Written by Chloe Creed
As much as I’ve tried, I’ve never really enjoyed video games. Besides the occasional Mario Kart race or Guitar Hero performance, I’ve kept my distance from the video game world, partially because I’m terrible at anything that doesn’t use a Wii remote. However, with the onset of quarantine last summer, I found myself looking for an escape from the stressful state of the world and the monotony of a summer spent at home. Enter: Animal Crossing. Suddenly, I had a tropical island getaway without even leaving my room.
Besides the occasional mention from a friend, I was completely foreign to the Animal Crossing franchise. So, I was surprised to learn that this is actually the fifth edition of a series of games dating back to 2001, all with the same basic premise: you (the player) decide to move to an island and build a town from scratch. You’ll have help from the capitalist icon Tom Nook (who is also a raccoon) to build up the infrastructure of your island over time, collecting items and new villagers along the way until your island reaches a 5-star rating, the ultimate status symbol of the Animal Crossing community.
Enticed by the adorable aesthetic, cast of animal characters, and promise of entertainment, I invested in a Nintendo Switch and began creating my island. Flash forward to a few weeks later, and I’m waking up each morning excited to water my virtual flowers, talk to my virtual villagers, and check my investments in the virtual stock market (with onions as currency, of course). Essentially, I was hooked. Now, as a self-proclaimed Animal Crossing enthusiast, I’m here to give you my full review of the game (spoiler alert: I liked it) for you to decide if a Japanese island adventure is in your future.
The gameplay is designed to be simple and relaxing, and I was able to pick up the controls almost immediately. The basis of the game is to run around your island, picking up resources like sticks and fruit to use as materials to build larger items, like furniture or clothing. Use the left joystick of the Switch to move and the buttons on the right to pick up items, hit things, switch between tools on your belt, and interact with villagers. Pretty simple.
Additionally, at the beginning of the game you will be given a Nook Phone™ by your generous raccoon landlord Tom Nook, where you will slowly gain additional features like organization of your collected fossils and recipes, a design function to create your own patterns and images to decorate materials around the island, and even the ability to change the physical landscape of the island itself.
As you progress in the game more features will unlock themselves, each accompanied by a tutorial from Nook or one of your other villagers. But even without this, the controls of the game are very intuitive and gradually develop as you become more comfortable with the game. New to both the Switch and video games in general, I found the gameplay to be fun and easy, adding to the overall relaxing vibe of the game.
One thing I especially enjoyed about the game was the different ways it allowed you to be social with other players, especially during a pandemic when we’re all probably lacking in social connection. The first interactions you have within the game are with your villagers, other animal characters with unique identities who are customized to your game, meaning that you and another player will likely have completely different villagers.
Through interacting with these characters, you can develop relationships as friends or enemies, sending each other letters and gifts or beating them with a butterfly net until they decide to leave your island. Either way, the characters will respond to and remember your choices. They are also programmed to interact with each other and carry out activities throughout the day that are fit to their personalities, making your virtual island feel more like a community. If nothing else, it’s extremely cute.
If you have a friend who also plays the game, you are able to helicopter to each other’s islands to visit! You can exchange items and villagers and text through a chat function in your phone while you are both online. Even if you don’t know anyone playing Animal Crossing, you can meet new people through visiting strangers’ islands. The ability to interact with friends and strangers throughout the game added a new layer of fun and sociability to the experience and made me feel more connected to other people even when we couldn’t be together in person.
I think the stand-out aspect of this game is the incredible way it encourages the creativity of the player. There are countless ways to customize the design of your island, even restructuring it from the ground-up by moving mountains and waterways to create the perfect layout. The designer function allows you to create your own pattern designs, which you can display on flags, clothes, or special items. You can even download designs of other players to decorate your island, which encourages interaction through social media to find cool new designs. As ridiculous as designing new clothes for your cartoon, anthropomorphic villagers may sound, I appreciated the outlet for creative energy and the ability to see the amazing creations of other players around the world. Additionally, the developers continue to release new updates every few weeks, meaning the potential for creativity and new experiences in this game is practically endless.
In conclusion, this game was exactly what I needed this summer. It is fun, light-hearted, adorable, and develops in a way where you actually engage with the world and care about what happens in your village. Admittedly, as summer came to a close so did my passion for Animal Crossing, and I haven’t been back to my island in a while. But if you ever find yourself like me during quarantine – desperate for something new and exciting, but also comforting and socially distant – then Animal Crossing: New Horizons is no doubt the game for you.