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Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a reminder of the series’ key trait

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Patience, my players

animal crossing pocket camp artwork DeNA/Nintendo

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp’s surprise launch this morning was one of the highlights of my year. As excited as I was to start up the iOS and Android game — despite my better judgment, since I really needed to get ready for work — I soon hit a snag. Pocket Camp, at least right now, is ... slow. Really slow.

This shouldn’t have surprised or even bothered me as much as it initially did. Overwhelmed servers account for much of the downtime; I have never been annoyed at a connection error pop-up. Loading new areas or menus takes some time, too, but we can chalk that up to this being the first version of an asset-heavy mobile game.

It’s other parts of the game that took awhile in more unexpected ways. Pocket Camp opens up with a tutorial that sends camp managers on a series of required tasks so they can familiarize themselves with the controls and activities. This is how you walk to your camper, the eternal assistant Isabelle explains. This is how you shake a tree. This is how you fish.

Since most of the game just needs players to tap on things they want to interact with, the tutorial’s length struck me as overkill. I want to make friends and decorate my campsite! I thought, as the game walked me through its simple crafting mechanic. But the slow build-up of Pocket Camp is actually, in hindsight, one of the strongest ways in which the mobile game distills its console counterpart’s spirit.

cooldown timer in pocket camp
You bet my girl Allegra will be back in three hours, game.
DeNa/Nintendo via Polygon

Animal Crossing is a game about mindfulness. It operates in real time, offers a variety of tasks with long lead times and even shuts down at night. You can’t finish the game in a finite number of playthroughs. There’s no real way to finish the game at all; even if I managed to pay off my entire mortgage and collect every piece of furniture I wanted, I still had villagers to please and friends’ towns to travel too. Each of these things takes time — time to reset, time to participate and time to accomplish.

There aren’t timers that pop up after you, for example, grab fruit from a tree in the console counterparts. There don’t need to be; the understanding is that fruit won’t grow back there until the following day. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a bit more generous with that timeline, but it makes it even clearer how important it is for players to slow down. Cooldown timers are visible next to every regenerating object you’ve interacted with, so you have no choice but to acknowledge that waiting around is a core part of the gameplay.

Maybe the tutorial takes a bit more time than I’d like, as a fan who knows the ropes. But its pacing is actually the first, and perhaps the most important, reminder of something that’s easy to forget: Animal Crossing has always been about enjoying every interaction, no matter how long you have to wait for the next one.