The timing really couldn’t be any more perfect for a game that simulates real life with cute animals, instead of the pseudo-apocalyptic world we seem to be living in right now.
After all, what could be better during the current global crisis than jetting off to a deserted Island with a couple of cute animal buddies and a capitalist raccoon? Nothing, that’s what. Welcome to Animal Crossing.
Animal Crossing New Horizons takes the roots of the beloved Nintendo franchise and give it a little bit of a tweak. Not enough to make it a really new experience, but enough for long-time players to get some value while remaining accessible enough for new players to get to grips with the basics before easing them into the metagame.
Better than real life
In New Horizons, you go to an island. You build a community on this island. If you’re me, you establish a cute little communist cult in honour of an anatomical model you found. There’s a wonderful sense of freedom to be found here, which is obviously lacking in real life at the moment.
New Horizons is a more anarchistic look at the series than New Leaf was. This time you’re not a mayor, although you DO make all the infrastructure and building decisions. Also, you’re the one who bankrolls it. Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if the people with all the money in real life just put it into public works, natural development, and spreading the wealth among the citizens?
Just sayin’, comrades.
The daily loop of Animal Crossing gameplay is immensely satisfying. There’s this whole low-stress beautiful vibe to everything; you can chop down some trees, or just whack at some trees but leave them up. Sick of trees? Smack some rocks until gold pops out. You can catch bugs and sell them to friendly and vaguely androgynous lizard friend for a lot of money. If you’re not into bugs, then you can sell fish to the lizard’s beaver life partner.
Just like real life.
Hell is other Villagers
I’m not sure if Animal Crossing villagers were always so goddam weird, but they sure are these days. And it’s awesome. Your islanders love everything; give them a mug, and they act like the Pope being handed the Shroud of Turin, assuming His Holiness would also respond with “squee!”
They’re as happy with an umbrella as they are with a flat screen TV. Even if they don’t have the ability to wear them, DAMN do they love getting shoes. Some interactions are… odd. For example, I gave Bianca a sea bass once, and she decided to use it for home defence. As what, Bianca, a guard fish? Some kind of bizarre intimidation tactic to burglars? Also, who’s breaking into your house? Is it Benedict? It’s Benedict, isn’t it. Right, say no more, I’ll handle this, who’s got the number for KFC…
Some of the villager dialogue is creepy, but it’s that tongue in cheek kind of unsettling that is super-endearing. One of my villagers, Rex, consistently tells me that there are bugs living in his walls that talk to him. I mean there’s clearly something up with that guy, but I just had an imaginary conversation with a tiger about a chicken’s home invasion so who am I to judge? You do you, Rex.
Public work projects such as bridges and inclines, as well as various shops and buildings, make Animal Crossing a unique experience for each person. Once you unlock the Island Designer app in your NookPhone (what’s an iPhone, never heard of it) you get to start terraforming the island to your whim. Nature, which is a big deal here, is at your beck and call now.
Some caveats may apply
Each game is totally different for everyone, with emergent gameplay and narratives building themselves around your actions and a healthy dose of RNG. Personally, I made a fire cult to an anatomical model I found one day. As a side note, all hail the Flayed Lord, for he is freed from the bonds of earthly flesh. And that might not be your cup of tea, but my partner made a circus around her nightmare clown villager, so you can really live your best life.
The villagers love everything, but they don’t like being hit by nets. Although sometimes they deserve it, don’t they Benedict?
God I hate Benedict.
Now, I have been thoroughly enjoying this game for most of the last few weeks, but there are flaws that need to be addressed. Intensely long dialogue trees with certain NPCs make some interactions an absolute chore. Case in point, if I have a ton of tickets to magical mystery tour islands, I obviously want to go there, please do not put that option at the bottom of the list. Please, do not make me select three different options to go and visit someone; just put it in a one menu. This is just plain weird.
You also can’t craft directly from your storage, which I assume has to be a systems limit, because most games built around crafting let you do this. Even Fallout 76 has more intuitive interfaces for crafting and designing.
And then there’s Bunny Day.
The first of the seasonal events was an unmitigated ordeal. Various natural resources being replaced with colourful eggs which could be crafted into unique item was cute for the first 3 days. But it lasted for approximately eighteen years, and eventually you ran out of useful materials like stone, and every third fish you picked up was an egg.
I stopped fishing, because if I saw one more egg I was going to straight-up find a way to murder the Easter Bunny
We’re through the looking glass here, people
I’m going to be uncharacteristically real for a minute; I have not been handling lockdown well. Between a crippling case of executive dysfunction and more-than-average anxiety brain, my last month has largely consisted of extended periods of wall-staring and a concerning number of midday naps. Hell, there’s a reason it’s taken me almost a month to finally finish this review, I’ve had no focus or motivation at all.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has, as sad as it may sound, been the reason I got out of bed some days, and I haven’t had a game do that in a long time. It’s a remarkably wholesome experience, even if I’ve spent much of my time building the Temple of the Flayed Lord. Cheers for that, ACNH team.
Overall, Animal Crossing New Horizons is both the game we want AND the game we need right now. Kind of like Batman, but with Tom Nook instead. If you think that’s a weird analogy, think about it; wealthy businessman, eccentric lifestyle, has a mask, young proteges… Tom Nook is DEFINITELY Batman.
The timing is perfect for such a chill game to come out. Almost TOO perfect. Now, I’m not suggesting that Nintendo engineered the COVID-19 pandemic in order to make people stay home and play Animal Crossing, but I’m going to end that sentence there. What’s a game without a bizarre conspiracy theory?
Animal Crossing is a flawed gem, but a gem nonetheless. If you haven’t been playing it until now, I suggest you do so post haste.
And now I must go, to catch some bugs for that adorable lizard. That’s my life now, and I’m super into it.