An Animal Crossing mobile game should’ve been a slam dunk. After all, the beloved Nintendo series operates on the assumption that you’ll check in with your bucolic town and its cheery anthropomorphic inhabitants as often as possible, and having the game on your phone means you could theoretically pick some cherries or catch some red snappers wherever and whenever you want. But being a free mobile game in the year 2017, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp ended up bogged down with all kinds of timers and hooks aimed at getting you to drop some real-world cash into it. Some of the series’ charms are there, but the exploitative free-to-play shakedown has led to it being the most divisive of Nintendo’s mobile projects yet.
Looking to get a few expert assessments of Pocket Camp, the folks at Gamasutra asked several game developers to weigh in on the little slice of Animal Crossing. Some thought the simplicity and cuteness outweighed the pressure for micro-transactions. Others, like Spry Fox head Daniel Cook, slammed the mobile game for destroying the series’ capacity for self-expression and self-direction. And Yoko Taro, the mask-wearing auteur writer-director of Nier: Automata, laid out a reading so brilliant and dark that it has to be seen to be believed.
He starts off admitting that his biggest reason for checking out Pocket Camp was to “get revenge” on Tom Nook, who Taro describes as “the raccoon who makes you get a mortgage without agreeing to it.” But after playing for a while, Taro found there are far more sinister things going on in the game’s campgrounds than just Tom Nook’s financial impropriety:
Let’s take, for example, what the “monsters” eat. The rabbit seems to be of the normal herbivorous variety, but can be seen, in this game, grilling and eating fish. Also, in this game, pigs and cows enjoy barbecue (but you can’t see what they’re grilling). What is going on in this ecosystem? When you run out of things to eat, do you resort to cannibalism? Is there so much difference in the intelligence of birds and fish? If you walk on two legs and talk, does that mean you won’t be hunted? Is the value of your life determined by your intelligence? There are so many interesting themes hidden in this game.
After that critique, which is very on-brand for the man behind a game that spends a few dozen hours asking players to ponder the nature of life and consciousness, Taro goes on to address Pocket Camp’s weird gift-giving system for attracting new characters to your campgrounds:
You need to predict what those monsters want like an esper (human who possesses ESP), and give those things to them to get your big reward. What is this a metaphor for? Why do you have to collect things that are right next to the monsters to make them happy, like a slave? I guess this represents the divisions between people in class society.
His eyes now open to the horrific reality that lurks underneath Pocket Camp’s adorable veneer, Taro concludes his stunning review by reassessing his quest for vengeance against Tom Nook (aka Tanukichi) and found that there is a much much more deserving target for his righteous fury:
I haven’t put any furniture or anything in my camp except a kerosene tank. I started this game to get revenge on that raccoon, Tanukichi, but now I have a different purpose. I’ll enjoy playing this game until I burn that dark forest down.
Let this serve as your latest reminder that Yoko Taro is a damn mad genius, and yes, he should get the chance to direct a new Final Fantasy game.