Game On! "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" Review 
Game On!

"Animal Crossing: New Horizons" Review
by Justine

Around the beginning of March (and perhaps long before), if you logged in to any of your social media accounts, there is a good chance you saw a meme or article relating to a game called "Animal Crossing". On March 20, 2020, Nintendo welcomed the fifth game in the franchise, "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" for the Nintendo Switch, much to the delight of longtime fans who indeed waited a very long time for this installment.  

Animal Crossing New Horizons (Nintendo)
Image from https://ec.nintendo.com/AU/en/titles/70010000027620

"Animal Crossing: New Leaf" for the 3DS family of systems came out a whopping eight years ago and fans of the series like myself have been chomping at the bit ever since, waiting for our next foray into the village. I myself was in college then, playing between studying sessions and essay writing, and as I entered the workforce I kept checking every day to see if a new game was in the works. Would we be getting a new "Animal Crossing" for Nintendo’s new console the Switch? Imagine my excitement when it was finally announced! But the wait... The wait was grueling.  

A question I get a lot, and the question on your mind right now, is why this game in particular is so popular. Why was there such anticipation surrounding its release, why is everyone and their mom playing it, and what is the point? Picture this. You’re invited to be a founding member of a brand new (deserted) island. With nothing but the clothes on your back you begin your life anew, no career, no friends or family. You strike out into this new world with a tent gifted to you... by a raccoon. Yes, a raccoon. His name is Tom Nook, thank you for asking. And right now he’s the internet’s favorite mascot and the memes are endless surrounding him and his protégés, Tommy and Timmy, who help you adjust to your new island life.  

Along with these three kind raccoons, you also meet and befriend two other animals who come to stay on the island with you. For every player they’re different, but I was lucky enough to have Phoebe the peahen and Kid Cat the kitten join me on my journey to make the island habitable.

Animal Crossing New Horizon characters

You start off owing a large debt to Tom Nook for all the moving fees and the plot of land where you’ll eventually build your house, which probably already sounds boring, but hear me out. For some reason I found it so charming to be thrown into this new world where I had to earn everything myself. I hate paying rent every month in real life, but Tom Nook is the best landlord there is. I was grateful to a virtual raccoon for giving me a chance to meet new animal friends and catch all the butterflies and fish my pockets could carry. Isn’t that the dream? To get back to nature, to nourish the earth with your own two hands, to be responsible for your destiny? "Animal Crossing" lets you do just that. It lets you live your best virtual life the way you want to.  

I think one of the main reasons "Animal Crossing" is so appealing is because there’s no one way to play it. You can be an archeologist and spend your time digging up fossils to give to a knowledgeable owl named Blathers to display in the island’s museum. Maybe you love fishing and just want to spend hours on end collecting one of every species. And in case you were worried, yes, you can totally fish for sharks. And when you catch one you can bet everyone will be asking you how, because it takes as much patience as fishing takes in real life. As for me, I personally enjoy gardening in the game (I’m a black thumb in real life; everything I touch dies, even hardy cacti). I plant flowers of all kinds, in specific arrangements, so new ones will blossom in beautiful new colors they don’t normally come in. I was ecstatic when my black roses began to bloom and I told all my friends about it (and my grandpa, but he didn’t seem that impressed). There aren’t many games out there that give you the chance to be whatever you want to be with the lowest stakes possible. Usually you’re a hero trying to save the world, a detective trying to solve crimes, a plumber trying to save Princess Peach for the eightieth time. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those games, but my point is that Animal Crossing doesn’t have a linear storyline and doesn’t shoehorn you into a specific role like games you may have played before. It is incredibly freeing to play at your own pace with nothing dictating how you play or what you do in the game. Your only limits are those you impose on yourself.  

My friends and I usually vary pretty greatly in the types of games we play. Some like fighting and sports games while I’ll sink 90 hours into Japanese RPGs. But I can’t name one friend on my list who hasn’t bought "Animal Crossing". Every single one has it and with the online feature to visit one another’s islands, during this government-mandated quarantine, I’ve been able to play with them. We visit each other’s homes, compliment one another’s gardens, fish together, dig for clams on the beach, and share fruit that the other doesn’t have yet. I’ve finally got all the peaches and oranges I can handle when I started out my game with only pears. I love seeing all my friends living their best island lives, decorating their homes in such creative ways and gushing about how their favorite animal villager (there are over 400 for reference) just agreed to move in. The communal aspect of the game is a huge pull for many gamers, and I think that’s just another reason people from 8 to 80 love it and keep coming back for more 19 years later. The first "Animal Crossing" game was released only in Japan back in 2001, but when it was localized for North America I’m not sure they knew how much it would resonate with fans of all ages, genders, and races not just here, but globally. 

This is technically a review, so I’ll get to the point. Why do I love "Animal Crossing: New Horizons"? I think back to one of my favorite poems, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats:  

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, 
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made; 
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee, 
And live alone in the bee-loud glade. 
 
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, 
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; 
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, 
And evening full of the linnet’s wings. 

I will arise and go now, for always night and day 
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; 
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, 
I hear it in the deep heart’s core. 

Now I’m sure you weren’t expecting a poem in the middle of a video game review, but humor me here. I promise its relevance will be made clear hastily. As I said above, getting back to nature is something so many of us desire. It’s in our human nature, almost hardwired in our DNA, to want to connect with the natural world and live a simple life with something we’ve cultivated on our own. In these modern times, and especially with the coronavirus forcing us indoors, this want for the outdoors is stronger than ever. I live in a cramped townhouse in Aurora. I don’t hear Yeats’ lake water lapping or cricket song or honeybees. The fact of the matter is, my life is not a pastoral one, and I’ve been robbed of the opportunity to have that right now. As silly as it might sound, "Animal Crossing" lets me live that life virtually until it’s safe again to go into the mountains and enjoy a day of sunshine and the sound of something other than refrigerator buzzing and traffic noise. I can hear the sound of the ocean in the game and the striking visuals make me feel like I really did catch a sea bass and planted a gorgeous rose or tulip. It might pale in comparison to the real thing, but it feels real enough right now. The game encapsulates everything in Yeats’ poem and what so many of us feel and desire for ourselves. 

If you’ve stuck it out this long, I want to sincerely thank you. I know this was a lot just to explain why I love a video game so much, but in these uncertain times, I think finding something that you love and keeps your mind off of the state of the world is a rare and beautiful thing. "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" is worth every penny and I hope you’ll consider joining me and millions of others if you’re at all curious what the hype is about. I’d sure love to see what you make of your island adventure, and so many other fans would too.  

 

References:  
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Crossing#Animal_Crossing_(2001) 
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43281/the-lake-isle-of-innisfree 
https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/26/21195022/animal-crossing-switch-sales-japan-famitsu 
Posted by svanholb@auroragov.org On 24 April, 2020 at 12:29 PM  

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