I feel like you can ask anybody who’s played an Animal Crossing game before who their favourite (or least favourite) villager is and they’ll have a unique story to tell you about how that came to be. It’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what different stories you can create through the daily interactions with each animal in your town and, for me, it’s what makes the franchise so special. Nibbles the squirrel is my favourite by the way, but we’ll come back to that later.
It’s unfortunate that there’s a lot going on in the world right now that’s affecting people, both emotionally and financially, that’s causing a lot of people to feel scared or lost. Well, at least that’s just me anyway. With so much uncertainty and bad news washing over us everyday like a never ending rainstorm, I’ve been looking to regain some control in my life and I know that Animal Crossing is at least one solution to that.
Animal Crossing is a series of life simulator games that pops you in a town full of animal villagers and puts you in charge of cultivating that town, growing the population and ensuring everybody remains happy. That’s even more prevalent with their newest entry in the series ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’. New Horizons drops you off on a deserted island and tells you “This is yours, make what you want of it.” It’s up to you to determine everything from where you and your fellow islanders will live, where new infrastructure should be built to make your daily walks around the island most efficient, and whether or not that one specific tree needs to be moved a foot to the left. Admittedly it doesn’t exactly sound like enrapturing gameplay. But soon enough you’ll find yourself planning out how you want your island to look, as you earn new set pieces to place wherever you desire, and you’ll start talking to those islanders that moved to this crazy new world with you; it’s at that point the game really comes into its own with love and charm overflowing.
The villagers will become very important to you (especially whilst you’re stuck in a lockdown and can’t see anyone in real life). Each villager has their own personality, ways of going about their daily life, goals and ambitions which you’ll quickly pick up on. You’ll see them react to and interact with new things as you develop the island, making a world that feels a lot more lived in than the previous games. They’ll ask you to run errands or even give ideas for how they want to see the island be changed; you’re not just making these changes for yourself but for everyone who happens to reside on your little slice of heaven. You’ll soon find which villagers personalities you vibe with the most and unconsciously start going out of your way to check in with them each time you play.
I first played Animal Crossing way back in 2006 with Animal Crossing: Wild World for the Nintendo DS. There was something so enthralling about that town I could hold in the palm of my hands, whilst also so comforting in my developing youth. I couldn’t count the nights I had to hide the DS under my pillow and feign sleeping just to sneak in those extra sessions of discovery and wonder as I painted constellations in the sky, or sought out the bugs and fish that only came out at night. I treasure that DS cartridge of Wild World dearly and pop it back in when I need that hit of childlike euphoria on days in my adult life that can be too much to handle. But on that DS cartridge, in my little Animal Crossing house, lies a photo frame with a picture of Nibbles in it. The photo frames were incredibly rare items in Wild World, only gifted by villagers you became best friends with. As a child, I’d load up the game everyday to speak to Nibbles and hang out with her; getting that photo frame meant so much to me, especially since Nibbles later moved from away from my town. As a lonely kid, that exchange meant a lot and has stuck with me since. It’s part of the magic of Animal Crossing and I think that memory alone is one of the biggest reasons I have remained in love with this series since. Through the installments on Wii, 3DS, and finally Switch, this series has been there as an amazing getaway from our own,often depressing, reality that I can’t be thankful for enough.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the perfect place to jump in for anyone new to the series and is also a wonderful love letter to long time fans. With the ability to easily travel to your friend’s islands it’s the perfect game to pick up to keep in contact with those you can’t easily visit in real life. Get on any service that provides a live voice chat with your friends, open your island gates, and keep each other sane in these turbulent times.
Who knows what awaits on your island? I can only promise that it will be something truly extraordinary.
Will is a member of 1UPSTARTS who has provided support through many of the company’s projects, most notably playing one of the two Reynards in Passenger Car 425 & Passenger Car 117. He is currently collaborating with the company’s artistic director, Lee Watt P, to create a card game alongside the company's partnership with The Goodwin Trust. He is also heading the writing of a new and upcoming show: ‘Madame Bagobones’ Mansion of Mystery’.