One of Nintendo’s greatest, weirdest strengths has always been its ability to create something that appeals to a concentrated, nostalgia-related experience, and Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch is no exception. Animal Crossing is a long-running video game franchise about a human player living, working, and camping in various forests populated by anthropomorphic animals. It sounds pretty weird, but I swear it’s the cutest game you’ll ever play.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched at a time where most people were staying indoors, unable to visit family or friends due to COVID-19 safety precautions, so it’s no wonder the game sold 22 million copies in just under five months from the release date. You can visit friends and family, send mail and gifts, and spend quality time with the people you care about through 2020’s most coziest, most family-friendly video game.
In the several months since its launch in March 2020, I’ve written at least 20 articles about the game, and I’m still playing it nearly every day. I played on the GameCube when I was a kid (I remember when it first came out!), and I was pretty hyped when I first heard about the upcoming release of Animal Crossing: New Leaf (2012).
Unfortunately, New Leaf was incredibly disappointing for me. The graphics were different, the atmosphere and the things you could do in the game were different. Sometimes change is good but New Leaf was trying too hard. So last year, when I saw that New Horizons was on the way, I was a little timid. Now that I’ve played it, I can say the game is a great success. I am blown away by this new Animal Crossing experience. They’ve taken what I loved about the original and they’ve expanded it.
A Super Relaxing Game
I like that Tom Nook treats you like his special guest, but you’re forced to stay in a tent upon your arrival on your new dream island. I love that you build a deserted island from the ground up—you decide the name, the layout, the villagers, the island flag and tune—you decide it all! And best of all, you can do all of this at your own pace. Villagers won’t randomly move out in your absence, and all tasks are completed on your schedule. There are a few responsibilities, like paying off your debt to Tom Nook once you begin upgrading your home, but it’s entirely up to the player to begin that process.
There are several goal-oriented advances in the game (such as unlocking terraforming or the museum), but the game encourages players to take things at their own pace. There are also personal achievements to accomplish, such as acquiring 1,000,000 Bells, or completing your Critterpedia, but if you’re not a completionist, that won’t matter to you, and that’s fine. No one says you have to do any of that and that’s one of the many things that make thins game so relaxing.
There are plenty of old pals you can meet, like Rover from the original GameCube Animal Crossing, Gulliver, and K.K. Slider have made a comeback, along with several other favorites. Old villagers have returned that you can convince to move to your island, so if you have some old favorites, you can invite them back in New Horizons! Some of my favorites were Kiki and Kitten, both cat villagers, and I was overjoyed to see that they had made a return in this new game.
This may sound sappy, but the villagers in Animal Crossing: New Horizons cheer me up if I’m having a rough day. They’re there to greet me, they say nice things, and sometimes they give me gifts. They send me mail, they check up on me, they ask me what my hobbies are, and they throw birthday parties. When I launch the game after being gone a while, my mailbox is full of mail from my villagers—always cute and cheerful. When I speak to them, they tell me they’ve missed me. It’s a great way to boost my mood, and as pathetic as it sounds, it means a lot even if it is coming from a video game character. Your villagers in Animal Crossing: New Horizons will always care about you (even the grumpy villagers who like to pretend otherwise).
In the original game, the goal was to pay off your debt to Tom Nook (and eventually you became the Mayor), but that was about it. Funds were a little harder to come by, residents moved out if you so much as neglected to login for five days, and you couldn’t choose where their houses were placed. You could choose one of four homes in the central plaza (other players could move in to the remaining three), but you couldn’t choose where to place your house. With upgrades, you could choose the roof color. You could choose a randomly generated map (although, you’d have to restart the game over and over to get an ideal map layout), you could choose your town name, and your town tune. But in New Horizons, you can choose so much more and I simply love that. It is such a tremendous upgrade, and the game is absolutely beautiful—the game runs in 1080p, and you can see the little furs on your residents if you look closely enough. It is simply amazing.
A Day In The Life
At this point, I’m on the last house upgrade, and I’m not super stressed about paying the loan to Tom Nook anytime soon (the loan is 2,498,000 Bells). I spend most of my time checking what Timmy and Tommy have for sale, talking to my villagers, pulling up any weeds, and participating in weekly events, such as K.K. Slider concerts (he visits every Saturday). I’ve completed the fossil section in my museum, and sometimes villagers will assign treasure hunts. I still regularly check-in on Blathers, and every month I turn to Google to see what the newest fish and bugs are, so that I can catch and record them in my critterpedia logs. I check regularly for Redd’s ship to appear at the port, and I love launching my village in the evenings to see Celeste, who (sometimes) gives me horoscope-themed DIY recipes. All of the seasonal events that Nintendo has released have been a major hit, and I wouldn’t dare miss any of them.
But before I came into my riches, I’d also spend every Sunday checking Daisy Mae’s turnip prices (aka the “Stalk Market”), and the rest of the week would be spent checking Timmy and Tommy’s turnip prices on the Reddit turnip thread, and Discord channels that I belong to. It could be a little stressful trying to find the right price. There were very long queues at times, and it was sometimes stressful waiting for an island to open up that I could visit (there’s a huge turnip price market online), but there were times that I sold turnips for 200 Bells per, and I’d make 1,000,000 Bells, so it was worth the wait. Sometimes I’d take a break since it became more stressful when I continued to play the waiting game until Saturday (that’s when the deadline expires to sell the turnips), but it was such an easy way to make money in the game and make friends.
I play the game completely solo—I don’t share my island, and most people I’ve met who are in my friends list exist just to trade furniture with me to complete their item catalog—a means to an end, I suppose—but overall, I prefer to play alone. There isn’t much else to do with friends besides trading, taking some cute selfies, and visiting each other’s dream island. If you’re looking for a cozy game that you can sink time into alone, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is perfect.
I’d argue that this game is significantly more laid-back and cozier than Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, which in comparison, can be a little stressful and daunting, especially when first starting out. Some of the difficulty in the new game is still there much like in the old Friends of Mineral Town (2003) release for the GameBoy Advance, even though the difficulty isn’t what it used to be, so I’ll still pick it up and play it if I’m looking for a challenge. But Animal Crossing: New Horizons brings an extra level of coziness and comfort that I never expected to exist in a video game.
If there’s one thing I’d like to see as an addition to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I’d like to purchase a second island to build, structure, and populate. I have over 80k Nook Miles tickets with nothing to spend them on, and I wish the game had bigger, larger projects. Admittedly, I lagged behind a little on unlocking some of the larger features (like terraforming and upgrading my home) mostly due to my lack of money in the game, but when I did eventually unlock those, there wasn’t much else to do besides gather more DIY recipes that I hadn’t found yet, and get my island to a 5-star status. My island still hasn’t achieved 5-star status, and I don’t feel compelled to do so, mostly because there isn’t a huge reward at the end. Will I finish it eventually? Yes, just not right now, and that’s an incredibly relaxed goal compared to many other games.
Would I recommend this game to someone? Yes, absolutely. If you’re looking for a game that is cozy, that doesn’t require much mental energy, then this is the right game for you. Nintendo continues to launch plenty of content and frequent updates to keep the game interesting over a long period of time, and there are hours of cozy goodness to sink into like a fluffy sweater.