivers for forever and a day, if you want. And there is, in an increasingly busy world, a sense of comfort in that. Pocket Camp is not a pushy game; nobody gets mad at you, or has unreasonable demands, or wants anything complicated or painful from you. That you can pay to speed up the game seems practically antithetical to its whole purpose. If the holidays drive you crazy, this might be the game to relax you.