These last few days of the year seem like they’re going on forever. I wish so much that 2021 could be like a big reset, but I know in my heart that the first quarter of next year is just going to be more of the same.
If anything, the whole “* year was the worst year” sentiment seems to apply to every year this past decade. It makes me wonder if we’re doomed to have everything suck from now on.
Not exactly the celebratory tone I wanted these best of year posts to carry really. But that’s the mood of 2020, isn’t it. So let’s cheer ourselves up by talking about some happy animals for a while.
(Click this link to see the archive of entries so far)
#2: Animal Crossing: New Horizon
Played on Nintendo Switch | Released 20th March | Developed by Nintendo EPD
I’d never played any kind of Animal Crossing game prior to New Horizon. I knew of them as some game that “casual” players took an obsessive approach to, contradictory to their status as casuals would imply. So of course, when I finally would pick up and try an Animal Crossing game for myself, it’s only natural that I would fall into a deep obsessive hole with it.
In a lot of ways, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a perfectly timed game. Coming out in March during the early stages of the COVID pandemic, it was the perfect piece of escapism for those of us who wanted to stay inside and avoid spreading the virus as much as possible. Although that hasn’t stopped this game being something of a contentious release amongst the old school fans of the franchise.
But I couldn’t possibly know about any of that seeing as how this is my first time with the franchise, and honestly, I loved every minute of it. New Horizons is a warm, friendly and wholesome experience in which you take up residence on a small island before slowly populating the island with animals from the huge pool of characters available and slowly customising the island into you own perfect paradise.
What really sold me on this game before I picked it up was seeing the people online time travelling to gain access to the real span of the mechanics in the game. While things start off relatively simple, using items and flowers to decorate the world, eventually you get access to terraforming and painting with custom designs you either make yourself or steal from people online.
The level of customisation within the game makes it so your island can eventually become whatever you want to be, be it some complex recreation of a video game, a visual trick of perspective or a simple cosy island town for you and anyone else who comes to spend time on your island.
In many ways, Animal Crossing seems like the proto-service game. Something designed to be played in perpetuity, with new content coming into the game as seasons change and real-world holidays come and go. The only with this game being that an actual online element has made it so Nintendo can force players to play the game during the events rather than simply manipulating the game’s clock.
I’m not going to bother taking a stance on this issue now, as it feels really pointless to do so this many months after the game came out. However, personally having played the game on its own terms has meant that I’ve consistently found myself playing the game on and off since March. I’m not sure there has been an entire week go by where I haven’t loaded the game up for an hour or so after I ran out of progression to make in the core experience.
Even had there not been Halloween events and Christmas events to change the look of my island entirely for their duration, going back to tidy up, reacquaint myself with my villagers or renovating parts with new seasonal decorations has been something to soothe and make me feel all warm and cosy even now after the game has been out for so long.
If I did have to direct one criticism towards the game, it’s how stingy it can be with certain bits of advancement. Anyone who plays the game knows how frustratingly infrequently Redd shows up to sell that art for the museum. On top of that, within the game’s newly introduced crafting system, I have a ton of recipes I can’t make because I don’t have the recipes to make a component part to it. Even months and months later.
The problem is compounded during these limited-time events. I wanted to decorate my island for Christmas, but despite playing day after day, the game didn’t give me any of the newly introduced Christmas themed recipes. To the point where if I were eventually going to get one, it’d be too late to even bother using them.
There are minor issues in the grand scheme of things though. On the whole, I have loved my time with Animal Crossing New Horizons. It was something I would have probably picked up regardless, but having it be one of those shared experience game for everyone during a period of the year where we were all stuck inside and unable to do things like meet friends, go shopping or hardly go outside at all.
More than being a fun, cute experience. I feel like Animal Crossing was an important game for 2020. For a lot of people’s mental health and giving us some kind of connection to one another during a very difficult year for so many different reasons. I do feel like I’m on the wind down for Animal Crossing at this point, but depending on how long Nintendo continue to support it and add new content, it might be a game that keeps my attention well into 2021 too.