With the world currently being forced to stay indoors it’s really the situation we as gamers have spent a large portion of our lives preparing for, but certainly one of the biggest suprises has been with the cult like following that has sprung up around Animal Crossing: New Horizons. So keen to discover what it is that has everyone so seemingly hooked and with nothing but time on my hands I checked it out and set out on my own desert island escape.
The fifth official game in the franchise which started back in 2004 on the N64 with this latest installment being largely linked to shortages of the Switch especially with gamers following the government orders to stay indoors during the COVID-19 Pandemic while physical copies of the game have also started appearing at greatly inflated prices leading Nintendo to push more heavily their advertisements for the Nintendo e-store and e-copies of the game.
The game itself provides pure laid back escapism as you essentially play yourself or at least a fully customisable character who has signed up along with two animal companions to live on a deserted island and build a community. Now while this might conjure ideas of poorly built shelters and battling the elements to carve out a living nothing could be further from the truth as once again is a game with zero risks.
Starting out in a tent which series mainstay Tom Nook rents to you and which you are tasked with paying off by collecting objects around the island or completing tasks as you quickly find that your now locked into an a series of escalating mortgage as you move from tent to house and with each escalating mortgage you pay off allowing you to expand your house but as with everything in the game no one is going to be chasing you to make payments and it’s this idea of living life at your own pace which runs to everything which happens in the game with the allure of expanding your island being the driving force to complete tasks.
While you might have a mortgage to pay off there is still plenty of other things to do on your island as you control the locations were your animal pals set up their houses as well as were structures like the museum and island store are built. Of course despite the fact your not the only resident on the island it does fall to you to do essentially do everything as you run around the island gathering items to for fill the checklist requirements needs for building structures and building items. Everything you need for these builds can be found around the items by chopping trees for wood and hitting rocks for iron and clay even the weeds and flowers can be gather to make objects to furnish your house or impress your new animal pals.
The collecting habit though isn’t limited to just building as you can also collect bugs, catch fish, dig up fossils and later collect art to be displayed in your island museum by Blathers the owl who despite his dislike for bugs will display your finds slowly adding to the exhibits as you collect all the items. For this reason the museum is one of the more rewarding aspects of the game as you get to enjoy all your hard work as you wander its exhibits either on your own or with friends visiting your island.
If your a fan of story driven gameplay then Animal Crossing really doesn’t give this as instead the focus is on you creating your own fun by moulding the island into your ideal getaway with tasks only serving as a way to unlock new items, skills or to earn Bells (the local currency) or Nook miles (points for completing tasks) to allow you to buy new items, skills or even a ticket to another island to find new items to add to your own island.
Due to this pick up and put down style of play this a perfect title for the Switch a console best suited to this style of play than long gaming sessions. At the same time this isn’t the sort of game you beat over a weekend and instead a title which you enjoy over a number or weeks or even months watching your island community grow. The fact that the island is all played in real time meaning that 7pm in the real world is also 7pm on the island with weather patterns being scarily in tune with the weather of the real world and kind of the reason that my island has seen much like the UK so much rain.
One of the biggest issues for the game is the lack of save options with plays forced to save directly onto their Switch while compared to one other games in the series which allowed multiple islands here the game only allows one island making it tricky for those of us who share a switch and were everyone wants their own island. Certainly a glance at the negative reviews for the game on Amazon reveal this to be one of the biggest complaints about the game and while Nintendo are apparently working on a way for players to recover their island if their Switch is stolen or broken.
Certainly the game is a unique experience that has the benefit of being on the Switch as it’s hard to say if it would have the same appeal without the pick up and put down style of gameplay that the Switch specialises in which is really the best way to play this game I found. Sure the laid back lifestyle offered by the game might not be to all tastes but certainly it’s a fun way to pass these lockdown hours or just take a break from your main gaming choice of the moment as you hunt bugs or hunt down resources for your next build Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game packed with distractions.