What a strange beast, this Animal Crossing. It has no boss battles or ending, yet you'll find yourself absolutely glued to the screen like an OCD patient with no meds, managing your charming hamlet and mailing flattering letters to your beastly neighbors.
You hit the town flat broke with nothing but the frock on your back. Boisterous store owner Tom Nook (a raccoon) hooks you up with a job and some errands so you can land the startup cash for your new life amongst the animals. When the odd jobs are done, you're left to your own devices - be they fishing along the waterfront, hording furniture and apparel for your material obsessions or keeping the town clean by pulling weeds and trimming trees. In other words, a bunch of stuff you'd never do for fun.
But here it's sickeningly addicting because it's completely yours, a customizable hub of adorable animal shenanigans. It's sort of like a pastel version of Seinfeld: it's about nothing but there's an endless stream of it. Your reward is simply more work, interrupted occasionally by a new item for your expanding home, including everything from a grandfather clock to a set of perfectly emulated NES games.
Swapping GameCube memory cards lets you hop over to a friend's town to trade produce, share the clothing you designed and see how their town differs from yours. While you're on your trip, the animals gossip about things your friends have done to help or hurt the town and possibly jump ship for your village.
Keeping your neighborhood happy, the town tidy and the museum stocked with fossil specimens is the closest thing you have to a goal. If only accomplishing your aims was simpler; there's no way to quickly switch between usable items. Changing from butterfly net to fishing pole involves too many menus, and storing spare items requires tricking the post office.
If you don't have friends who're down with Crossing, its inventive nature only goes so far. How long do you want be a shut-in packrat without showing it all off to someone? On top of that you have to juggle real world hours while playing. Crossing uses the GameCube's internal clock, so if it's 4:30pm on July 17th in your living room, that's what time it is in your town. Stores have regular business hours and your furry pals hit the sack, too, so night owls may be forced to cheat the clock to see everything.
The game recognizes holidays and events (counting down the new year with animal friends is cool, if a little socially depressing) so even your days off could be spent tracking down event-specific gifts. If you have the time, Animal Crossing is the game that keeps on giving. How far you'll want to sink in will depend on the amount of interaction you have with other players. Going solo will lock your brain for a long time, but add some friends and it could go on forever.