Why 'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' Is the Chill Game You Need to Download Right Now
In these hell times, I, like with many, many others, have absconded to my own private desert island to resettle. It is called "no mercy Island" and I hope you come and visit my beautiful getaway destination as soon as you download Animal Crossing: New Horizons for your Nintendo Switch, which should hopefully be right about now.
"Isn't this a game for babies?" you might be asking if you've never touched one of the four major Animal Crossing games, starting with 2001's self-titled for N64. Technically, sure, but it's also one of those low barrier to entry games that literally anyone can have fun playing. You don't need notoriously difficult Dark Souls-level combat skills to take down scary monsters or the kind of slick stealth moves required to beat Metal Gear Solid. Can you walk around? Catch a butterfly? Enjoy a sunset? Pick some weeds? Harvest some fruit? Great! Then, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is for you.
The long-awaited fifth installment in the series, out March 20 and the first since 2012's New Leaf, has much of the same markings as past Animal Crossing games: Your number one raccoon boy Tom Nook and his two twin sons, Timmy and Tommy, are here, running some shady island destination getaway business; the resourceful Shih-tzu Isabelle is unlockable; and tons of familiar and new Animal Crossing characters are waiting to be invited to your decked-out island. Paired with online gameplay, there's a whole open world to escape to when you're stuck indoors. If you're still not convinced, in spite of the fact that all your gamer friends are absolutely going to be distracted with it all weekend, read on.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is for literally everybodyLike I said, even the least experienced of us is a perfect candidate for Animal Crossing. The vast majority of gameplay is exploration and discovery, and there's plenty of hand-holding to explain exactly what you have to do; the most frustrated you'll ever get is when you miss a fish striking your lure or you get stung by a bee and have to head to the main camp for some medicine. Yes, there's the element of paying off loans for big-ticket purchases, like upgrading your initial tent to a house, which some people not-so-jokingly consider just another job in our already burdensome world, but there are no penalties or accrued interest on your payments; Nook, Inc. is pretty chill for a capitalist entity.
The goal here is unendingly improving your remote island -- that you get to name; think real hard! -- which may sound tiresome or a second job. But its real-time pace is leisurely enough to still feel like a camping vacation all about gardening, exterior, and interior design. Much like another cult-favorite Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing is about cultivating and maintaining your own space through collecting materials (which includes not getting overzealous and harvesting goods to the point of depletion) and crafting new items, like furniture or better tools, and making friends with the crazy animal characters who roll through your island. Be nice.
You can hang out with and make new friendsOne of the most exciting updates to this edition is the ability to go and hang out on your friends' islands and see what they've been building. (Read more about how to connect online or start a couch party over here.) Other than that, you'll be spending a lot of time tending to needy animals, collecting supplies and materials for them or picking out a campsite, but truthfully, the more you put into these in-game relationships, the more you receive in return, be it bells, Animal Crossing's money system, or other gifts that'll help improve your island. The game takes each of these roving buddies seriously, developing funny little personalities and catchphrases for each of them, so it won't take long until you have a core crew and a favorite.
It looks amazingGraphics have come a long way since 2012. Not that you were begging for your already cute chibi animal friends to get a serious upgrade, but aside from that, it's worth noting that the landscapes are legitimately stunning, and shift according to the real season you're in, depending on your set region. (You can just as easily change it to another hemisphere to experience the opposite.) Gone are pixelated snowfalls and forests; instead, there are foamy waves, glittering fish, cute beetles, and perfectly pink peaches. It's exactly the kind of eye bleach to immerse yourself in these days.
New Horizons has some other new features to get lost in: There's a custom design template for you to get creative with prints for clothes, wallpaper, or flooring, and new crafting and character design layouts to make it super-easy to get your avatar looking as island-ready as you want.
The music and environmental sounds are so soothingThe Animal Crossing songs and environmental sounds are so relaxing that I'll listen to them to help me get to sleep. Like the impeccably composed music of another Switch title Untitled Goose Game, the music is often minimalist and sparse, but present in apex moments to still feel integral to the gameplay. Crashing waves, soft rain, and breezy trees all adaptably provide the ambient noise while you play.
The memes are very, very goodEven before the release of the new Animal Crossing game, the anticipation alone had obsessives cranking out memes. There are the ones using Animal Crossing "voices," which is basically just high-pitched gibberish, the famously supportive Tom Nook saying something mean, and tons of other variations on series staples. Expect to see tons more come out of this weekend as everyone you know crafts their perfect island destination.
Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.