Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Comfort Game of 2020


Sarah Garcia

Fishing in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

As we enter 2021, many have noticed that we happen to be approaching the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. Yet some don’t notice that we also happen to be approaching the one-year anniversary of Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH)! This video game, released by Nintendo on March 20, 2020 for Nintendo Switch, is a calming, routine-packed social simulation game that moves in real-time. Although it may seem boring to some, it was perfect medicine for the disorienting reality of quarantine. So perfect, actually, that I often joke about how Nintendo predicted the pandemic with their uncanny timing.

Daily island announcements in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, hosted by Isabelle. (Sarah Garcia)

The game itself begins with the player staying on a deserted island as part of a getaway package from the raccoon Tom Nook, head of Nook Inc. Then, it is the player’s job to transform their deserted island into a livable place and thriving community by gathering supplies and communicating with other residents on the island, which also happen to be animals. As time progresses, the player can transform their deserted getaway into a 5-star island where KK Slider, a pop star of the Animal Crossing world, performs weekly!

If you aren’t doing some sort of time-skip cheat, however, it takes a while to get to this point. This game’s implementation of routine, calm atmosphere, and unique events to look forward to were perfect for when it was released, but some aspects of the game get boring as time goes on. In the spring of 2020, this game was what everyone needed, but now it may not be worth your time.

Picking weeds in ACNH. (Sarah Garcia)

From the start, the player is given the job of cleaning up their island. This entails little jobs like picking weeds, gathering fallen sticks, breaking rocks, and digging up fossils, which appear daily. A little later on in the game, the player is given a Nook Phone to inform them of daily tasks. They are rewarded for completing these tasks in Nook Miles, a currency that can be exchanged for certain items and features in the game. With the excitement of the new game and the initiative of whatever the next reward was going to be, these tasks were enjoyable. But as time goes on, as with routine in regular life, it becomes more of a chore than something you’d want to spend your free time doing. I’d rather do my actual laundry than add a bunch of tasks for some fake animals to my list of to-dos. (Please don’t tell my villagers I said that.)

Unlike the daily tasks, what I personally haven’t gotten tired of is ACNH’s calming atmosphere. For one, the graphics are incredible compared to previous Animal Crossing games, which makes it easy on the eyes. There is a variety of background music for different hours of the day; each tune also varies with the weather! As for other music, there are 95 different songs from top pop dog KK Slider, which can be heard either on the radio or live in concert. This game’s approach to sound is so interesting, too — depending on your character’s position and the position of the music, the clarity of the sound will change. The entirety of this peaceful atmosphere was definitely a nice escape from the many anxiety-inducing events throughout 2020.

Conversation with Mira, an ACNH villager. (Sarah Garcia)

Furthermore, in terms of comfort, there is this sense of community present in the game that was much needed when social distancing rules were enforced. Being able to hold unique conversations with characters of different personalities, exchange gifts, celebrate milestones for your island was really nice when you couldn’t do that with your friends. There are drawbacks, though, to this community; it can obviously never replace real human interaction. The dialogue is pre-determined with some exceptions, similar to a choose-your-own adventure novel: it gets pretty boring once you exhaust all the possibilities.

ACNH also has special events that players can look forward to. Typically, there are unique, interactive activities for different holidays. For example, on Halloween, a visitor by the name of Jack arrives, donning a Jack-o-lantern head and a purple robe. During the event that accompanies him, the player exchanges candy with both Jack and other villagers in turn for special items. In addition to holidays, seasonal fishing tourname

“Halloween Party News” announcement on ACNH community bulletin board. (Sarah Garcia)

nts and bug-offs are held occasionally, which are day-long challenges to see how many creatures a player can catch in a certain amount of time. There have also been updates that don’t correlate with certain holidays, and spark user-generated content like the Dream Island visiting feature. This feature allows users to visit another player’s island without visiting the airport, through a magical, portal-like dream. It’s important to note, however, that it is uncertain how long Nintendo will keep the game updated with new features and celebrations. Nintendo has verified that they are planning to keep updating the game into 2021, but after that, the same events will likely repeat and get old, just like the aforementioned tasks and dialogue.

It really all comes down to what you are looking for in a game. If you are someone who typically enjoys action and adventure, this game is likely not going to satisfy you. But if you enjoy calm games, this may still be a valid option. After all, you don’t need to put the time in as long as you are patient and understanding of the game and its purpose. There are smaller activities like fishing, catching bugs, and talking to your villagers that are rewarding but don’t take as long. Yet, it’s not instant gratification; they still require patience.

To get the most out of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you need to be willing to put the time in. It was a perfect game for quarantine, but as the world moves on and life starts to get busier again, it may be a better idea to just do your chores in real life.