Photo courtesy of Nintendo.
Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing” series has always helped people escape from their real-world troubles. In a time when many of us are sequestered in our homes amid a global pandemic, it’s nice to pretend that I can go outside and build a beautiful island paradise.
“Animal Crossing” isn’t really about trying to beat your friends’ high scores or defeat a boss as much as it is a life simulation, but a life simulation that is much, much kinder than it is in reality. You fish, catch bugs and dig for fossils in order to pay off your debts (which are interest-free and have no due date!), and befriend the cute critters living in your town. You can buy furniture and clothes to build your Aesthetic™, donate creatures to the museum, hang out at the coffee shop, go to concerts and generally just do whatever you feel like. While most games get your adrenaline running, “Animal Crossing” is more of a relaxing experience, a game you play when you just need to vibe.
In the latest entry, “Animal Crossing: ‘New Horizons,” you and a few random animals start out on a deserted island. As such, you are tasked (read: enslaved by a capitalist raccoon loan shark) with building the entire town from scratch, recruiting more animals to live there along the way. Later in the game, you can even terraform the island, changing the layout of cliffs, rivers and lakes.
What makes “New Horizons” so enjoyable for me is being able to do, for lack of better words, whatever I want. Want to pay off your loan ASAP? Sure. Invest turnips in the “stalk market?” Why not? Make your house a dream home…or a haunted mansion? You can be kind to your new animal neighbors, or repeatedly hit them in the face with a net if you want to evict them.
The new crafting mechanic, in which you can build and customize your own furniture from a variety of materials, has been a highlight, especially since you can place furniture almost anywhere. My house is still a work in progress, but my town now has an outdoor cafe, a hot springs, several gardens, a graveyard, picnic tables and other miscellaneous decorations for every house. The aforementioned terraforming feature also lets you change the flow of the island’s rivers and lakes, and perform much-needed landscaping. It’s kind of relaxing to just build a random extension of the river, or a new section of the cliff. You can also design custom patterns and clothing. The creative potential has allowed many memes to flourish.
The game plays in real time. Last week was cherry blossom season, so my island’s trees were adorned with beautiful pink petals. At the time of this writing, the Easter event is plaguing my island with eggs, much to chargin of literally everyone. Sometimes you can catch your villagers doing random things, like singing in the town square, watering flowers, reading books, exercising or even getting in heated arguments with other characters. This all makes the virtual village feel a bit more lifelike.
I think what makes this game resonate with so many people of all ages is that it’s a world where your biggest worry is making sure your kitchen walls match the flooring, or buying a present for your next-door neighbor who happens to be a bear. Especially since our current world is so chaotic and (at least for me, at the moment) lonely, it’s nice to have a little world where you have a bit of control and kindness.
Also, the interest-free loans that you don’t technically have to pay are nice.