With the upcoming Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players everywhere are vibrating in anticipation as they prepare to escape to an island paradise with their favorite animal friends. It’s been so long since the last proper Animal Crossing game that some of us have even forced ourselves to spend time in Pocket Camp just to get a small hit of the deep contentment we once felt. What is it about making a space our own, fishing, catching bugs, and becoming friends with an eccentric cast of villagers that fills us with such desire? In the past I’ve said a sense of Zen, a chance to relax, and the opportunity to take things at your own pace… but I don’t think that description gives the game enough credit. The holistic systems design at play suggests something even deeper keeps pulling us back in for more, and I’ll be setting out to dissect these systems in my review of the new title at release.
I mean, seriously, look at that soft, velveteen fur! The leaf-accented fishing pole! THE ARGYLE SWEATER!
At the center of it all, one tanuki (and a huge team of developers, alongside female Game Director Aya Kyogoku-Sensei) are preparing to welcome us home once more. Twitter is abuzz with devoted players counting the days until March 20th and a host of wild memes, fan art, and speculations have taken over our feeds (do yourself a favor and look up “Isabelle and Doom Guy,” if you haven’t already). At Pax East 2020 this past weekend in Boston, Massachusetts, players were surprised to find one of the most detailed, heartwarming recreations of an Animal Crossing village in the booth of our dreams. Despite ever-present fears of COVID-19, Nintendo came out in full force to give everyone something to smile about. Staff wore island themed, Island-boy tees reminiscent of Tom Nook on a Jimmy Buffet binge, hand-sani was in abundant supply, and velveteen mascots of Isabelle, Nook, and KK Slider posed and played with visitors.
If Smash Bros. is any indicator, we should steer clear of Isabelle when she’s wielding that thing!
Much has been said about Tom Nook, a Tanuki, father-like figure who appears at the beginning of every Animal Crossing game to help you get on your feet in your new surroundings. He even goes out of his way to provide you with a rustic tent, a common bed, a portable radio, and sometimes even a little lantern for you to use. Generosity… perhaps? The beginning of a symbiotic relationship that can never be satisfied? Definitely! You’ll spend hours, days, seasons, even years trying to unravel everything an Animal Crossing title has to offer.
I’ve spent years trying to hone in the best strategy for 100% completion but even I haven’t achieved a full complete past obtaining the coveted “perfect town” rating (don’t get me started on tarantulas and scorpions… they gave me some serious trouble). My strategy was to play twenty to thirty minutes a day, in calculated intervals, spread across the distinct times of day, and at the beginning of every calendar month, holiday, and festival. Here’s the thing, though… Animal Crossing drives us to collect, build, and explore, but I don’t think the designers are crafting these experiences to make us want us to achieve 100%. Rather, they’ve applied such interwoven systems of content to make you feel at home that they want you to enjoy your time, to achieve a true sense of belonging in this space, whatever that means to you. I found by trying to meta-game my experience I was diminishing it and missing out on what had made me love the game so much to begin with. This time I’ll be coming into ‘New Horizons’ with the goal of reviewing it, yet also staying true to myself and experiencing it like any other player would. It’s for the best, and I hope the design team would agree with my sentiments!
Since the new game will feature outdoor decoration for the first time in the series, the booth designers have gone out of their way to make KK slider feel more at home with a simple log-style bench and a small, beachy bonfire. I, for one, am excited to create a little garden in front of my cabin.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Nintendo’s Community Team has gone out of their way to recreate the aesthetic of Animal Crossing’s environment with perfect execution. The spade-shaped leaves and glistening apples are everything I imagined they’d look like outside of the game!
After seven years of patience, and enjoying ‘Animal Crossing: New Leaf’ on the Nintendo 3DS in both English and Japanese for around 3 years apiece (an excellent way to help you master a second language, by the way!), I’m ready to escape to a humble hut I can make my own. Soon, eccentric villagers will drop by for tea, and I can spend long hours wandering through the trees as the waters and weather soothe my city-dwelling heart.
Thanks Isabelle (and Nintendo EPD), we love you.