My first moments with Animal Crossing: New Horizons were mostly filled with guilt. I’m currently sitting on several games that I haven’t yet finished. Plus, dropping $100 on a new game where all you do is pick flowers and catch fish doesn’t exactly sound like a smart investment. Then there’s the fact that I kind of hate life sim games. I spent several years pretending I loved Stardew Valley before finally admitting it made me stressed and miserable. All in, buying Animal Crossing was maybe not the smartest idea.
But it was March 2020 and I, like I imagine a few other people, cared less about money than usual. I was looking for comfort, and the soft, adorable world of Animal Crossing sure seemed comfortable. I ripped off the bandaid, dropped the money, and bought it. Then, I got to spend a couple hours waiting for it to download, puttering around my apartment and feeling stupid about my moment of weakness. Then I finally started playing…and the guilt quickly washed away. Animal Crossing was exactly what I needed—because it can be anything you want it to be.
The Isolated Man and the Virtual Sea
For the first few days, all I did was wander my island, Pine Rock, and catch fish. It turns out that listening for the blip…blip…blip…PLUNK of a fish on the line is both meditative and satisfying. I caught loaches and dabs, sea basses and red snappers, even the occasional oarfish or coveted sturgeon. The prospect of adding a new fish to my collection, or catching a valuable one to help pay off my sizeable home debt, kept me playing for hours.
After one particularly stressful day, I traveled to a random island, cast my lure off the beach, and reeled in a massive coelacanth. For those who aren’t aware, I happen to like coelacanths. A lot. I knew they were in the game, but had heard they were exceedingly rare. I’m not ashamed to admit it, but holding up that ancient fish was one of the most uplifting moments I’ve gotten from a video game in years.
A Different Game
Not long after I caught my coelacanth, I ventured over to my friend’s island. This is, after all, a social, online game, and now is the time to be social and online. I walked down to the airport, talked to a dodo named Orville, and booked a flight. When I hopped off the plane on Biscuit Island (you’ll have to ask them where that name came from), I was a little bit shocked.
Their island seemed like a five-star resort compared to mine. Flowerbeds lined the paths between buildings. Neat rows of fruit trees—apple, orange, peach, pear—covered nearly every open space. This island had been painstakingly manicured into a paradise. Back on Pine Rock, I could barely be bothered to pick the sticks up off the ground.
I entered my friend’s house and it was like a photo out of a catalog. Color-coordinated and tastefully arranged, it made my humble abode look like a shack. I spent my days wandering the shore, casting my line, and not much else. They had spent their days creating.
Strangely, I didn’t feel jealous looking at my friend’s utopia. There was no FOMO. I had a coelacanth in my museum, and they didn’t. I was pleased with what I had accomplished, and so were they. The two of us just wanted different things from the game, and Animal Crossing had been happy to oblige.
Whatever You Want it to Be
Before I left Biscuit, I had a thought: How about we race? One lap around the island, staying as close to the shoreline as possible. Now, Animal Crossing is not Mario Kart. Racing is definitely not built-in, and the game’s controls can be a little wonky, but I figured, what else have we got to do? We were on a video call at the time, so all it took was a quick 3, 2, 1, go, and we were on our way.
On the first go ‘round, I narrowly edged out the win. On the next, my friend beat me by a mile. I honestly don’t remember who won the third. We enjoyed the Biscuit Derby so much, we decided to head back to Pine Rock and do the same thing there. We ended up racing each other, with no rules and no stakes, for half an hour. And we had a blast doing it.
Do What Thou Wilt
Up to this point, I’d probably had Animal Crossing for about a week. I’d spent almost that entire time fishing, with my trips culminating in catching a super-rare specimen that also happened to be one of my personal favorite creatures. I played the game the way I wanted to play it, and I felt rewarded.
But on that same day, I learned my friend played the game completely differently, and they were still having an amazing time. Then, the two of us came together and enjoyed a completely spontaneous moment together—one that was certainly not built in as an intended feature—and still, the game felt rewarding.
In Stardew Valley, a life sim game that a lot of people compare to Animal Crossing, I constantly felt like I needed to be maximizing every second of every day. With a depleting energy meter and a strict deadline for certain challenges, it felt like I was playing the game wrong if I wasn’t doing the most efficient thing at every moment. Animal Crossing could not be more different. As far as I can tell, every single choice you make is the right one.
Some days, I feel like watering flowers, trying to get new colors. Or maybe I’ll see how many tarantulas I can catch, or I’ll redecorate my house, or pick out the craziest outfit I can manage. My girlfriend likes gathering materials and crafting new items. Recently, she’s taken to organizing our island (I have to admit, it got maybe a little too ramshackle under my watch). At this point, she knows more about the game than I do, and I expect Pine Rock’s future is in her hands.
I tend to take the slow lane, catching fish and bugs, collecting fruit, maybe digging up a fossil or two. It’s not the most lucrative venture, but my tastes are pretty cheap and I like doing it. I know people who spend their days playing the Stalk Market, making millions of dollars (excuse me, bells) by scouring the internet and finding strangers whose islands have good turnip prices. It seems stressful and intense, but they can make amazing things with that money. I like to see what they create, but I’m happy on humble Pine Rock for now.
