I’m so proud of Animal Crossing.
When the original released on the GameCube, I knew only 4 people who played it: my family and exactly one of my friends. It felt like a cult classic, as most GameCube games did back then. It was one of the first games of its kind, a game to prioritize routines and social connections over other “game elements” like levels and bosses. I felt like I was part of some exclusive club.
And here we are now, with millions of people playing New Horizons. In a way, I’m sad I’m not so special, but on the other hand, I’m so happy that the series is seeing financial success. It’s now on the same level as Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon in terms of mainstream appeal.
Part of what surprises me about Animal Crossing’s sales is the way this series defies how most games are traditionally designed. You don’t ever “win” Animal Crossing – you simply exist in it. Whether that’s a visit every day, a check-in on the weekends, or a month-long binge, the only real point to the game is to build up your community and then simply be in it. I didn’t think that concept would catch on with so many people when I was younger, but I guess it did!
I’ve played New Horizons almost every day since it came out. That makes over 150 days of playing. What has kept me engaged this long?
Well, for starters, I have goals I want to accomplish. First it was completely paying off my house. After I did that I worked on getting a 5-star island. After that I started on finishing the Critterpedia, collecting all the K.K. Slider songs, and getting photos of all my villagers.
It’s incredibly relaxing to have a routine and to go about it. Every evening after work I first check in with my animal friends, then I check the beach for new recipes and seashells, and if I’m in the mood I’ll get a few fruits to sell. I’ll usually end the session by talking with the town visitor that day. If I’m lucky I’ll see two of my villagers talking. I found the best dialogue in the game by eavesdropping on these weird conversations.
It helps that everyday I have something unexpected to look forward to. I never know if I’m going to find Redd with his sketchy art gallery for sale, Celeste and her adorable space-themed recipes, or Flick and his unabashed devotion to bugs.
Updates, events, and monthly changes help as well. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Bug-Off and Fishing Tourneys, the August firework shows are delightful, and I love hearing Pascal’s “truth bombs” in exchange for diving for scallops.
Every month I print out the new bugs / fish and then proceed to catch every one of them. Some of them are quite hard to find (I’m looking at you, summer stag beetles), but it’s always exciting to finally fill out that part of my Critterpedia. It’s the exact same satisfaction as completing the Pokedex. I’ve started doing it now with all the crafting recipes, too.
If you’re a person who likes collecting things in games, then New Horizons is a delightful buffet. And there are more ways than ever to show it all off — your house, the island, and the museum, of course. My island is gradually becoming just a massive collection of everything I’ve hoarded. That being said, the fun is more in the journey, and less in the destination. Knowing I’m getting closer to completing a task is, ironically, more rewarding than actually finishing it.
Fan content is also keeps the game fun. And in the hands of fans, New Horizons has become more than just a game — it is somehow becoming a form of media of its own? I’ve seen anything from streamers making their own Survivor shows, to a theater company performing a version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the game. And they pulled it off rather well! The wand costumes allowed for quick wardrobe changes, and the emotes are diverse enough to get a good range of expression. And that’s not even including all the tv show parodies and in-game cosplays and town homages to other games and shows. The amount of customization and creativity people can have in this game is incredible.
My previous issues with the game still stand. Nintendo has thankfully added cloud backup support, but it took several months for it to roll out. Furthermore, New Horizons is rather limited in terms of player options. I still dislike the one-island-per-Switch decision. The way you play couch co-op is rather obtuse, and my wife and I use it much less than I thought we would. The Dream update requires a code to see someone’s island, which defeats the purpose of it. Nintendo has this habit of designing games to be so open-ended and free, while restricting the way you interact with it, such as accessing control options or playing with others. It’s baffling.
Despite my grievances, New Horizons is still a blast. I still think there are plenty of quality of life changes they could make, but that’s not stopping me from logging in every day. I have major respect for the game’s director, Aya Kyogoku. This direction was completely the right direction to take the Animal Crossing franchise, and it’s paying off in spades. I’m planning on doing a spotlight piece on her soon, so stay tuned for what that will go live.