Doubutsu No Mori

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: April 14 2001
Regions: JP
Genre: Simulation
Multiplayer: 1 Player
Cart Size: 16MB / 128Mb
Saving: On-Cart, Controller Pak
Rumble Pak?: Yes
Expansion Pak? No
- Required? No
It's just a little harmless addiction...

NOTE: This game was only released in Japan and all the text is in Japanese, making this an import unfriendly title.

Despite the stigma of milking franchises well past their natural lifespans, Nintendo has never been a stranger to making new IPs. Even before the trend of recycling characters in the mid to late 90s, there were fresh new SNES games from Nintendo, like Starfox, F-Zero and Panel De Pon. The N64 however, was Nintendo's starting point of notorious franchise milking, so for years there wasn't a new series or even a revitalization of an older one, except maybe Super Smash Bros. Still, right as the N64 was about to be replaced by the Game Cube, Nintendo managed to release at least one new, original game. That game, was Doubutsu No Mori, released as late as April 2001. It basically means Animal Forest in English. Less than a year later, a slightly updated version was released on the Game Cube. In 2002, the game was further tweaked and translated into English, retitled as Animal Crossing and finally released in North America. That is the version of the game most people are familiar with, but since it's not quite the same as the N64 original, Doubutsu No Mori deserves it's own review.

The game starts with a little train ride, where a fellow passenger, a cat named Rover, talks to your character. The answers you give to the questions you are asked determines your characters gender and appearance. Your eventual destination is a little forest community, where the entire game takes place. Your character moves in with the prospect of purchasing a house and establishing a life amongst the current residents. For the most part there's not much in the way of plot or predefined tasks, other than working for Tom Nook, the local store keeper, to pay off your home loan. Even before doing so, the game comprises of many different social and personal activities, many of which are based on a calandar schedule. Your character can participate in fishing tournaments and fitness classes, you can change your clothing and hair style, as well as collect various things in the game, like insects, fossils, fish and fruit, to either sell or add to your personal collection. You can even design your own clothes, decorate your house, buy new furniture, create patterns for use on signs, umbrellas or in your house. There's several different holidays, which are adjusted for each major geographical region the game was released in. Doubutsu No Mori also features a real time clock system, which not only allows for the time of day to gradually change as you play, but the game will even keep track of time and dates even when it's not being played. The idea here was to give this social simulator an extra level of depth, which does work pretty well. The only issue might be when a person's real life schedule is too sporadic to facilitate complete enjoyment of the game. Other notable features include unlockable Famicom games and the ability to use the Controller Pak to visit other communities, be it other save files on the same cartridge, or other copies of the game.

Doubutsu No Mori was certainly a first for Nintendo. While it had much of the same charm found in previous Nintendo franchises, it was at the same time aimed at a very different audience. Instead of stomping on Goombas, flying an Arwing and collecting Triforce pieces - all mainstay ideas of of the term "hardcore gaming" - Doubutsu No Mori is more about collecting bugs, digging up fossils and interacting with the local forest community. Nintendo even realized the stark contrast of gameplay in this new series compared to their usual lineup, terming Doubutsu No Mori as a "Communication Game", or "Life Simulator" as fans sometimes call it. In fact, it's like a mix of Harvest Moon and The Sims, with a dash of Nintendo's trademark quality game design. Doubutsu No Mori's release is notable for marking Nintendo's first foray into the idea of casual gaming, which is today the company's bread and butter. Some may define this as a turn for the worse in Nintendo's history, but Doubutsu No Mori is fun, in it's own casual way, which is what Nintendo has been all about since the company's founding.

For a very late N64 release, Doubutsu No Mori is quite a decent looking game. All the graphics are clean, the characters have animated face textures, there's some neat water effects and cherry blossoms cascade from the trees when in the Spring season. It's not quite as graphically impressive as something like Conker's Bad Fur Day is - which was released the same year - but Doubutsu No Mori is a simpler, more casual game and it's visuals perfectly suit it. Also in keeping with the real time clock system Doubutsu No Mori utilized, the dynamically changing time of day is a very nice touch. Sometimes there's a light fog over the ground in the early morning, or the ever so familiar color of dusk turning to night. Both of which and many other time-related effects really add to the game's overall visual appeal.

The music and sounds are just what one would expect from an internally developed Nintendo game as well. The main theme and all the different music tracks are quite memorable and give Doubutsu No Mori a bright, cheerful and innocent demeanor. Many of the tracks even play at specific time intervals of the day, or on specific holidays. The music tends to carry the same feeling and demeanor though, a bit more variety in that regard would have be nice.

One of Doubutsu No Mori strongest aspects is it's sheer replayability. For instance, some kinds of fish can only be caught during certain times of the year. There's even sidequests in the game, such as digging a random hole and discovering a hidden cave, time-sensitive storylines that involve the different animal residents and a secret island.

However, on the same token, Doubutsu No Mori has it's shortcomings. Due to the real time nature of the game, it can be difficult to play for people with restricted schedules or infrequent play sessions. The near infinite replayability can inadvertently cause addictive habits, which is something most other games don't offer. The casual style of Doubutsu No Mori also limits it's appeal to those more accustomed to games like Super Mario 64 or Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Overall, Doubutsu No Mori is what it is, a fun little social simulator with a collect-a-thon streak and some pretty innovative features. The real-time clock system adds an interesting level of depth that really makes the game stand out, even years after it's release. Such a feature does make it a bit more difficult for people with limited schedules to play, but the gameplay Doubutsu No Mori offers is quite impressive. There's so many things to collect, fellow residents to interact with and events to participate in, it'd make your head spin. Doubutsu No Mori proves yet again that Nintendo can certainly create a unique and equally fun game when they need to, even when using otherwise everyday mundane tasks. Considering how inexpensive the N64 and Game Cube versions are, there's little reason to pass it up if you're into social and collecting games.

Presentation: 9.0
Nintendo put a lot of character and personality into this quaint little game and it shows. There's many little details and qualities that reflect the capable talent that powers most Nintendo games.

Graphics: 7.5
There may not be any fancy graphical effects and feats achieved in Doubutsu No Mori, but the simple yet imaginative visuals perfectly suit the casual and laidback style of the game. That said, some better graphics would have been appreciated.

Sound: 8.0
The music is simply nothing short of great. It all perfectly suits the cute, happy and easy going tone of the game. Some more diversity would have been nice though.

Gameplay: 9.0
It's quite impressive that Nintendo managed to make things like fishing, furnishing a house and working for a store clerk, fun and relaxing. All that, the social simulation and more really make Doubutsu No Mori a unique experience. The game operates in real-time though, which limits it's play flexibility.

Lasting Appeal: 10
The near infinite replay possibilities really do put Doubutsu No Mori a cut above other N64 games. There's so much to do, you could spend years playing the game and still have a few more bugs left to find, or another piece of furniture that has eluded you for months.

Overall: 8.7

Written by Aaron Wilcott
June 26 2012