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Since its release, the Nintendo Switch exclusive Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been a hot topic not only amongst the gaming community but media in general. Since quarantine, I don’t think there’s been a single instance where I’ve scrolled through Twitter and haven’t come across a screenshot of a hilarious dialogue spoken by a villager, or a code for a custom pattern free for anyone to use.

As someone who’s picked up the franchise only since its 3DS iteration, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, I have a bit of prior experience with the series. However, some of you unfamiliar with it might be wondering: What’s with all the hype surrounding this game about anthropomorphic animals?

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To answer that, let’s take a walk down memory lane and go back to the very first game in the series, Animal Crossing (yes, it was just titled Animal Crossing once upon a time). Released for the Nintendo 64 and later the Nintendo GameCube, the game hit North America for the first time in 2002. It was described by Nintendo as a “communication game” at the time, which still holds true today. Some of the core mechanics introduced were real-time events based on the console’s internal clock, such as talking to the townsfolk and writing them letters, and of course, buying a new house on loan from Tom Nook. All of these and many more have been retained throughout the various main installments of Animal Crossing.

At the time of its release, Animal Crossing was a critical success, and the series has continued that legacy to this day. Each new installment of Animal Crossing went on to become a best-seller for the respective console it was released on. New Horizons ended up as a milestone for the series, as it broke the record for the biggest launch for a Switch game, surpassing the likes of both Mario and Zelda and has become Switch’s first game to sell 5 million boxed copies in Japan.

“But wait, paying off a loan doesn’t sound like fun exactly,” is what you might be thinking. It’s actually a no-interest loan that can be paid off at any point in the game, but that’s beside the point. The game is designed to be a relaxing experience. There are no bad guys to defeat, no world to save from the brink of destruction. In fact, New Horizons is almost designed to have you assume the position of a god, crafting a paradise fit to your liking.

However, where the appeal really lies in Animal Crossing, is in its open-ended nature and the slow reward system. There’s no definitive goal that the game lays out for you, and it’s up to the player to decide what they want to work towards. Whether that’s completing the collection of fossils in the museum, fishing for every sea creature, or just making your island look pretty whilst wearing a flowery crown, it’s entirely up to you to focus on a particular objective. This makes it a game that can be engaging for anyone. In fact, there’s even an 87-year-old grandma who’s clocked in over 3,500 hours on her save file! 

One of New Horizons’ newest features, Nook Miles, is designed to reward the player for each task they complete. This is essentially used to pay off your “getaway package”, and is earned by completing challenges. Its intention is to work similar to a mileage program for an airline, but instead granting rewards the more you play. This slow reward system is ingrained in the game and can be found in actions as simple as planting a tree and waiting three days for it to grow. Of course, there’s the concept of “time-traveling” for players that might find the pace of fruition to be too hindering, but this element of choice is just another reason to enjoy the game.

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So, how did the game become an overnight phenomenon during quarantine? As mentioned earlier, it’s a “communication game,” not just between the player and the townspeople, but also between players. Since the introduction of Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection in Animal Crossing: Wild World, players have been able to visit other people’s towns by getting on a train and riding towards their destination. This feature has been slightly revamped in New Horizons, with players being able to travel between islands using Dodo Airlines, a building in the form of an airport. With social distancing becoming the norm in the past few months, New Horizons has served as a great way for people to connect with each other and have some fun in these stressful times.

This multiplayer feature serves more purpose than just mingling with one another. One of the ways to increase the in-game money you have is the “Stalk Market”. The economy of your island functions on the exchange of turnips, with their prices fluctuating throughout the week. An easy way to ensure you sell your turnips for the maximum amount of profit is by searching for an island on which the turnips are being bought for a good turnover. This can be done through mutuals, Discord servers, or even Twitter. In fact, Lord of the Rings actor Elijah Wood replied on one player’s Twitter post regarding their stalk prices that day and his visit to that player’s island went viral. Everyone praised his etiquette, and the player had their “best day in quarantine yet”. It’s not every day you get to go on an adventure with Frodo Baggins.

Of course, I couldn’t go without mentioning Nookazon, a fan-made version of Amazon just for Animal Crossing, where players can list furniture, DIY recipes, even villagers they have on their island for sale. To make an account, players can simply link their Discord or Twitter account, fill out their profile information, and create a new listing. Anything listed can be sold for either bells (the in-game currency), Nook Miles Tickets, or even traded for another item. Some of the prices for popular items can be over-the-top, such as one of the game’s more popular villagers, Raymond, and has created quite a bit of controversy amongst fans. Then again, popularity is, more often than not, subject to controversy.

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To quote the game’s director Aya Kyogoku, “Players are free to play Animal Crossing the way they want to, so I think the spirit [of the series] would be defined differently depending on each player.” At the end of the day, Animal Crossing is a game as intense as you’d like it, whether that’s spending 15 minutes a day to meet your villagers, or spending hours terraforming your island. It’s a game that’s bringing a sense of comfort to many people in this time full of distress, and that’s more than worth celebrating.      

About The Author

Tanushri shah

Tanushri Shah is a video game and anime enthusiast with a soft spot for anything Nintendo. A meticulous person who loves good storytelling and world-building, Tanushri enjoys a bit of everything when it comes to gaming. She makes her presence known on Twitter and Instagram occasionally.

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