New Animal Crossing is good, surprising no one

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Nothings sets a mind at ease like a shit ton of pixels. Bago Games via Flickr

The new game that came out recently – no, the other one

Yes, this is my second piece this week about Animal Crossing. We are all under a lot of stress right now, and frankly, I think we could use two of them. Am I wrong?

There are so many positive things I have to say about Animal Crossing: New Horizons after playing it almost nonstop since its release. The graphics are what really makes the agonizing wait for this game worth it: the trees blowing in the breeze, the crystal-clear water looking realer than ever, and the subtle, beautiful shading on all the characters and the fruit makes you happy to walk around your island for hours. The sound effects, while generally the same as in previous games, just feel a little more crisp and updated. And of course, the addition of crafting into the series – building your own tools and furniture from natural resources, instead of buying everything with bells – means you can get thrifty and creative while having many more small goals to work towards. This makes the game more engaging and fun; I remember getting a little tired of New Leaf after a while because there wasn’t as much to do.

New Horizons took its sweet time getting here, and we were teased every step of the way with the trailers that showed us next to no footage, but I think it really was worth it. It’s everything we all love about Animal Crossing, improved. I have some friends who never played the franchise before, too, and they told me they were instantly hooked as soon as they opened it. Unfortunately, though, until Nintendo is rightfully collectivized by the gamers of the world, its products stay at that pricey $79.99 and never seem to go on sale – some simply aren’t able to buy it, or the even pricier Switch. But I don’t want anyone to feel left out of this cultural moment, and I know lots of people who are starting new towns in New Leaf on their 3DS, DS, Wi,i or GameCube versions. Plenty of YouTubers and streamers are playing Animal Crossing for viewers, as well.

A lot of the fun of the franchise is turning your town or island into a personal project that showcases your own creativity, something you can proudly share with your friends and the world. New Horizons makes that easier and more flexible than ever now that you can easily customize and change patterns on furniture, as well as place items outside. Players can create whole outdoor scenes now, and designing clothing has also become a lot more intuitive. Some of the favourite designs I’ve seen so far have been the famous “WOMEN WANT ME, FISH FEAR ME” meme hat, a wall canvas with Mitski’s “Be The Cowboy” album cover, and some blood splattered on the ground that was perfectly aligned with Gulliver’s passed-out body on the beach.

The thing I most appreciate about New Horizons, though, is the ability to play with up to eight people at the same time, and easily invite friends to your island and play together. The social aspect of the game was always kind of there, but it’s been really improved with the Switch, and this couldn’t have happened at a better time. Not being able to hang out with my friends because of COVID-19 has been hard, but I have been to their islands every day. Having something to connect us as well as occupy a lot of our time has meant a lot. (That being said, every person who worked at game stores on the release date for physical copies of New Horizons was a frontline worker and should have gotten hazard pay – heck, Nintendo should have just given everyone digital copies. Get digital always, folks!)

Lastly, this game officially declared that gender was over. Instead of choosing a male or female villager, like players did in previous games, the character creation scene in New Horizons instead asks players to choose a “style” – which basically just means long or short hair. The best part, though, is the message that comes with that selection screen: “You can change this later.” Your character is no longer locked into the same expression, the same eyes, the same default hair for the entirety of the game – no more resetting a million times to get a character that you feel good about. Animal Crossing fans who have a more fluid gender presentation, or just a wide range of personal style, are able to change their appearance whenever they like. This is a huge breath of fresh air, even if it takes away a little of the nostalgia for that very frustrating process of being like, “ugh, I got off the train with the weird eyes again.”

Animal Crossing has always been a unique franchise, one that some people look down on because of what is actually its biggest strength: the way it invites the player to practice mindfulness and patience. There’s a lot more to do in New Horizons, but even so, you won’t be able to endlessly complete objectives at lightning speed without cheating. Time moves at its own pace, so playing is a chance to slow down and appreciate the beautiful scenery and the friendliness of your neighbours. We all kind of need to learn about that, and we can (nay, we must) look cute while doing it.

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