|Release: March 20, 2020|
|Players: 1-8 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 720p-1080p||Comic Mischief|
by Jenni Lada
There are certain cultural touchpoints in gaming, hallmark titles that can become notable due to cultural circumstances surrounding them or how they advance the genre as a whole. I believe Animal Crossing: New Horizons is going to be one of those sorts of games. Not because it is something brand new or revolutionary, though it does make many changes and is a thoroughly pleasant and wonderful game. It’s more about it coming at a time when the whole community needed it. Right as it was released, many countries around the world went into lockdown as a pandemic hit. When that happens, what better way to cope than with a game set in a pleasant world where nothing bad can happen and friends are a short seaplane ride away?
Animal Crossing: New Horizons begins as many entries in the series do. Players create an avatar and have an opportunity to move to a deserted island. Well, temporarily deserted. Players move there with two random villagers, Tom Nook, and the Nooklings Timmy and Tommy. Your goal is to make it habitable and happy. Which isn’t difficult. People take things one day at a time, gradually making things more livable and attractive to virtual visitors and themselves.
The sense of progression is a bit different this time around. In past Animal Crossing games, people would move to a town and pretty much have immediate access to a small shop, a tailor’s shop, and some other retail opportunities. Here, the island is desolate. Your first day is about finding places for you and your new neighbors. Then, you need to get the materials for the first shop and convince three people to move to town. After that, you have to shop at Sable’s to convince the Able sisters that a clothing store would do well. Donating wildlife to Nook will convince Blathers to come and open a museum.
All of this happens gradually, bit by bit. Each day, there’s something new to discover. You could be one step closer to getting a bigger house. One day closer to having an actual town hall. A season can change, leading to different bugs and fish being around. Different special characters, like CJ, Flick, Labelle, or Wisp could arrive to give you a task to undertake for a reward. There’s always a reason to return to come back to the town. There’s always something new to do. There’s always a chance to socialize with real and virtual people.
While the idea of gradually building up your inventory, home, and bank account is a constant from past series, Animal Crossing: New Horizons brings in plenty of new elements. One is the concept of crafting. In past games, money helped you acquire everything. Now, money does a lot, but you also need to get resources like different sorts of wood, stones, plants, and precious metals to create furniture and buildings. Using these items to create tools will be the most common use of bits and pieces, though you’ll eventually need them for specialized items too.
Using DIY to make items to decorate your home and town is just one means of changing things around. Terraforming is now a major part of Animal Crossing. Think of it as taking things a step further from Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Instead of just deciding where places go and what gets built, you also get to determine where inclines appear and rivers flow. Think of it as having complete control over how things look. Which, well, is quite appealing when you might be trapped in a confined space and not have control over your own life.
If getting to collect items, customize your world, design clothes, and expand a home aren’t enough reasons to keep returning, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has another means of getting people to keep checking in. The new system is called Nook Miles. For completing set objectives and five constantly shifting objectives, you can earn points that can be spent on things like items, recipes, and tickets to visit randomly generated items to collect materials or possibly meet new villagers. It’s a reason to get rewarded for little things you likely would have already been doing, then use that to expand your horizons and repertoire.
As for interacting with others, Animal Crossing: New Horizons makes playing with fellow villagers easy. The downside is, local multiplayer can be a bit limiting. The main account holder, who is the one who first starts the island, is the one who gets to have the most fun with it. The other local players on the same Switch get to still enjoy life in the town, but don’t set the pace.
Playing online is much better. If you visit or open your island, up to eight people can visit. You can use voice chat with the Nintendo Switch Online app or use the app as a keyboard for texting. You can choose to have best friend privileges, which lets people do more on your island or gives you the ability to message someone if you’re both online. While the in-game keyboard is pretty bad, the game is still really good at letting people connect with one another. You can share and chat with each other. You can spend time and have experiences, even if you can’t actually be together.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is cathartic. It is the sort of game you need when you’re in a really bad situation and need to feel better. When your world is uncertain and you’re terrified about what could happen next, but there’s nothing you can do in real life, you can escape to your island here. Everything is safe. You have enough money to not only get by, but to eventually have everything you could ever want. You can make virtual friends who are always happy to see you and want to do things with you. Most important, it gives you something to do every day. You have a reason to keep going and exist, and you have a way to easily connect with people you care about.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons could end up being the most important game of 2020. It certainly will be one of its best. It will be the coping mechanism that helps people both recover from and overcome the dark things around them.