Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out on March 20th this year. Unless you’re not an avid gamer or actually spend your life OUTSIDE of Twitter like a sane person, you’re probably aware of this by now.
It seems to have taken over the lives of gamers everywhere. For a series that’s normally, “a game you check up on”, there are those who have logged 600+ hours in the 3 months since its release (I’m not kidding). The answer to why is the answer to a lot of questions relating to 2020 as a whole: quarantine.
ACNH was one of the most hyped Nintendo games of the year. It grew in popularity thanks to all the Doom Guy/Isabelle crossover memes, and there are a lot of people for whom this installation is their first. Animal Crossing as a whole is a really laid-back game, despite the massive debt your character always seems to get into, and is just about taking things slowly, enjoying life and chatting with some cute animals. Combine everything that I’ve just said with the fact that we’re all stuck inside and feel like we’ve lost control of our lives, and you have a recipe for logging an insane amount of hours in a small period of time.
But burn-out gets us all eventually. Yes, even in Animal Crossing.
Because Animal Crossing was never intended to be a game you grind for countless hours, people are getting tired of playing. I recently re-constructed the vast majority of my island and I haven’t been playing much since then. I check in to do the daily tasks, collect my DIY recipes, talk to my neighbors, pray to Nintendo to take Rocco away from my town oh my god why is he still there pls just f**cking leave! And then I put it down. Which is, in a not-so-crazy twist, the way it’s meant to be played!
For awhile there though…it consumed me, as it has consumed many others. For the first few weeks, there’s enough to do. Getting your tiny island from weed-filled (not like that) to K.K. Slider-approved takes some effort and, unless you’re a time traveler, some patience. I went on plenty of Nook Miles tours just to get materials because I didn’t feel like waiting to be able to smack my rocks again. And when I could progress no further for the day because something was being built, I didn’t stop. I fished, for LITERAL HOURS. There was nothing else to do and yet, there I was, still catching Red Snappers and Zebra Turkeyfish. I bookmarked so many custom designs on Twitter in preparation for the Able Sisters’ shop to open that I’m afraid to try and un-bookmark them all. And throughout this weeks-long Animal Crossing binge, I never got bored. The Easter event came and went and aside from being annoyed that every other balloon was an egg, I had fun. Even though all the furniture is ugly. I enjoyed myself.
And then something happened; maybe I just got used to it all, but fishing actually became a grind. Talking to my villagers wasn’t as entertaining (especially because I had THREE lazy bois at one point). Instead of being excited to pick up the message in a bottle from the beach, I started dreading the seemingly-inevitable “you already have this recipe” dialogue box. I paid off my house thanks to the Stalk Market so I didn’t really have much to work towards. The wedding event this month sounded fun and cute and it was! Until about the third day. Everything had just become boring.
I’m getting over it a bit now. I’m trying not to see it as a chore. I don’t play if I don’t ACTUALLY want to. I’m not making sure I log in before noon and then before and after 6pm everyday so I can get all 3 of the DIYs that my villagers will be handing out. I don’t even bother to get the Nook Miles daily bonus all the time. And now that I’ve at least catalogued all the wedding items, I’m not forcing myself to go photograph the alpacas everyday. And if I do go to Harv’s Island and help them out, I try something new. Putting them in weird positions, making up silly little backstories. I even accidentally made a funeral for them by putting their picture in the center of the room and framing the shot so they weren’t in it. I’m just taking my time and enjoying the game, as intended.
On that note, there’s something I’d like to say, and it’s been said before. ACNH has recieved a lot of criticism since it came out because it doesn’t have all the content it could (and likely will) have. The Easter event was torture for a lot of people once they got all the items. The villager personalities are lacking dialogue, and for some reason people insist on comparing the game to Pocket Camp.
Here’s the thing: like I said, we’re all stuck at home with nothing better to do. Some of us, for better or worse, are becoming LESS stuck at home. But we have to keep in mind that ACNH, despite all its new features, was still intended to be “a game you check up on”. Give Nintendo time to release the things they want to release on the schedule they have planned. When the Easter event was coded, Nintendo wasn’t anticipating a quarantine. They were trying to account for the people who have day jobs and can maybe only play an hour or two a day, hence the ridiculous amount of eggs in the sky. And also, Pocket Camp is like 3 years old at this point, OF COURSE it has more content. Game dev is a little more complex than saying, “okay we just draaaag this item over here and done!” There’s more than likely two completely different teams working on each game.
Some of the criticism is valid though. The villager personalities only have a few lines each and there’s definitely room to grow. I personally feel like the DIYs in the bottles shouldn’t be ones you get from Tom Nook by default, or can buy in the store (like the wooden bed and such). There’s also that weird thing going on with custom designs where you can only upload a certain number at the kiosk, but there’s way more spaces actually available when you look up someone’s code. And they also took out diving and other things that were in New Leaf (but maybe they’ll add them back in, like unlocking the art department of the museum after a certain point).
There’s in-betweens too. Many veteran AC players will tell you that we’ve received every quality of life update that we’ve been asking for. But as one of those veterans myself, my counter-argument is, “yeah, but it took them 20 years of us begging”.
But what do I know. Maybe we all need to reconnect with the original idea behind the game; move somewhere new, make friends to combat the loneliness and scariness of that new place, listen to relaxing music, and pay off your massive debt to the trickster tanuki.