If you haven't played any Animal Crossing games, it's kind of like the Harvest Moon franchise, in that you harvest/gather/catch various things and sell them at a profit, except Animal Crossing occurs in real time. So there are certain things that only happen on Sundays, and holiday events for things like Christmas and Halloween. In New Leaf, you are the mayor of a little town, complete with animal neighbors who ask you to give them things and make up catch phrases for them.
Having friends who will let you visit their town is also strategically important, as your home village fruit sells for more in other towns, and if you get into turnips you stand a better chance of not losing all your money if your friend has a spike in turnip prices while yours are declining (it's called the stalk market). I love how the social features aren't vital but make certain aspects of the game easier.
The day-to-day play of New Leaf isn't very gripping. You can dig up fossils, talk to your neighbors, buy furniture/clothes, and donate new creatures to the museum. I think the real satisfaction from New Leaf comes from watching your town and collections grow. Of course, all the hours you put in increase your emotional attachment to the game too. It's not just about collecting things though. It's also about how you display your items and how you design your town.
|dragon quest tileset|
In some ways New Leaf is like a more contained version of Minecraft. If you're good at pixel art, you can make custom designs for floors, walls, furniture, and clothing right in the game. It's possible to make your own skin for your Minecraft character, but it's not as accessible. Sharing and stealing patterns is also really easy in New Leaf; just scan a QR code and you're done. None of this downloading a file, putting it in the right directory, and rebooting stuff. It's really fun to wear a dress designed by someone in Japan, or put down a tile set designed by a hardcore fan. I hope other games can incorporate these creative features, because they're really fun (it reminds me of Little Big Planet and Sound Shapes)! Now if only I could create a cool tileset...
PS Check out this horror village, Aika village, that someone made their animal crossing town into (start around 4 minutes in). Remarkable!