Animal Crossing: New Horizons is better than any alarm I’ve ever had.
By that I mean it has been a long time since I’ve been so eager to wake up in a morning. Normally I linger under the covers, trying to keep in the last little bit of warmth before swinging my legs out into the cold and planting my feet reluctantly on the ground. It’s a daily routine that many of us share. But now, those morning routines have been uprooted by adorable little raccoons.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has only been out a few days and it has absolutely taken over my life. And at quite an opportune time at that. Of course, when the release date for the game was announced everyone talked about calling out of work, shutting themselves in their homes and locking the doors tight. We never imagined that we’d actually be doing it. It might not be the ideal situation – in fact it’s a terrible and scary situation – but with all of the panic, loss and suffering happening in the real world, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the perfect escape we all need right now.
“Animal Crossing: New Horizons gives us the joyful, meditative escape that so many of us desperately need right now”
In Animal Crossing: New Horizons you play as a villager who has just been offered a fancy getaway package with all the perks. Once you land, you’ll find an island abundant with local flora and fauna, a tent to call your own, friendly neighbours and the calm island life that everyone craves. The Nook Raccoons – Timmy, Tommy and Mr. Tom Nook himself – will be there on the island to help you with whatever you need to get nice and comfortable.
Of course, starting life on a completely deserted island does come with its complications. You’ll be tasked with helping the Nooks, and of course your fellow island dwellers, in setting up the island exactly how you’d like it. You’ll find a plot of land for you and your neighbours and learn a few DIY recipes along the way to help you discover and collect some of the local wildlife. After a while, you’ll be given free roam of the island, but you’ll almost always have something you’re working towards; perhaps you’ll be paying off a loan after upgrading to a bricks-and-mortar house, bringing new villagers to your island, or flying over to other islands to visit their residents.
One of the most unique things about the Animal Crossing games is that they operate in real time. New Horizons is no difference. That means that if it’s 10:45am in the real world, it’s also 10:45am on your in-game island. The weather will change in the game as the seasons change outside your window in the real world, and it’s different based on where you live (southern hemisphere or northern hemisphere). Of course, the downside to living in real time is that you have to wait for things to happen. You might pay off the debt on your house so that you can build a second storey, but you’ll have to actually wait until tomorrow to see it happen. Granted that’s some wicked fast building, but it will feel painfully long in the Animal Crossing world. And that’s why you’ll likely find yourself jumping out of your real bed at 8am to see the newly-built expansion to your fake, virtual home.
“Leading around your friends and showing them what you’ve done to your island… is one of life’s truest, most absolute joys”
While we’re on the topic of your home, there’s the whole money thing. Tom Nook may seem like a cool, generous guy, giving you access to a beautiful island, a tent, and a cellphone – but it turns out that you accrued a huge bill when you decided to take the mouth-wateringly amazing deal that is the “Deserted Island Getaway Package.” So sure, you’ve got a beachside abode, you’ve got wildlife and lovely neighbours, but don’t forget about those bills or “the man” will come knocking at your door.
Okay; that’s a lie. That is the complete opposite of everything that Animal Crossing: New Horizons stands for. No one is going to come banging on your door. But Tom Nook does want you to pay off your debts – just in your own time. Take it slow. Enjoy the expansion. And then, when you decide you really should get another room to display all those tarantulas you’ve collected while you’ve skulked around at night you sicko, you can ask Tom for another expansion. And another loan. He’s a simple raccoon; he just wants you to be happy.
“Discovering something new is genuinely rewarding – even if it that new thing happens to be getting stung by a swarm of wasps”
You’ll earn money in Animal Crossing: New Horizons by collecting bugs, fish, fossils, fruit and more from all around the island. While you can sell all of these items, if you find something you think is rare, you might consider donating it to the museum which you’ll unlock after your first few days with the game. It’s much more satisfying walking around the museum looking at all the creatures you spent hours capturing than looking at a tonne of empty exhibits. Those first few days can feel pretty grindy as you collect things to sell, but after a while you’ll get into a groove and you’ll find ways to make cash quick. There’s the turnip system, where the adorable turnip lady will come by and offer you turnips. If you hold on to them and sell them back to Timmy and Tommy at the right time, you could double or even triple your money. Then there’s the hot item of the day which changes daily. Sell the boys that item and you’ll get double its usual value. Keeping an eye on these kinds of things is essential for earning some big bucks.
When you’re not earning money to pay back loans, capturing innocent wildlife or buying cute new outfits from the Abel Sisters, you can invite your friends over to your island, and vice versa, via Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s online play options. You won’t be able to rearrange furniture with them there (which seems like a strange choice, I love rearranging furniture), but you’ll be able to collect their native fruit, take selfies, fish together and just generally enjoy their company. And I can’t tell you how much true joy you’ll feel when you do. Leading around your friends and showing them what you’ve done to your island, how you’ve decorated your home and garden, and introducing them to your villagers is one of life’s truest, most absolute joys.
You can also play Animal Crossing: New Horizons in local co-op, but in comparison to online play it’s pretty disappointing – at least for player two. Player one is the “leader”, who can pretty much do everything that they would normally do. Player two, however, becomes a “follower”, who can’t move furniture, can’t pick up or keep items and basically can’t do anything useful. Sure, it’s fun to have a friend run around with you for a while, but without both players being able to do much, local co-op gets boring very quickly.
If you’re not looking to play with friends, you can use “Nook Miles” to visit new islands. You’ll accumulate Nook Miles as you play by completing various in-game tasks. They can be redeemed for various rewards, including clothes, furniture and some useful in-game tools like a larger inventory or a quick-access wheel for your tools. Perhaps the best reward, though, is a Nook Miles ticket. Each ticket can only be used once and will allow you to travel to a random, offline island. Visiting these islands gives you chance to collect valuable resources you can’t find on your own island. It’s also here that you’ll meet new villagers and invite them to live on your island.
“What isn’t to love about customising your dream island and being able to sit on a bench by the beach, listening to the waves, just because you can?”
By its very design, Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t for everyone. The idea of pottering around an island, doing little but catching butterflies and planting flowers probably doesn’t sound appealing to some – but there’s something about its simplicity and whimsy that makes it hard not to be enraptured by it. There’s something new to discover every day. There are so many things to unlock, and discovering something new is genuinely rewarding – even if it that new thing happens to be getting stung by a swarm of wasps. There’s local ghosts to meet, rare fossils to dig up, a range of furniture to buy and craft that’ll make Ikea jealous. And that’s only scratching the surface. Even New Horizons‘ most simple pleasures are a joy – sending your friend a letter that simply says “fart” may or may not be one of them.
There has never been a better time for a new Animal Crossing game to arrive. It cannot fix what’s going on in the world right now, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons gives us the joyful, meditative escape that so many of us desperately need right now. Whether you’re young or old, you’ll find something to like. What isn’t to love about customising your dream island and being able to sit on a bench by the beach, listening to the waves, just because you can? Nothing I can think of, that’s for sure.