Animal Crossing is a series of games that I've been playing for about 20 years at this point. I remember importing the original from the US as I didn't want to wait 2 years for the European release. The idea just sounded so whimsical. You play a human child who leaves home in search of someplace else to live. You end up in a village populated by animals where you can just hang out, go fishing, collect things, and decorate your house. Animal Crossing New Horizons is the culmination 20 years of evolution. Although the core experience has been sort of similar over the course of the series, they all have their own flavour and charm.
I Wish I Could Talk to the Animals
This latest entry in the animal-based life sim 'em up has you moving to a deserted island in the middle of the ocean. Resident capitalist racoon Tom Nook is now running an island travel company. You and your group of random animal villagers have the task of developing this baron island into a thriving paradise.
To catch anybody up who isn't familiar with the whole Animal Crossing thing. You are the only human living in a society of anthropomorphic animals. The game is relentlessly chill. You've got a little house that you can decorate, there are collections of insects and fish to catch. Dinosaur fossils litter the island, and there is a revolving door of special characters and events to experience.
The game tracks time with an internal clock. So as the seasons change outside your window, they'll be reflected on your island. It means you can have things that happen at certain times of the day too. Maybe certain butterflies are more likely to be about during the early morning. Whereas when the evening rolls around you'll be up to your knees in beetles. It's nice because it means you can just dip in for 15 minutes here and there and have different things to do. But you're not really under pressure to do anything, really. It's just a nice way to unwind.
Come Fly With Me
To begin with, there will be just a tent for island services. Aside from the fully functioning airport staffed by pun-slinging dodos, which is an odd combination to be sure. Because this island is otherwise empty, a whole bunch of it is actually unreachable at the beginning of the game. Luckily, that wily racoon has a plan and will start issuing you some tasks to spruce the place up a bit. And this is where the new features for Animal Crossing New Horizons start to get introduced.
You see, crafting has come to Animal Crossing. Before now the main way of obtaining new items and equipment was to buy them from the local store. Well, there is no local store on this island paradise. Not yet at least. So, to begin with, Tom Nook will give you some new crafting recipes and a workbench. You build the basic tools to get started and take on some jobs to keep you busy.
As you finish these tasks you'll earn new blueprints to craft new tools that'll help you unlock access to new areas on the island. You'll be able to upgrade your house and add new services to the island. Eventually, you'll even take to the skies to visit some other islands.
Build a Better Tomorrow
As much as this progression is nice, this isn't really the core of the Animal Crossing experience. In fact, if you rush your way through these tasks you'll be missing out on the core of what makes Animal Crossing special. There's no timer constantly ticking down, or some big bad boss that needs to be vanquished. Animal Crossing is best to kick back and relax.
It's also become a really fun way of expressing yourself. You've got the ability to go off and visit other players' islands to go and see what they've done and who lives there. And people can go absolutely hog wild. A quick visit to the Animal Crossing subreddit shows you just what is possible in this game. Some design exquisite clothes, others create absolutely beautiful islands. Personally, I'm not a designer. I'm more of a collector.
There are also a bunch of little challenges added to Animal Crossing New Horizons. As you hit more milestones you can unlock new furniture or items of clothing. These are entirely optional. But to be honest, you'd find it harder to not complete them anyway as you go about doing your thing.
This is such an odd game to review. Like I said earlier, I've been playing this game in one form or another for about 20 years. It's become a day one buy for me whenever a new iteration comes out, but it's one I really struggle to recommend. And it's not because the game is bad, I have a lot of friends who adore this series every bit as much as I do. But I've also got a few friends who mock me relentlessly for wasting time shaking trees and fishing when I could be playing a 'real game'. It has a charm and draw to me that I can't put my finger on, but there is nothing else quite like it.
Hygge: The Game
The best way I can put it is that this game feels safe and cosy to me. There is no pressure. You can go out and chat away with animals who have simple fun personalities. Maybe even run an errand for somebody who wants a present delivered. You can decorate the whole island to reflect your personality or you can try and catch all the bugs to complete your collection. There is a museum to fill with art, competitions to try and catch the biggest fish. Some characters will visit occasionally, such as the seagull sailor who keeps falling overboard and you have to get back to his ship. There's so much to do and it is all completely inconsequential. But that's why I like it. It's low stakes, there is no wrong way to play. This is your island and it can be what you make of it.
It occasionally gets compared to the sims. But whereas the sims has you going out for a job and trying to manage your relationships there is none of that here. You have a mortgage to pay off, but there is no pressure. If you don't play for a little bit your islanders may remark on not seeing you for a little while but that's it. It's a game that wants you to feel comfortable and I am all about that.
I am never going to say that this game is for everybody. But, if you are looking for something to sit back and relax with. Something with a great laid back soundtrack, with no pressure gameplay. A game where there is always something to do, but there is no pressure to do it if you don't want to. This game is definitely worth a look. Animal Crossing New Horizons is the best Animal Crossing game that has ever been released and is one of the main reasons my switch comes with me whenever I'm out and about.