What are the possibilities of Animal Crossing on Café?
It's hard to argue that Animal Crossing has changed all that much since its original Nintendo 64 version. If the rise of connected play and high definition graphics hasn't changed Animal Crossing all that much, does Nintendo's next console stand any chance of making a difference?
Actually, if the rumors about Project Cafe are true, the Wii's successor could be the hardware platform that Animal Crossing was made for.
To start with, consider this: the console versions of Animal Crossing have never supported local multiplayer. Sure, the Wii and DS versions supported multi-player, but never between two players in the same town. Local multiplayer has always been a big deal for Nintendo, from the Nintendo 64's four controller slots to the way that Wii Sports is always shown with a group of people playing together. Given that, it's strange to think that if my brother and I wanted to be neighbors in the same town, we would always have to take turns. At GDC 2007, Shigeru Miyamoto talked about how his wife would write letters to their kids in Animal Crossing, but he conveniently glossed over the topic that she never actually played the game with them at the same time.
If it's true that Project Cafe will feature controllers that have individual screens which can display gameplay, then that last wall between neighbors in Animal Crossing can finally fall. Someone can already be playing the game, and their roommate or kid brother or parent could pick up a tablet-controller and jump right into the game. Each player would get their own gameplay streamed to their controller display independently, meaning they could impact each other as little as they want, or take the effort to coordinate their efforts in a new town competition or holiday event. And when one player is done for the day, they can simply "log off" with no impact on the other player at all.
On the GameCube, my brother and I always played out our wars, town rivalries, and practical jokes in proxy, with delayed results and using our neighbors as secret intermediaries. With a Project Cafe version, I could finally simply log on, pick up an axe, and give real-time chase to my neighbor-stealing, serpent-tongued, trickster of a younger brother.
Or I could just write him another nasty letter. Writing letters to neighbors, virtual or otherwise, has always been a huge part of what made the Animal Crossing games unique, but the interface of a controller has always been horrible for that purpose. It would often take an extremely long time to type out a short, three sentence letter with the GameCube controller, and recently the only decent solution for console play is to buy an external keyboard accessory.
If the screens on Cafe's controllers accept touch input, then that entire interface nightmare can go away. Other things would benefit greatly as well, such as the text chat system when in multiplayer, managing player inventory, and even designing the custom clothing patterns Animal Crossing let's players work on at the Able Sister's store. The DS version of Animal Crossing already showed how this could be done, and Project Cafe could bring those improvements to the home console.
There are some parts of Animal Crossing that hasn't changed much since the first Nintendo 64 version. It may be that Nintendo's still waiting for other parts of the game to finally reach their full potential. I hope that the Project Cafe can do that, as well as introduce other unforeseen innovations to propel Nintendo's local social country-village sim. I really do need to get my brother back for making me think there was a Happy Town Academy and that I had to clean up all the items I'd dumped out on my lawn for storage.