Animal Crossing: quarantined paradise

I woke up this morning to find one of my villagers, a gorilla named Hans, doing yoga in the plaza. Later in the day, I found Plucky (fittingly, a chicken) singing a tune while gazing out at the ocean. Every moment I’ve spent in “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” so far has been filled with awe and pure joy. I’d been anticipating this release for years, and thoroughly thought that I was prepared, but I wasn’t prepared for how happy it would really make me.

Some games are played for a challenge, others to experience a remarkable story, but “Animal Crossing” is meant to be enjoyed slowly, and “New Horizons” may be the slowest of them all. Players are plopped onto a deserted island with absolutely nothing but a place to sleep. From there, it’s up to you to build your own tools from resources on the island, and slowly grow your town one day at a time. And, boy, does it take some time.

To give you an example, it takes four full, real-life days until construction finally finishes up at the island’s museum. The museum houses donations of fish and bugs native to the island, as well as fossils that can be dug up each day. To completely unlock the museum, one must give Tom Nook, the crazed land tycoon who you will owe most of your bells (the island’s currency) to for the foreseeable future, five different specimens caught on the island, wait a day for Blathers the curating owl to show up, then provide him with 15 more specimens once he does arrive, and then wait an additional day for the building to be constructed. Sounds trippy doesn’t it?  Meanwhile, you won’t have anywhere to donate your bugs and fish which is also your main source of bells, so you pretty much have to leave them piled up outside in aquariums and cages or sell them and risk not finding them ever again. It’s a little ridiculous, but everything in New Horizons takes time. Every building takes a day to complete, and each tool is unlocked after various tasks are done. It’s all about being patient and enjoying your time with the game bit by bit.

Luckily, there are plenty of things to do in the meantime. With the addition of a crafting system, “New Horizons” opens up so many possibilities. Players can, of course, participate in the typical “Animal Crossing” activities such as catching bugs, fishing, digging up fossils, and talking to numerous animal villagers and visitors. This time around, you’ll also be able to craft furniture out of the various pieces of wood and iron you gather around your island. Instead of hoping that your dream furniture shows up for purchase in the shop, you get to decide what you craft, and how you display it either inside or outside. The ability to place furniture outside is honestly a game-changer. Creating an outdoor cafe or decorating your home with a clothesline and garden gnome adds so much more life to the overall experience and provides even more opportunities to be creative.

Likewise, “New Horizons” offers more of a sense of ownership over your own space than previous games. Players are able to manipulate the terrain, place pathways, and decide exactly where buildings will go, providing autonomy over what the world looks like. My island now feels much more personalized and unique because I was given the tools needed to design its layout. Before even building the city in the game I had an idea of the design I wanted based off of a TV show. In “Animal Crossing: New Leaf,” the previous game, I felt more like I was inheriting a town that I had little control over outside my own home and a few public works projects. I’ve found “New Horizons” to be much more engaging because I can immediately craft that cool piece of furniture I just got a recipe for and place it in an area I designed on my own.

The complaints I have about the game are few, but in the long run become annoyances that can’t be overlooked. The first being the durability system. Because players can now craft their own tools, they can also break. Tools can be upgraded to be a bit sturdier, but they will still break after continued use. I can’t tell how many times my bug net has broken right before I saw a rare bug spawn right in front of me, forcing me to run back to a crafting station, grab any materials from storage that I don’t have with me, and craft a new one. Needless to say, that rare bug has definitely despawned by that point. You can always carry backup tools or place a crafting station in a more convenient location, but it’s still a hassle to have tools break when you need them most. On top of this issue is that the crafting system only allows you to craft one thing at a time, and in between those little successes of crafting something is text letting you know you’ve crafted it. When building recipes that should be in bulk and take less than a minute usually take around five simply because of these little interruptions. The only other thing I can think of is the time you have to put into it in order to keep up. If it weren’t for being stuck at home, I don’t think I’d be anywhere near where I am nor have any of the cool items I own. The game almost forces you to check in everyday in order to get perks, resources, rare items, etc. Games like this can become exhausting after a while, especially when new games come out and you forget about them for a while. 

However, I’ve found every other aspect of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” to be an absolute delight. I love that it reminds me to take it slow and enjoy everything around me. I’d notice small details like the way wind goes through the trees, or how the sounds of my feet crunching on grass differs from walking on sand, and before long, I become absolutely entranced in how serene everything is. It’s been incredible to spend so much time on this lush island when it feels like things are crumbling in the real world. Playing online with self-quarantined friends both near and far away has provided me with some much-needed comfort, and I know it will continue to do so as time goes on. I can’t put into words how excited I am to see holidays like Halloween and Christmas on the island, though the Easter holiday just seems too pushy as resources are replaced with eggs everywhere and it’s harder to get resources needed. The game has been updated to decrease the spawn rate of these eggs, but the changes have not been felt, which worries me for the future holidays. 

With everything going on in the world today, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” lets you take a step back and appreciate the little things in life. It gives you the chance to immerse yourself in an island designed entirely by you, and spend time with a cast of colorful animals who opt to spend their time singing in the middle of the town and chasing after butterflies. You’ll look forward to seeing your town grow and flourish as seasons go on and love to visit your friends’ islands as well just to see what you can do better. Speaking of which, I got to get back to playing “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” 


Tony Tann