Animal Crossing: Wild World throws out pretty much everything you've come to expect as standard in computer games. There's no shooting, no baddies and no hi-scores. It's a completely non-violent virtual community for you to explore and interact with.

Starting at the beginning, you'll arrive somewhat confused into this new town, populated by cute, talking animals. You'll have nothing but empty pockets and the clothes on your back.

But don't worry, a friendly shopkeeper by the name of Tom Nook takes you under his wing and provides you with a roof over your head. Nothing in life is free, though, and you find that you now have a mortgage to repay. Luckily, Tom Nook is a caring fellow and doesn't mind how and when you pay it off. He even gives you a few chores to do around his shop in exchange for a few bells, the local currency.

After Tom's shown you the ropes, it's time for you to get out there and explore, and there's plenty to do. Gardening or fishing can be therapeutic and it's certainly rewarding to see your seedlings grow into trees that bear fruit. Chatting with the other inhabitants is fun too, and you'll get to know all kinds of creatures from anteaters to zebras - each with his or her own personality and interests. For example, Kitt, a kangaroo, says she's moved in from Japan and is interested in collecting red furniture and is grateful for any assistance!

And, in fact, Kitt may well hail from Japan - literally, for whenever your DS is connected to the Internet via Nintendo's Wi-Fi Network (so you'll need a home wi-fi connection to play), the game uploads and downloads details of what's been going on in your and other people's towns.

Sometimes this can be sad as some of your new friends move out, but usually they are replaced by even more bizarre creatures who bring with them the fruits of another players' input, like a crazy catchphrase or a uniquely designed shirt. It all makes you feel really connected with the Animal Crossing community.

Players can visit each other's towns, too, but here things get a little complicated. To avoid trouble with unknown players causing havoc, you must exchange 'friend codes' with someone you know before you can drop in. It's a good idea, but unless you know someone with the same game, it can be tough to find anyone to play with. Luckily there are places on the web where like-minded players can get together and exchange codes easily with each other. We recommend www.animalcrossingcommunity.com where players are rated on their conduct while visiting other people's towns.

Once you've managed to exchange friend codes and open the gates to your town, your new friend can wander around and explore your home. It's a great opportunity for them to see how well you maintain your neighbourhood, as well as maybe getting hold of some items that aren't available where they live. It's also nice to occasionally have a visitor appreciating your achievements. And, with luck, they might even invite you over to their town where you can nose around in their house and see if Tom Nook has anything interesting for sale there.

As well as visiting other towns in both ad-hoc or Internet wi-fi modes, there is also what's called 'tag mode'. To activate tag mode you must write a message in a bottle and cast it into the sea. Then, while your DS is on standby, it listens for other DSs in tag mode that come within range and exchanges messages with them. It's exciting to see what might wash up on the beach, but sadly it's rare at the moment that your DS will find any other copies of Animal Crossing running in tag mode.

So, overall, Animal Crossing: Wild World is a beautifully presented game. The visuals and sound are by parts both cute and lavish in their soft cartoon style, and there's simply masses of gameplay to enjoy. Interacting with the characters that live in your town is interesting and funny, while collecting all the different items is a compelling, if endless, task.

Indeed, if there's a downside it would be that you probably won't have enough time to live a second life in your DS. Thankfully, your virtual neighbours don't mind if you don't visit them every single day. Your garden, however, might not be so forgiving!

Animal Crossing: Wild World is on sale now.

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