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Imagine a game where there's only a limited amount of tasks for you to do each day. Some, like growing fruit, take days of real world time to complete. You can send gifts to your friends and one of the biggest selling points is the ability to decorate your own little virtual dwelling. Now imagine that the year is 2002, and the game is made by Nintendo, not Zynga. Welcome to Animal Crossing: the first (and best) social game to never hit Facebook.

The game begins with you moving into a small town populated by weird animals, before setting up shop in a crummy little cabin — and the rest is up to you. Unlike, say, The Sims, there isn't much you need to worry about here. Your character doesn't eat or pee or sleep, and while you have an ever-increasing mortgage to pay off, you're free to do so at your own pace. It's a game that's all about doing what you want, when you want; whether that's catching bugs, digging for fossils, or just going for a stroll through town. The lack of goals may make Animal Crossing sound dull, but the leisurely pace sets the experience apart from just about any game out there.

It's a game that's all about doing what you want, when you want

What really makes the game feel special, though, is just how alive the world feels. Seasons come and go in real time, and your quaint town will gradually change, matching the real world outside. You can go see KK Slider the rock star dog play a show at the local cafe every Saturday night and there's no shortage of holidays to look forward to. And depending on the date on the calendar and the time on the clock, you can collect some pretty rare fish and insects. There’s an odd joy in stumbling on a rare butterfly for your collection or a new kind of fruit while visiting a friend's town. And when one of your neighbors moves away unexpectedly — well, you can't help but feel guilty that you didn't respond to that letter they sent you a few days back.

Like modern social games, Animal Crossing is best enjoyed by playing just a little bit each day. It's not that you have an energy limit, but there’s really only so much to do. Harvest some fruit, check out what's new in the store, gab with the neighbors, maybe even do a bit of fishing. It's a serene, relaxing experience. Like most Nintendo games, the series has evolved slowly since the Gamecube original, though the upcoming 3DS edition does look to add some fun new wrinkles to the formula. (Note: the Gamecube original has the distinction of letting you collect and play NES games like Excitebike.) And if you aren't new to the franchise, you might just want to revisit your long-forgotten village — you may be surprised by what you find.