ANIMAL CROSSING: NEW HORIZONS – Nintendo Switch
RATING: E FOR EVERYONE (COMIC MISCHIEF)
By: John Wahl
There are some video games that you will always associate with a certain time in your life. Games that you played during a particularly wonderful, difficult or otherwise memorable period in your life, and the two will always be linked in your mind. I’m certain that’ll be the case years from now when I think back on Animal Crossing: New Horizons and the COVID-19 pandemic. With most of the country being either asked or directly ordered to stay at home, my family was looking for something to not only occupy our time while stuck at home but also do something to get our minds off of the stress of the real world crisis that we are in. A game to escape into.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was exactly what my family needed.
The last Animal Crossing game that I spent any considerable amount of time with was City Folk which was released back in 2008. My first child was less than a year old and I remember how my wife and I would sit on the couch while our daughter slept, strategy guide in hand, and play the game together trying to complete our aquarium and fossil collections. We loved that game, but not being mobile players we didn’t play the more recent 3DS installment, Animal Crossing: New Leaf. So it’s been over a decade since we’ve kicked back at The Roost and enjoyed the chill sounds of KK Slider.
Fast forward to the spring of 2020 and we have two older children who are into gaming but have no idea about when it’s the right time to sell your turnips or the best method for hitting a money rock. So as we hunkered down for our impending quarantine, we gathered the kids in the living room and spent the next several hours (and most of the weekend) beginning our new life on the island of Sugar Lake.
If you’ve played an Animal Crossing game before you’ll feel immediately at home here. There are lots of nice improvements from previous titles, but the gist of the game remains the same.
a) build, customize, and pay off a home.
b) discover creatures and fossils to fill the museum.
c) become friends with the other inhabitants of the island.
We started by choosing and naming our island getaway and then creating each of our avatars. As I was the first person to play the game, I was designated the “Resident Representative”, meaning that it would be up to me to make some of the bigger decisions on the island such as where to place new structures. We decided together how we would place our homes (you start with a tent before building a house), putting them all together to form a nice little neighborhood of sorts, then we got to exploring the rest of the island.
Unlike previous games in the series, there isn’t much there at first. Buildings like the Museum, Nook’s Cranny (the shop), and the Able Sisters (clothing) will all have to be earned and built over time. You can’t even explore the entirety of the island in the beginning until you’ve earned the ability to cross rivers and scale cliffs. It creates a nice, slow rhythm that has you focusing on the basics before moving on to the rest of what the world has to offer.
The slow pace of the game was like a breath of fresh air, not only due to the current state of the world, but also when compared to the rapid fire pace of so many of the other games that we play throughout the year. We’re usually so focused on trying to fit as much as we possibly can into our limited amount of time, it’s refreshing when a game asks you to slow down, take a break, and enjoy the little things.
We passed the controller around between the four of us, taking turns exploring, crafting, and fishing. In a brilliant move, if you get tired of waiting for your turn you can invite the other villagers to come out and play, with up to 3 other players able to play on the same screen together. As much fun as the game is to play solo, the girls really loved being able to play all together with us. You can also invite your online friends to come visit for an even bigger party. The game really does a fantastic job of making this a game for families and friends to play together.
The minutes turned into hours, and the hours into days. We traded in our tents for small houses, explored other uninhabited islands, and lounged in our patio furniture while watching the sun set. There’s so much to keep you busy in New Horizons that it’s easy to lose yourself for hours at a time. I could go on forever about all of the wonderful little details that they’ve packed into this game, and we’ve only experienced a small fraction of it, but the truth is that it’s better to discover these moments on your own. I will say that the highlights for us so far are the Museum and the new character Wilbur, who flies you around to different islands.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game that my family has been anticipating for a long time, but as much as we had been looking forward to playing it, I never could have imagined what a delightful and therapeutic experience it would be for us. When we were caring for our tropical oasis, we didn’t spare a thought for social distancing, flattening the curve, or how we were going to get more toilet paper.
That’s not to say that the game isn’t amazing on it’s own, it absolutely is. After a short time with it I’m ready to call it the best installment in the franchises history. But like I said, some games are tied to what’s happening in the real world for better or for worse, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons will always be the game that we played during the global pandemic to escape the fear and frustrations of daily life. Nobody knows how long this situation that we’re in will last, but I feel lucky that my family will have this game to take our mind off of things.
Dad’s Take: “Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the sequel I’ve wanted for years, and the escapism that I need right now.”
Kid’s Take: “The new Animal Crossing is an awesome, fun game that I didn’t know I needed until now.”