Why This Free Mobile Game Is the Perfect Cure for 'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' FOMO

Want to play 'Animal Crossing' but don't have a Switch? There's an alternative -- and it's free.

animal crossing pocket camp
Screenshot via Pocket Camp

Your feeds have almost certainly been taken over by an influx of Animal Crossing: New Horizons content since the Switch game's release on March 20. Friends are gathering on each others' islands and doing stupid shit together; other people are torturing their resident villagers to get them to move off their islands; others have made ridiculously intricate custom designs or caught rare whale shark and showed them off online. If you are someone without a Nintendo Switch, and have no intentions of getting one, but still feel like you're missing out on a Major Cultural Moment, there's an alternative solution, and it's free: the mobile game Animal Crossing Pocket Camp.

animal crossing pocket camp
Screenshot via Pocket Camp

What is Pocket Camp?

It's a free Animal Crossing mobile game for both iOS and Android phones released in late 2017. There are in-game purchases to get a leg up on handy resources, but it's definitely not necessary to have the full experience. (The game has made a shit-load of money, though.) How exactly do you play it without joysticks or A/B/Y/X buttons? Simple: All of those commands are replaced by tapping.

What's so good about it?

It's Animal Crossing, but free! All of the mechanics of the game -- fruit collecting, fishing, bug catching, flower tending, crafting, etc. -- are there, including interactions with the Nooks, Isabelle, and a laundry list of villagers. You can't escape loans in Pocket Camp, but you'll owe your bells to a trio of grease birds working in an auto shop instead of the insidious Nook corporation. (More on that below.) 

Seasonal events, like fishing tournaments and flower growing, are frequent in Pocket Camp, but, unlike New Horizons' current infuriating Bunny Day event, they won't completely derail your island-hopping routine as you go from the seaside to the fruit forest. You'll also get opportunities for special items and extra resources via balloons, but instead of taking wild flings with a slingshot, the presents will appear in the corners of your map page; just tap to retrieve. 

animal crossing pocket camp
Screenshot via Pocket Camp

What's different about Pocket Camp versus New Horizons? 

Pocket Camp is a streamlined, slimmed-down version of the Animal Crossing games. Here, you start off with an empty campground that the Shih Tzu Isabelle gives you, and your goal is to build up the best campsite possible (and eventually a second cabin location) to invite all your animal friends to hang out at. That's one of the best parts of Pocket Camp: Instead of the limited amount of recruitable villagers available in New Horizons, Pocket Camp gives you access to the entire catalogue of animals that you can befriend, build up relationships with, and eventually pick outfits for them. Once you've reached a certain threshold, they'll be available to invite to your camp, pending some specific furniture your new friends demand. 

Crafting those items, however, is one of the biggest differences of Pocket Camp. You'll still have to collect the requisite amount of materials to build, say, a lovely armoire, but instead of hitting up a workbench and having the item spit out instantly, you go through two very nice alpacas, Cyrus and Reese, who build these things for you. You can craft three things (or four, if one of them is a new tent or campground fixture) at a time, but the downside is that you'll have to wait for it to be finished. Sometimes that's 30 seconds, and sometimes it's 36 hours. You can speed up that long wait with the Pocket Camp-specific currency Leaf Tickets, which you can accumulate naturally through playing the game, or you can buy up a bunch of them by forking over real money. 

If you maybe played Pocket Camp during its first big wave during Christmas 2017, you probably remember some of its early shortcomings, particularly that there wasn't enough variety to keep things sustainably interesting. The good news is that Pocket Camp figured out better systems to attract and retain players, notably a higher turnover of villagers visiting the five different camping areas and the addition of rotating fortune cookies that get you seasonal and animal-specific items to help you out in the Happy Home Academy mini-game. 

One last major difference that I referred to earlier: Instead of upgrading the size of a house, in Pocket Camp you build out a camper, adding floors and more space, and changing up the paint job. To do that, you'll visit OK Motors, where the three black birds, Giovanni, Carlo, and Beppe, will help you out. (There's another mini-game at their auto body shop where you can kill some time and earn some bells.)

Can I still play with my friends?

Sort of! You won't be able to cross over between the two games and platforms (meaning, your island-dwelling pals can't come visit your campsite), but, if you connect your Nintendo account, you can see which of your friends are playing Pocket Camp. You'll also encounter random, globe-spanning users plopped in the different camp areas that you can befriend (It's not weird, I swear!!), buy items from, water their flowers, give and receive "kudos" from, and help you get into the Shovelstrike Quarry, yet another mini-game for collecting resources, managed by that hollow stump, Lloid. But who needs friends when you're surrounded by all your favorite Animal Crossing villagers chilling on hammocks and reading books at your incredible campsite?

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Leanne Butkovic is an entertainment editor at Thrillist, on Twitter @leanbutk.