Animal Crossing: New Leaf charms on Nintendo 3DS

Grid 2 steers with ease


They’re whiney, materialistic, gossipy, and co-dependent. If they weren’t so darn cute, I would really hate the little animal people who populate Rooty, a seaside village I inadvertently became mayor of in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the fourth edition of the adorable Nintendo social simulator that casts players not just as citizens but as managers of their own towns.

New Leaf doesn’t try to uproot the humble formula established in previous Animal Crossing video games for other Nintendo systems, focusing on simple virtual pursuits like chatting with neighbors, catching fish, unearthing fossils, collecting furniture, and planting trees. This time, diving for treasures has been tossed in.

The biggest addition to New Leaf is the ability to travel to a tropical island where your character can compete against others in minigames like scavenger hunts or memory tests. The atoll is also bustling with its own flora and fauna that can be harvested and imported back to your village. (Apparently there are no customs agents in Animal Crossing.)

After stepping off the train in Rooty, I quickly established a booming farming industry that bankrolled several public works projects to appease the citizenry, which included folks like fitness-obsessed eagle Pierce and egotistical pink squirrel Peanut. When they continued to demand more fountains and park benches, I instead used the funds to pay off my home loan.

New Leaf, just like the other Animal Crossing installments, can only be played in real time, meaning your virtual neighbors will still be asleep in their virtual beds if you crack open your 3DS in the middle of the night, or that virtual nightclub you helped launch on your virtual main street won’t start poppin’ until your system’s internal clock strikes 8 p.m.

While the game’s designers have added several new ways to connect with other mayors online, including the ability to visit other towns by accessing an Inception-like dream suite, New Leaf still feels nightmarishly old-fashioned when it comes to connectivity. I was bummed to learn I couldn’t bring home all the peaches I plundered from a city called Braska.

With new furniture, fish, bugs, clothes and little animal people to addictively discover each day, New Leaf is more joyful than SimCity and less mindless than “FarmVille” — no matter if you play for five minutes or five hours. It’s too bad there aren’t more dynamic ways to uniquely share the experience with other budding mayors online.


Grid 2 steers arcade-simulation course with ease



Racing-game developers often must decide which type to build, the always-accessible arcade style or a more strident and true simulation version. Attempts to bridge the divide normally fail, but Grid 2 succeeds by picking the best of both worlds and not overreaching.

Not a 50-50 split of style, the game veers more toward arcade-based on the controls alone. Cars hug the road expertly, allowing novice gamers to catch on quickly, while the ability to customize each car keeps hard-core racers intrigued.

The single-player campaign mode runs through beautiful cities around the globe. From Dubai to Paris to Miami, the lens flares with stunning vistas to immerse you in the environment. Match types are numerous as well, from straightforward street races to timed events and kitschy modes like drafting challenges. The variation of match types means you will rarely find yourself bored with the options in Grid 2, and you’ll enjoy trying to find the perfect car with the right set of modifications to meet a particular venue and style of race.

Unlocking and finding the best car for your needs doesn’t come easy.

A trove of cars awaits you as you progress, from simple little Volkswagens to flame-bursting, open-wheeled racers that pop and speed along tight turns and down fast straightaways.

You are treated to a symphony of car noises (if that is your thing), since the urban courses rev with the nearly nonstop screech of tires and engines roaring off tunnel walls and towering skyscrapers.

The game has a flashback mode (where you can rewind and replay sequences to improve the outcome), but you must learn drifting and proper racing lines on your own, and that requires adapting quickly.

Online, the matchmaker does a superb job of collecting data on players’ racing styles and gathers similar gamers into fun and competitive matches.

Fun cars to drive, stunning cities to race through and excellent online support make Grid 2 a release worth pulling into your gaming garage.