Swimming in 'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' Is Pure Joy

The game has outdone itself again with its splashy summer update.

animal crossing swimming update

One of the most mysterious places on the planet -- more mysterious than our solar system -- is Earth's ocean, which spans most of the globe and is home to hundreds of thousands of known species (and estimated millions more that we haven't even heard of yet). The ocean in Animal Crossing: New Horizons was once, at the game's launch, also its most mysterious place, with hidden depths merely hinted at by silhouettes of submerged rocks and a diversity of life promised by the various icthyic specimens found finning alongside the shallow shores. But, alas, unreachable! The sea and her siren call blocked by an invisible barrier, our infant-bodied avatars made to run humiliatingly in place when driven to the water's edge, mocked by the lilting, crashing freedom of the waves. Until, that is, July 3, when Nintendo's great big summer update swept aside the wall and opened the ocean to our questing, sandy toes, our stubby-fingered explorations. 

Animal Crossing's Summer Update introduces swimming to the game, and it truly couldn't have come at a more opportune time. America is slowly reopening, but with many people still trying their best to quarantine themselves and the chances of a trip to, say, the Florida Keys looking slim, most of us have only the sandy shores of our at-home screens to provide us with a summer getaway. The chilled-out island living of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is one of the best ways to live out the fantasy of a normal summer break, a relaxing game where nothing really bad is allowed to actually happen to you. And as soon as we began to feel constricted by our own shorelines, the game unfurled yet another layer, allowing us to hop right into the ocean and dive for living treasures. 

There are, of course, a few things that are necessary in order to paddle out to the reefs encompassing your island. First, your snorkel mask, one of which is automatically mailed to you -- it isn't actually required to dive but looks cute and appropriate anyway. Then, you must head to either your Nook twins' general store or Resident Services in order to procure a wetsuit, which come in a variety of colors and patterns. Maybe you opt for the tropical leaf pattern, or the sleek full-body SCUBA suit, or you're more drawn to Nook's Cranny's adorable little striped ensembles, which are styled like what you'd find at your local pool in the 1920s. 

The dress-up part is fun enough (this is coming from someone who starts every morning's gameplay by putting on a new outfit), but then comes the actual swimming. To do that, you basically run up to any point of your island that borders the ocean and press A to jump in -- from the pier or one of the rock outcroppings, your character will literally cannonball in, while from the beach they'll do more of a slidey, scooching motion to wade in. From there, you just keep pressing A until your thumb cramps, directing yourself with the left toggle, as far out as the game will let you go (unfortunately, you can't just swim and swim forever; there's a buoyed net barrier that acts as the game's final stopping point).

Sometimes, you'll see a string of bubbles rising from the depths -- swim over to those, dive down with Y, and collect whatever fabulous sea creature might be hiding down there, anything from anemones to octopus to colorful mantis shrimp. (When you're directly over the shadow, your character will automatically dig it up.) Some, like the giant isopod, you'll have to chase down, but if you're as pathologically obsessed with outfitting your aquarium tanks as I am (finally, the empty half of the coral tank stars to fill up), these sea creatures are an invaluable resource. It's also pretty easy to make bank when selling these at Nook's Cranny. The underwater creatures are everywhere and they never disappear, unlike fish and bugs, even if you have to dive for them a few times. 

When you get your first scallop of the day, a little otter in a red hat named Pascal will pop over and trade you one of the game's coveted mermaid-themed items for it. He may give you a recipe you can craft using shells from your beach and rare pearls you'll find while diving. But, sometimes, it's the mere act of swimming that's rewarding in itself, as you bob up and down in the waves, floating suspended in the cool embrace of the surf, untouchable, as the rest of the world merely happens all around you. 

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.