Two weeks have passed since Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out, and almost everyone on the Kotaku staff has poured themselves into trying to make our new desert islands feel like home. It’s been…a process—full of blood, sweat, and a lot of broken axes—and we have some thoughts about it.
Hopefully by now you’ve read fellow staff writer Ian Walker’s excellent review of the game, but in addition, we wanted to share the opinions, reactions, personal tribulations, and success stories of others on the staff as we survive Tom Nook’s fascinating new time share scheme together.
I do not play simulation games. I spend no time at all on character creators. I’ve never played an Animal Crossing game before. And yet, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has become a game that I play almost every single day.
I’m not sure if I’m even enjoying it. But I do know that it’s fulfilling a hyper-specific need for me right now. As an introverted person who already works from home, I don’t get a lot of social interaction in my daily life, outside of spending time with my equally introverted girlfriend. Before covid-19 happened, I would get a lot of low-impact socializing done in a typical week by chatting with the cashier at the grocery store, or making small talk with the other people at my gym. All of that is gone now.
Instead, I make small talk with Timmy and Tommy. I discuss exercise with Flip, the jock monkey villager who lives in my Animal Crossing town. And, of course, I decorate my crappy Animal Crossing apartment and I invite my real-life friends over to (virtually) see it, and then I apologize to them, because it looks even worse than my actual real-life apartment. Animal Crossing allows me to perfectly recreate all the awkward but somehow fulfilling social interactions that I used to have when society still functioned.
Will I keep logging in to Animal Crossing every day after the covid-19 pandemic has passed us over? Probably not. But until then, it’s given me a chance to see what it is that other people enjoy about this genre. It’s also made me realize that I need to seriously work on my interior decorating skills.
I only own two pairs of jeans in real life, but I’m rapidly running out of room for all the clothes I buy in Animal Crossing. Here are some of my outfits:
On the day Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched, the 512-gigabyte micro SD card in my Switch died. Four days later, after my wife had started playing, her Switch suddenly stopped charging. While trying to get her Switch to work, my system, purchased mere weeks before the game’s launch, stopped outputting video. As I normally play in TV mode, that’s not great. I have a Switch Lite, but I ran it over with my wheelchair and cracked the screen.
Nintendo’s warranty repair is down, so I have to wait until the world returns to normal to get any of these consoles repaired. With Nintendo supply down, it’s nearly impossible to buy a new Switch right now. So my wife went on eBay and purchased a refurbished Switch tablet for $250. That’s how much fun we’re having bonding over Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
I can’t play when she can’t play. It’s just too sad. I feel bad sharing items I get, clothing I wear, and bugs I collect with her. For the several days we got to play together, by which I mean in the same room, it was much easier to forget pressing real-world concerns for a little while.
We stayed up late to harvest bells. We got up early to see what occurred on our islands as we slept. The chores we must perform on our islands are much more entertaining than the ones we must perform in real life. They are still chores, but they pass the time and make us happy.
I’ve spent 105 hours playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons over the span of a couple weeks. I suppose I kind of like Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Or my OCD is back with a vengeance. I keep going to celebrations for inclines and bridges even though I’m tired of them, so it’s probably the OCD.
I didn’t think I could take the fine art of min-maxing to higher heights, but here I am in an endless cycle of Nook tickets, tarantula grinding, and organizing my inventory by item valuation. It’s all to fund my Able Sisters shopping problem, ultimately. I look fly as hell, though.
Min-maxing in Animal Crossing is not for the faint of heart, nor is it always a great way to play. It might be even harder to do now that the seasons have changed. Will that stop me? No. I’ll keep getting upgrades and obsessively trying to pay them off in the same day. Do what gives you peace, I say.
Just don’t be a fucking goober like my friend.
New Horizons is my first Animal Crossing—our editor-in-chief Stephen talked the game up so much I got really curious about it. I only actually started playing this week, so everything feels very slow—when I get the itch to do something, I keep wanting to switch to Stardew Valley, but I’m really charmed by how happy the NPCs are when you do the simplest tasks and how often everyone claps for you. I also really like that your character runs around with their arms out. I put face paint on my guy and I can’t figure out how to get it off, so he just has face paint now I guess.
The short version: This is the most annoying game I’ve ever played.
And here’s how I really feel: At every turn, this stupid game presents a somehow brand-new hassle: how Blathers has to assess your fossils before you can donate them; how the Nook twins stop you to say thanks before you leave their shop, and how they say everything in not-quite-tandem (WTF is up with that); how you can only eat one fruit at a time; how your shovel is always breaking, your ax is always breaking, your net is always breaking; how two players can’t shop from the same person at the same time in co-op; how it’s impossible to dig a hole where you want; and how every damn day, that damn raccoon monster wastes my time to tell me there’s nothing new going on. I know there’s nothing new going on! This is Animal Crossing! Nothing new ever happens! This game is supposed to be an escape? Please. It’s at best a shoddy Xerox of life’s daily headaches.