Streamers on Twitch are hosting casino nights and creating virtual game shows. You could make a race track or an obstacle course, or play hide and seek, or just about any other game your mind can conjure up. Build a mountain lair, build a prison, build Nirvana…or just catch some bugs and buy new hats. Animal Crossing is a game where no decision is a bad one. Play for 10 minutes or 10 hours. Play with a friend or play alone. Look up every secret or find them for yourself. Trust me, whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it right.
Animal Crossing: Things Only Die-Hard Fans Know About The Games
The 3DS version now one of the most popular games available for that system, and the franchise was catapulted into further fame when Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released on Nintendo Switch in March 2020. Here are a few things you may not know about the video game.
1. Animal Crossing’s inspiration came from an unlikely place.
By the late 1990s, Katsuya Eguchi had already worked on some of Nintendo’s greatest games. He’d designed the levels for the classic Super Mario Bros 3. He was the director of Star Fox (or Star Wing, as it was known in the UK), and the designer behind the adorable Yoshi’s Story. But Animal Crossing was inspired by Eguchi’s experiences from his earlier days, when he was a 21-year-old graduate who’d taken the decisive step of moving from Chiba Prefecture, Japan, where he’d grown up and studied, to Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto.
Eguchi wanted to recreate the feeling of being alone in a new town, away from friends and family.
“I wondered for a long time if there would be a way to recreate that feeling, and that was the impetus behind Animal Crossing,” Eguchi told Edge magazine in 2008.
Receiving letters from your mother, getting a job (from the game’s resident raccoon capitalist, Tom Nook), and gradually filling your empty house with furniture and collectibles all sprang from Eguchi’s memories of first moving to Kyoto.
2. Animal Crossing was originally developed for the N64.
Although Animal Crossing would eventually become best known as a GameCube title—to the point where many assume this is where the series began—the game actually originally appeared on the N64. First developed for the ill-fated 64DD add-on, Animal Crossing (or Dōbutsu no Mori, which translates to Animal Forest) was ultimately released as a standard cartridge. But by the time Animal Crossing emerged in Japan in 2001, the N64 was already nearing the end of its lifespan, and it was never localized for a worldwide release.
3. Translating Animal Crossing for an international audience was a difficult task.
The GameCube version of Animal Crossing was released in Japan in December 2001, about eight months after the N64 edition. Thanks to the added capacity of the console’s discs, this version of the game included characters like Tortimer or Blathers that weren’t in the N64 iteration, and Animal Crossing soon became a hit with Japanese critics and players alike.
Porting Animal Crossing for an international audience proved to be a considerable task, however, with the game’s reams of dialogue and cultural references all requiring careful translation. But the effort writers Nate Bihldorff and Rich Amtower put into the English-language version would soon pay off; Nintendo’s bosses in Japan were so impressed with the additional festivals and sheer personality present in the western version of Animal Crossing, they decided to have that version of the game translated back into Japanese. This new version of the game, called Dōbutsu no Mori e+, was released in 2003.
4. K.K. Slider is based on Animal Crossing’s composer.
K.K. Slider appearing in promotional artwork for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. / 2020 Nintendo
One of Animal Crossing’s most recognizable and popular characters is K.K. Slider, the laidback canine musician. He’s said to be based, both in looks and name, on Kazumi Totaka, the prolific composer and voice actor who co-wrote Animal Crossing’s music. In the Japanese version of Animal Crossing, K.K. Slider is called Totakeke—a play on the real musician’s name. K.K. Slider’s almost as prolific as Totaka, too: Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the Nintendo 3DS contains a total of 91 tracks performed by the character.
5. One Animal Crossing character has been known to make players cry.
A more controversial character than K.K. Slider, Mr. Resetti is an angry mole created to remind players to save the game before switching off their console. And the more often players forget to save their game, the angrier Mr. Resetti gets. Mr. Resetti’s anger apparently disturbed some younger players, though, as Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s project leader Aya Kyogoku revealed in an interview with Nintendo’s former president, the late Satoru Iwata.
“We really weren’t sure about Mr. Resetti, as he really divides people,” Kyogoku said. “Some people love him, of course, but there are others who don’t like being shouted at in his rough accent.” Iwata agreed, saying, “It seems like younger female players, in particular, are scared. I’ve heard that some of them have even cried.”
To avoid the tears, Mr. Resetti plays a less prominent role in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and only appears if the player first builds a Reset Surveillance Centre. Divisive though he is, Mr. Resetti was designed and written with as much care as any of the other characters in Animal Crossing; his first name’s Sonny, he has a brother called Don and a cousin called Vinnie, and he prefers his coffee black with no sugar.
6. Animal Crossing is still evolving.
A game once inspired by the loneliness of moving to a new town has now become one of Nintendo’s most successful and beloved franchises. Since its first appearance in 2001, the quirky and disarming Animal Crossing has grown to encompass toys, a movie, and five main games (or six if you count the version released for the N64 as a separate entry). All told, the Animal Crossing games have sold more than 30 million copies, and the series is still growing. In late 2017, the mobile title Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was released for iOS and Android—it was a big step for the franchise, as Nintendo is famously selective about which of its series get a mobile makeover. And in March 2020, Animal Crossing: New Horizon was released on Switch, selling a whopping 1.88 million physical copies during its first three days on the market.