Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the game we need right now

Live your wildest fantasies, like going outside and standing close to people

Animal Crossing beach photo

I went into playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons assuming I wouldn’t enjoy the game, but to my surprise, it offers exactly the type of video game experience I need in my life right now — and I’m not alone in this feeling.

Take a look at any social media platform right now and it’s easy to see that New Horizons has evolved into a cultural phenomenon.

On my tiny Animal Crossing island, I don’t need to socially distance myself from others, wearing a mask isn’t a concern (though amusingly, you can put one on if you want) and I can freely go to the store to purchase useless items like an all-important plasma globe.

COVID-19 does not exist in New Horizon’s idealistic world.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve carefully crafted my virtual home and its surrounding island, then invited my friends and family to come check it out. I spent a few hours last weekend catching bugs with my niece, trading fruit with my older brother and every day, I perform daily tasks in local co-op with my partner.

We dig up fossils, hit rocks to get Iron Nuggets and collect fruit together. We also deck out our respective houses with personalized furniture and then compare the results. Animal Crossing‘s local multiplayer isn’t perfect because it strangely limits what the extra players are capable of doing. Still, I’m glad it’s part of the game and hopefully, this is a feature Nintendo expands on in the coming months. On the plus side, changing party leaders is as easy as shaking a Switch Joy-Con.

Animal Crossing New Horizons

If all of this sounds insane and boring, you’re not necessarily wrong, but it’s also strangely compelling, especially right now.

I’ve come to cherish the few hours each day when I play Animal Crossing. This part of my day is a respite from the constant bad news and speculation surrounding the state of Canada and the world in general.

The game also always gives me something to look forward to — a feeling that is in short supply right now. For example, a few days ago, I was excited to wake up the next day so I could check out Timmy and Tommy’s new store, Nook’s Cranny, after spending hours gathering 30 Iron Nuggets to get it constructed.

Fast-forward to now and I’m looking forward to the addition being built on my in-game house after paying off my 198,000 Bell mortgage (yes, Tom Nook, the island’s somewhat predatory proprietor, makes you pay off your housing).

My previous experiences with the Animal Crossing series have always left me wanting more from the game. Its settings have been inviting and charming, but after a few hours, it felt like I didn’t have much control over the games’ worlds. I grew up playing Harvest Moon 64 and, more recently, got really into Stardew Valley, a spiritual reimagining of the classic farming series. Both of these games felt far deeper than anything the Animal Crossing franchise has offered in the past.

While that’s still true to an extent, New Horizons adds more to Animal Crossing than any other entry before it. There’s now an intricate crafting system that isn’t quite as comprehensive as Stardew Valley’s, but is simple enough that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. You’re also responsible for building an entire island village now instead of just your own house.

Don’t worry about feeling pressured, though, because you can construct your ideal world at as slow of a pace as you want. For example, rather than build up my town, I’ve spent most of my time catching fish or wandering around my island in constant search of valuable insects. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch the elusive oarfish or even the ultra-rare Stringfish, before the season changed. See you next year, you stupid Stringfish.

New Horizons is also more goal-oriented than past Animal Crossing games. The new Nook Miles system is an alternate currency earned by accomplishing goals like chopping down a specific number of trees or pulling tons of weeds.

This means that in the rare situation where I don’t feel like I have something to do in Animal Crossing: New Horizons — which hasn’t yet happened — I’ll still have a specific task I can accomplish. This is something I feel like past games in the long-running series have been missing.

Unfortunately, the Switch is difficult to purchase right now and is sold out at most Canadian retailers, but if you already own the console and are looking for a distraction while social distancing, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is one of the best I’ve encountered so far.

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