Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Nintendo

The world is a stressful place right now. If you feel like you need a holiday, you should pick up Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch. Here’s why I and many other people love Animal Crossing.

Now is the perfect time to get into Animal Crossing. Fans have been eagerly awaiting a new release for almost a decade. Nintendo released Animal Crossing: New Horizons on March 20, 2020.

Why Do People Love Animal Crossing?

Animal Crossing is a life simulator. Each game has you move to a new town inhabited by adorable anthropomorphic animals. The latest entry in the series, New Horizons, has you sailing to a deserted island after purchasing a holiday package from a raccoon called Tom Nook.

If you’ve never played an Animal Crossing game before, don’t be put off. There’s no story or homework to catch up on to enjoy this outing. I’m envious of anyone who hasn’t already dipped their toes in. There’s so much to discover and fall in love with on your first outing.

The series began life on the GameCube in 2001, which established many of the franchise’s long-running characteristics. The most notable of these is a real-time clock and calendar that mirrors the real-life passage of time. The seasons change as they do in real life. Playing at different times of day provides different things to see and do, too.

While the game offers many things to explore, the core gameplay loop is simple. When you start, you’ll be given a basic dwelling and a loan from Tom Nook. You earn currency (known as bells) to pay off your loan, which in turn upgrades your dwelling. You’ll then be given a new loan to work off until you’ve got the biggest house in the village.

But there are plenty of other things to do along the way. There’s a museum to fill with bugs, fossils, paintings, and more. You can collect shells, fruit, and seashells to sell for a profit. You can spend time socializing and sending letters or gifts to residents and real-life friends.

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Collecting bugs in the Animal Crossing: New Horizons game
Nintendo

Although this might not sound compelling on paper, the way Nintendo presents Animal Crossing elicits a sense of calm and serenity that few other games can match. The naive art style, soft yet vibrant color palette, and lullaby-like music is good for the soul.

Perhaps it’s the pace that’s most calming, though. While you’ll face pressures to pay off your loan and keep up with the busy social lives of your neighbors, you’re free to tackle the game at your own pace. There’s no game over screen, no ticking clock, and very few mistakes to be made.

Sitting on the beach watching the sun go down while fish nuzzle your line is a genuinely soothing experience. Your animated fellow residents are almost always happy to see you, and they make meaningful changes to your interactions the better you get to know them.

There’s much more beneath the surface that I’m holding back on, but I’m determined not to give too much away. You’ll have to play the game to get a real sense of what makes Animal Crossing feel so unique.

New Horizons is a Holiday

The whole premise of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is that you’re heading to a deserted island for a holiday. To begin, all you have available to you is a tent, and it’s up to you to get to know your neighbors and take advantage of the world around you to move up in the world.

New Horizons introduces a few long-awaited features, including a robust crafting system. You can use basic resources like wood to craft items, then use items you have crafted to craft even more items. In previous titles, you could only decorate your house, but New Horizons lets you put furniture and decorative items anywhere on the island.

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a group of animals in Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Nintendo

The game also introduces a new currency, known as Nook Miles, that you earn by completing various tasks around the island. You can use your Nook Miles to buy unique items not available through other means. A deeper social system allows you to influence how other residents behave, including where they should build their homes.

The game’s other systems have also been expanded. There’s now an option to select between northern and southern hemispheres so that the seasons are correct wherever you’re playing. There are new types of weather, an expanded character customization system, and for the first time ever the game is in full HD.

While “HD graphics” might sound a bit 2010, the last Animal Crossing game on a home console was City Folk for the Wii, released in 2008. This level of detail, combined with the series’ charming art style, really is a feast for the eyes. From the way the leaves rustle in the trees, to the bobbing of a fishing lure, to the joyful animation of your character catching a rare fish—it all looks so good.

choosing an avatar outfit in Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Nintendo

And so, while New Horizons is a holiday for your in-game character, so too is it a holiday from the stresses of modern life. While the world hunkers down and prepares to ride out a once-in-a-century global pandemic, New Horizons is a vacation you can enjoy from home.

The game was supposed to launch in late 2019, but Nintendo delayed it to apply a final layer of polish. In the end, the timing couldn’t have been better.

A Place to Hang Out with Friends

In addition to anthropomorphic NPCs, including several longstanding series favorites, New Horizons offers several ways to play with your real-world friends. To start, each Nintendo Switch system will have a single island available to all users of that console.

This means that if you’re sharing a Switch with your partner, housemates, or children, up to four of you will have a house on the same island. You will all be able to contribute items to the same museum, maintain and beautify the island as a group, and interact with the same residents. The first person on an island becomes the “Resident Representative.” You can play online with up to seven other friends via Nintendo Switch Online.

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scene on a bridge in the Animal Crossing: New Horizons game
Nintendo

The Resident Representative is charged with building much of the major structures and advancements in the game. Only they can build ramps and bridges, customize the flag, and make changes to other core aspects of village life.

But you can still hang out with your friends, even if you’re on different systems and different islands. This can be done remotely via Nintendo Switch Online, or locally via local wireless play. It’s possible to visit each other’s islands, socialize with the residents, go fishing together, and more.

At a time when we are being told to stay away from one another, New Horizons offers an opportunity to just hang out and embrace the mundane.

A Once in a Generation Title

You’ll need a Nintendo Switch to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons. You can buy a physical copy of the game online or download it from the eShop on your Switch. The previous game, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, is available for the Nintendo 3DS.

A Nintendo Switch Online membership ($20 for a year) is required to interact with other people online.

Nintendo released the game on March 20, 2020. Prior to its release, it already enjoyed critical acclaim from a wide variety of outlets including Polygon, Kotaku, IGN, VG247 and Game Informer.

New Horizons offers a chance to escape stress, if only for a few hours a day. Seasoned Animal Crossing fans and newcomers alike can take solace in one of the most relaxing gaming experiences ever.

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