Everyone says this is the game the world needs right now, but the last thing I need is a second mortgage hanging over my head. At least this one’s on the beach.
I’ve never played an Animal Crossing game before now. In some ways, I missed out on many Nintendo games as my focus shifted off the Nintendo 64 in favor of the PlayStation and especially the modding scenes of PC games like Half-Life. When I needed a fix for homes away from home, I played Harvest Moon. That led to Stardew Valley and long hours on a co-op farm with a former partner. I enjoy the quiet of village sims and farming games. I also struggle to find the time for them.
I haven’t taken the biggest plunge into ACNH. I had to focus on Nioh 2, then Doom Eternal, then Resident Evil 3. So 20-minute sojourns to my island every day were a rare and delicious treat. I can’t compare New Horizons to the others in the series, but I can say that it is an incredibly cozy game during a time when coziness seems rare. Sometimes, a good day means little more than some new wallpaper for your room. In other cases, it’s figuring out where to put that memorial statue you found. Animal Crossing is simple, but that simplicity is why you play it. Planting a new tree, inviting a new animal friend to your island. Small things that don’t feel small at all.
Now, if only that freako rabbit would get off my island already…
Every night I shake all the trees, pick all the weeds, and smack objects with my axes until all of them break. In the morning I sell the stuff, and the cycle repeats. Conversations with other villagers scroll past as I smash the A button so I can get back to work. I buy everything I can from Tom Nook like I’m filling out a Sears Catalog Pokédex. I pay off all the loans thanks to the million bells I earned from New Horizons’ week-one infinite item glitch and subsequently invested in the Turnip market. I donate the wood and iron needed to build new homes for new residents. I capture new bugs and fish for the betterment of science. And all the while I wait like Vladimir and Estragon for an epiphany that will help contextualize each individual mundane task and help them culminate into a larger story I can derive some deeper sense of meaning and purpose from.
Instead I’m left with a list of things that more closely resembles a CVS receipt. I suspect that’s a problem with me and not the game.
For the past week, I’ve been meaning to play through Doom Eternal and finally, properly dive into Control. Instead, I have mostly played Animal Crossing.
I don’t really like it? I respect the relaxed pace it’s trying to establish, but by forcing players to step to its beat with fussy mechanics and NPCs who needlessly repeat themselves all the time, it’s managed to annoy me just as often as it’s lulled me into a state of balmy island bliss. Also, I’m bad at interior design, so right now my house looks like World of Warcraft’s Molten Core raid if Ragnaros was a disorganized college freshman who had no idea what to do with his dorm.
Oh, and all my neighbors suck. In previous Animals Crossing (correct plural) [Editor’s note: Hmmm, no lmao], that didn’t matter so much, because I enjoyed doing little chores for them and feeling like I was creating a sense of community even among characters with whom I didn’t see eye to eye. In New Horizons, though, it’s all about land development, which feels less personal. I don’t want KK Slider to show up because I optimized my town. I want him to play some tunes for my villagers and me because he’s a chill, cool dude.
All that said, this game has given me one of the coolest in-game moments I’ve experienced since we all got trapped inside our houses. I wrote about this at length in another piece, but the other night, DJ and streamer Clarke “Grimecraft” Nordhauser threw an in-game rave, and I attended. Surrounded by the avatars of people I did not know and dancing along with awkwardly improvised moves, I felt the same mixture of fear and exhilaration I’ve felt at countless shows in real life. After I shook my nerves (read: drank a glass of wine), it turned into a relaxing, nice time where everybody mostly talked about how good the music was and how much they appreciated the whole thing. Sometimes, a vacation can be 90 percent unpleasant, but then years later, all you remember is a soothing day on the beach or a perfect sunset. Animal Crossing has some really nice sunsets.
I’ve already talked about how Animal Crossing: New Horizons couldn’t have come at a better time, but the ways it’s helping me keep in touch with friends by sending gifts in-game, getting help from my podcast listeners, and hopping on calls to visit each other’s islands has taken this game to another level for me. It’s also giving me the space to put care into my own island like it’s my own adorable bonsai tree. I get to care for it and improve upon it in a million different ways. My partner actually made the beautiful observation yesterday that even after island hopping through our friends’ islands, it really does feel good to return home to your own space.