You know what, this isn’t a feature I’m going to enjoy writing. Honestly, it makes a little sad. The world is currently on fire and seemingly the only thing keeping humanity together is Animal Crossing: New Horizons according to Twitter and any part of the internet where the sun still shines.
The journey to your own tropical island populated by fuzzy friends who just want to hang out and catch butterflies is the escape that so many people crave at the moment. Animal Crossing: New Horizons certainly is just that, a low stakes adventure to a place of tranquillity that lets you forget about the real world. In a sense, it’s a desperately needed holiday. Yet that’s the thing about holidays. You drive for hours to a cosy little caravan park on the South Coast, tirelessly set everything up and begin your much-needed relaxation. Then a week goes by. Then a month. Two months in and you start to realise that maybe, just maybe, constantly being on holiday really isn’t as fun as you thought it’d be.
That’s currently where I am with Animal Crossing. I reviewed the game when it launched and while I was perhaps slightly cooler on it than others, I thoroughly loved playing it. Yet now, having played New Horizons almost daily for two months, I just don’t care for it. Animal Crossing is a franchise that commodifies the time you spend with it; it’s both the series greatest strength and its downfall. Having the in-game clock mimic real-world time makes for a game that actually feels like there’s some kind of…pace, I guess.
Like, there’s an element of scheduling that’s so much more satisfying when you can play your actual day around it rather than sticking to strict yet arbitrary timers. There’s a gravitas to completing in-game tasks in real-time. It’s a feature that’s always made Animal Crossing so incredibly addictive, it makes sense for New Horizons to continue that trend. The problem is that while New Horizons still wants to be a game you can plan your day around it has absolutely zero regard for the time it forces you to waste.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has no consideration for the time players are putting into the game, so much so that at times it feels like it’s knowingly wasting your energy. Crafting tools and having them break sucks, I know, but that’s not even the thing that grates me. That’s a necessity in a age where crafting systems are seemingly a pillar of modern-day game design. What I’ve grown to dislike, maybe even hate, is how blatantly tedious New Horizons makes all its systems for the sake of making you play more. It’s subtle things too, the stuff you don’t notice when you first start playing. Having to individually craft packets of bait instead of batches sucks. Assess fossils just be told, “Soz, we got that one. Get something better, loser” instead of the game just telling you that when you find it, saving you a trip and several paragraphs of dialogue. Your cute villager proudly displaying their catch or creation with the same quote as if it wasn’t the 63rd time you’ve seen it, essentially forcing you to scroll through a text bubble just to progress. That may seem minor, sure, but for a game that expects players to check in on it daily, those seconds add up.
Look, I get that Animal Crossing is a game that’s designed to be a time sink. You’re meant to spend hours in your village, fixing it up and making friends with all the inhabitants. Perhaps I’m writing this with rose-tinted glasses on but when I think back to previous Animal Crossing games, but that’s exactly what you spent the majority of your time doing. In New Horizons, it feels like 70% of the actual playtime is spent navigating menus, mashing the A button to skip text and crafting the same item ten times in a row because of the inability to stack. In a world where other games have tackled the life simulator genre so well, Stardew Valley being the one that instantly pops into mind, there’s a part of me that finds New Horizon almost…unacceptable.
Which leads me to wonder if New Horizons actually isn’t that good of a game and whether its success isn’t a product of the experience itself but of the world it was released into. Maybe people have been able to overlook the several shortcomings of the game because it’s exactly the sort of thing people need right now: An escape. It’s easy to overlook flaws when the promised package is just so…necessary for the current state we find ourselves in. It’s like how after a bad break up you can appreciate a movie about similar events even if the actual film is complete garbage. It’s something that speaks to you in the moment, delivering an experience that feels so bright that all the flaws just become mere shadows. To a large extent, that’s what I think New Horizons is. The hero we need but not the one we deserve.
Is this a bad thing? Certainly not. People who adore the game despite its issues are gaining far more than those that outright disregard it. Who am I to dump all over the comforts of those that desperately need them? I just have to wonder that after the world gets back to normal if people will still look at Animal Crossing: New Horizons in the same way. As for me, I think I might just start a new farm in Stardew Valley.
Last Updated: April 16, 2020