“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” (2020) released on the Nintendo Switch on March 20. Two weeks before then, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it. One week beforehand, I decided to order it on Amazon, feeling like I wanted any new game to play while stuck at home. A few days beforehand, I canceled my Amazon order… and purchased the game digitally on my Switch so I could play it right at 12:00 a.m. on the Friday morning it was released. Why did I do that? I’ve never been into the “Animal Crossing” series, only having experienced it through brief gameplay of the 3DS version “Animal Crossing: New Leaf” (2012) and trying the mobile game “Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp” (2017). Needless to say, neither really hooked me. Yet the love and excitement for this game all over the internet really drew me in. The memes and serious discussions about Tom Nook, the raccoon landlord who builds your house, made me interested in seeing just what he was like. Fans of “Animal Crossing” games had been patiently awaiting a Switch version for years, and I was also curious whether this game would live up to their expectations. It seems like it has, and it’s certainly exceeded whatever vague expectations I had.
“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” provides structure to my days; I want to open the game to see which furniture items are available in the shop to decorate my house, talk to the other villagers on my island and exchange gifts, break rocks to find iron and collect fish and insects to sell. This day-to-day agenda is flexible — when I’ve had the time, I’ve done all these things and then continued on to improve my island by planting trees and flowers and setting out items like beach chairs, a bonfire and a wind turbine. This game’s format, with its lack of an “ending,” appeals to me greatly. When I play story-based video games, I sometimes get concerned about finishing the game before I’m done enjoying it. When I played “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” (2017), which is still my favorite game of all time, I just did not want to go fight the final boss. I knew I could keep playing after, but I felt like the closure of finishing the last big obstacle would disincentivize me from continuing to play. “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” does not have a final boss or an “ending” in terms of a gameplay shift at a certain point; I like that I can just keep playing this game the same way for as long as I want.
“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” can appeal to anyone because it doesn’t ask too much of you. You can’t “lose lives” or die, and you aren’t required to complete a certain number of tasks per day to progress. There are aspects of the game that definitely appeal to different people — I’ve messed around with the pixel art editing tool, which allows you to make custom clothing and patterns, but that’s not really for me. I do really enjoy the collection aspect, as it’s exciting to find furniture items while shaking trees or in balloons in the sky that you shoot down with a slingshot, even if you put them straight into storage and never use them.
There are some parts of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” that I would categorize as “mild annoyances” — not major issues. Fishing for rare, expensive fish often leads to too many common, cheap sea bass in your pocket, along with their truly terrible pun “I caught a sea bass! No wait… It’s at least a C+!” In general though, I appreciate the Twitter-worthy bad puns when catching fish and bugs. Another “mild annoyance” is the event going on right now, “Bunny Day,” from April 1–12. Animal Crossing’s version of Easter leads to a strange rabbit hiding eggs all over the island, meaning that fishing has gotten even more frustrating — I’d happily take another sea bass over a “water egg” that still swims around like a fish when you reel it in. Yet these annoyances are not a deal breaker in the slightest.
As someone who had never played a game in the series before, I wasn’t guaranteed to be an everyday “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” player — but I am now. I’m also finding myself to be an advocate for the game, as it’s really given me some deeply appreciated structure, relaxation and enjoyment in the midst of a pandemic. I’ve logged many hours already, but I’m looking forward to continuing to design and upgrade my island every day.