One of the most famous quotes from the late, great poet Oscar Wilde is: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” And, quite honestly, this entire early access review of Wonderscope and Team 17’s Hokko Life could just be that pithy quote alone because this game is Nintendo’s Animal Crossing… but for your PC.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s nice that core PC players will be able to see what the whole phenomenon of Animal Crossing on Nintendo Switch is about. On the other hand, it’s hard not to shrug at such a blatant copy of the idea.
Hokko Life early access
Hokko Life is still in early access and lots of things are still subject to change.
For the uninitiated, Animal Crossing is a simple, little life simulator that basically saved millions of people’s sanity during the dark times of the pandemic as it was released, rather serendipitously, just as most of the world was entering lockdown last March. Animal Crossing, in and of itself, is difficult to compare with other games as you essentially have to decide for yourself what you want to do while playing. For example, you can focus on the friendships you build with your animal compatriots, or collecting rare items, or planting delightful flower beds, or filling a museum with cool fish and insects, or just simply “working” to pay off your house. And yes, Hokko Life has all that in spades as well.
So, let’s address the rather large elephant in the room, shall we? Why hasn’t the notoriously litigious Big “N” sent in a phalanx of bloodthirsty lawyers to slap a “cease and desist” order on Wonderscope/Team 17 in an effort to protect this precious IP that was a veritable “bridge over trouble waters” for so many mired in the madness that was 2020?
- It’s basically Animal Crossing on the PC…
- and it’s as cute…
- and charming…
- and cozy as it is on the Nintendo consoles.
- Don’t copy other people’s homework, kids. It’s never a good look. That’s a life lesson from your Uncle Jer…
- Unsure if the game is going to get the kind of updates and/or DLC that Nintendo pours into Animal Crossing regularly
Well, in the 80’s and 90’s there were landmark U.S. court cases, such as Capcom USA vs. Data East Corp (over similarities between Street Fighter II and Fighter’s History) and Atari vs. North American Phillips Consumer Electronics Corp (over similarities between Pac-Man and K.C. Munchkin) that set the standards for what is copyrightable (images, sounds, etc.) in a video game and what isn’t (scenery and characters deemed commonplace). I would venture to guess that Team 17/Wonderscope are hanging their collective hats (and hopes) on that Capcom vs. Data East decision from 1994 because Hokko Life is a shameless carbon copy of Animal Crossing in every way, shape, and form. There’s just no two ways about it. There have been fairly shameless copies of Animal Crossing in the past (yeah, I’m glaring directly at you, The Dog Island), but none quite as shameless as Hokko Life.
All that now being said, Hokko Life is a good game… because Animal Crossing is a damn good game. It’s a cozy sim that has you starting fresh in a new town named, you guessed it, Hokko. Here you can make friends with loads of chatty, anthropomorphic animal buddies (who hip you to useful things about the town and give you side/fetch quests, of course), catch bugs and fish, work on your interior design skills, and live an overall laid back life.
Hokko Life is also as ridiculously cute as Animal Crossing which is to its overall credit. It also has seasonal changes, gardening and decorating features and tons more to do. In some areas, though, it is actually a bit more detailed than Nintendo's experience. For instance, Hokko Life's crafting system lets you edit and hand-design furniture then place your creations wherever you want and, vitally, at whatever angle you want. That might not sound like a huge deal at first blush, but when you're attempting to craft the “perfect” town, it's cool not to be limited to just right-angles all the time. While Hokko Life doesn't have any form of multiplayer just yet, you will ultimately be able to share your crafting designs with other players.
The only other minor difference between Hakko Life and Animal Crossing that I could discern during my time with the game was that Hokko Life has no vocalizations of its copious dialogue at all, whereas Animal Crossing has some “whoop’s,” “woohoo’s” and, of course, the blips, bleeps, and “buddabudda’s” of the townsfolk’s dialogue. I’m not sure, honestly, if this is a plus or minus overall though because the chatter can get rather annoying in Animal Crossing, but I did notice its absence in Hokko Life for sure.
So, if you are a hardcore PC gamer that’s always been low-key jealous of all the fun and cutesy Nintendo titles, you can do a whole helluva lot worse than Hokko Life. There’s a lot to like in this charming little Hokko-burg, and the fact that Wonderscope is a one-man dev team (one Robert Tatnell, it seems) is quite commendable as well.
This must be made clear though, if we somehow lived in an alternate timeline where Animal Crossing didn’t exist, I’d be absolutely thrilled with the prospect of this game. But, we do live in a world where Animal Crossing already exists and is beloved by millions. Hokko Life is a fine copy, but a copy nontheless – it doesn’t expand the formula in any meaningful way, nor does it even attempt to do anything else than Nintendo’s smash hit. And much like the estimable Mr. Wilde who I quoted at the outset of this article, I just can’t abide by brazen copycats… no matter how skillful their work is. Sorry, not sorry.
Jerry Bonner | Gamepressure.com