One of Nintendo’s most-beloved franchises released a new installment on March 20, just in time to spread some wholesome, heart-warming cheer when the world desperately needs a little sunshine. Ironically sharing a release date with the breakneck demon slaying of “DOOM Eternal,” “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” delivers a serene and plodding experience that should delight even the most cynical among us.
The game submits players to the lethargy of island life that it emulates, as the in-game clock syncs up with real time, and major events in the game correlate with the actual passage of days. However, impatient players may simply set their Nintendo Switch system date ahead a day when they want to advance the time. This is what I did early on in order to gain access to all the features sooner, but it was not until I submitted myself fully to the mundanity of the game that everything really began to click.
Players will spend their time performing daily tasks at their own discretion such as picking fruit, catching bugs or fish and harvesting material with the end goal of developing the island, contributing to the expansive museum of local fauna and absolving their debt to the notorious loan-raccoon, Tom Nook.
These menial tasks never feel too laborious or banal, however, as the charm of this game simply overwhelms the user’s senses. Everything is so aggressively cute. The designs of the anthropomorphic villagers are adorable, the dialogue is filled with eye-rolling yet endearing puns and the many customizations for characters and outfits to stimulate the imagination.
This game is about the volition of the player’s inner-child. It is about indulging in whimsy. It challenges the way I enjoy and analyze games.
The sense of community established by “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is astounding and uplifting. The village of non-playable characters is joyous enough, but the online community is truly a breath of fresh air. Screenshots of players’ creations have penetrated the thunder-dome of anxiety that is Twitter.
Multiplayer is a greatly welcomed feature, as players may visit each other’s islands and send each other gifts. They may also create and upload custom designs for clothes. It is so much fun to show off the fruits of one’s labor to friends, and it may add hours of enjoyment to the experience. It might be time to get some more friends.
Despite all its charm, there are some ways in which the game feels dated or needlessly tedious. The most notable way is the fixed camera. Being able to move the camera only inside villagers’ homes can be quite frustrating. Other, more statically designed games can make a fixed camera work, but in a game where the player dictates the landscape, a fixed camera feels far too restrictive as the player character often becomes obfuscated by the scenery.
Some quality-of-life improvements would be welcomed as well. The frequency at which players’ tools break is irritating and the effort to craft new ones adds nothing of value to the gameplay loop. A method of improving movement speed would help as well, as traveling from one end of the island to the other because of a broken tool or a forgotten item is a nuisance.
However, it is easy to look past some minor inconveniences for such a singular and unique experience. “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” demands that players slow down and relax in a binge society. It is likable and calming in ways that are unrivaled by its contemporaries. It is a game that I want to come back to for daily increments of delightful peace, as opposed to the compulsion of progress and triumph over adversity that most games offer.
I, absolutely, recommend “Animal Crossing” to anyone who owns a Nintendo Switch. Whether they think it is their thing or not, most players will be swept off of their feet by the loveliest game of the year just as I was.
Photo credit: Nintendo