Want to get away? Of course you do. Unfortunately, leaving home for more than a brisk walk, let alone a vacation, is not really an option right now. But it's still possible to escape—to frolic in the sun, rebuild society, and drink coffee with a raccoon.
Nintendo's long-running Animal Crossing series of video games has been comforting players for nearly two decades, but its most recent entry couldn't have been released at a better time. With so many people stuck at home, its cheerful approximation of nature and focus on interpersonal relationships has made it the perfect replacement for IRL socializing.
Though it was destined to be popular, circumstance has made New Horizons, the fifth title in the series, a phenomenon even outside of gamer circles. The New Yorker wrote about it. Brie Larson won't stop tweeting about it. Even if you don't know what Animal Crossing is, you must have seen the explosion of screenshots and clips that flooded social media when it dropped March 20.
Without a doubt, New Horizons is the game of the coronavirus era. With everyone's daily routine on hiatus and lots of hours to kill, there's no better time than now to jump in. Here's a primer for complete noobs.
What is Animal Crossing: New Horizons, exactly?
At the broadest level, New Horizons is an adorable life simulator. It starts with Tom Nook, a generous tanuki who invites players to take advantage of the "Nook Inc. Island Getaway Package" and relocate to a deserted island. Your job is to help build a town from the ground up. Your days will be filled with projects like decorating your dream home, planting trees, hanging out with your animal neighbors and collecting fish and bugs. Over the course of many cozy play sessions, you'll grow the ramshackle community into a bustling village of your own making.
What do you actually do?
Animal Crossing moves in real time. The sun rises and sets each day, and even the four seasons cycle over the course of an actual year. Constructing your ideal community takes time, but every day is full of things to do. Primarily, you'll be gathering—whether it's fruit to sell, fossils to fill out your museum, or materials to craft that perfect bench for your town plaza. There's always be something to keep a creative mind pushing on to the next project. Personally, I've just completed an outdoor bath complete with a poetry stone. It required landscaping, crafting, deforestation and even a handful of plane rides to islands for gathering stones and clay.
You also have a mortgage to pay, but don't worry—the world of Animal Crossing is a millennial dreamscape. Tom Nook doesn't charge interest, nor does he even set a deadline for payments. Like everything else in the game, paying your debt can be done at whatever pace you like, with no penalties.
Doesn’t that get boring? I have enough chores and debts in real life.
Where real life is full of complications and unexpected obstacles, Animal Crossing is entirely within your control. There are no penalties and nothing to rush toward. Crafting a utopian village is like raising a garden or constructing a diorama: a form of creative expression paired with the satisfaction of productivity. A good Animal Crossing village is an affirming fantasy. A great Animal Crossing village is a work of art.
It's hard to explain, but once New Horizons sinks its hooks into you, with its layers of simple depth and surprisingly detailed toy-box world, you'll find yourself growing attached to the residents of your town and the way they enjoy your creations. The neighbors will water flowers for you, read books on the stools you place for them and enjoy sunshine beneath the trees you plant. You'll plan roads, pathways and zones like it's your job, but you'll still be surprised by the organic growth of your new home.
Also, with the revamped multiplayer element in this latest entry, your real-life friends can fly to your island for a visit. Don't forget to ask them to bring non-native fruits and plant life, too, in case you want to trade and cultivate those for later.
Isn’t that a lot of commitment, though?
New Horizons may have its own internal calendar, but it still moves at the player's pace. The only way to move is up: more infrastructure, a bigger house, more furniture. The game never doles out any serious penalty for neglecting your new home—the most you'll get for being logged out for a couple weeks is a handful of cockroaches and maybe some bedhead. For the time you do put in, however, you'll be rewarded with a constantly entertaining experience.
When New Horizons first came out, thousands of players logged on to the villages they'd been tweaking for up to seven years in the previous game in the series to say goodbye one last time. For many, it was a tearful parting. For such a simple premise, these are games which inspire real attachment and sentiment—two things all of us could use right now.
Buy: Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available for Nintendo Switch. See store.nintendo.com to download.