This is one of those games that Jennifer told me I needed to buy asap, and if you know me, you know that if Jennifer tells me to buy a game, I do it. Cue realizing that the game was completely sold out, and after I somehow found the only copy within about 150 miles of my house, I had it in about a week.
Jennifer immediately fell in love. With the game. She was already in love with me.
Animal Crossing New Horizons is a curious game. Not because it breaks away from the rest of the series (not that I’d know much about that anyway) or introduces any mind blowing mechanics or graphics, but because it has brought me to the conclusion that it makes me feel like I’m contradicting myself by both loving the game, but hating parts of it out of principle.
But before I jump into the stuff that drives me nuts, I want to address the fact that Animal Crossing New Horizons is adorable. Even Tom Nook and his underlings are adorable despite the fact that they’re repeatedly baiting you into taking out 0% interest loans on building or upgrading your house, which is simultaneously a great example of predatory lending and quite possibly my dream home mortgage at the same time. Every character in the game for that matter is amazingly adorable; yes, I even mean the “ugly” characters that sometimes come to your island. Don’t be so exclusionary!
Except the wasps; they aren’t adorable.
Can’t have wasps if you don’t have trees
Overall, once you looks past the aesthetics and stop squealing like a kid looking at a corgi puppy that is eating jam, you’ll quickly find yourself doing everything in your power to scrabble together as many Bells as possible, which is the currency. Making money is exceedingly simple, and the manner you can acquire more Bells gets easier and easier as you improve your island.
Yes, it’s your island. Tom Nook may have brought you to the island, but you’re doing all of the back-breaking labor to make things happen. Collecting bugs, harvesting wood, making new tools constantly because they’re breaking every five minutes… Well, that last thing doesn’t make you any money, but it does slow you down from accomplishing that task, so I felt it was worth mentioning. It’s not a new “feature” by any means, but it’s still annoying considering that I feel the need to carry 12 axes. At least the tools are fairly simple to make.
It’s a pet peeve of mine. One of which carries over from my experience with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which also featured this “feature”. Not a deal breaker for me, but just annoying.
Fishing, collecting shells, exploiting the hot item of the day, buying and selling turnips on the “Stalk Market”, capturing bugs, and even digging are just a short list of the number of ways you can make a ton of Bells quickly. For that, I’m extremely appreciative, and the laid back nature of making money in the game is something I can really get behind in games. I don’t feel like I’m needing to expend a ton of effort to make enough money to make progress.
However, this is where I find my biggest issue with Animal Crossing New Horizons. Eventually after playing for a little over two weeks, I’ve come to the realization that it capitalizes on FOMO (the fear of missing out) to get you the player to boot up the game every day.
I remember playing WoW around the days of the Burning Crusade expansion, when they introduced the “daily quests” that you could repeat… well, daily. I was already logging in every day to run dungeons and collect ore to make the Stormherald warhammer, but then I found myself logging in and spending hours just completing daily quests. If I failed to complete all of them, or missed a day because of work, my classes, or being burnt out, I felt like I lost time and left tons of virtual gold on the table. Modern games have done this too, like with The Division and Destiny, but while it was obvious in those games, it’s a little less so in Animal Crossing.
Because each day is in real time, days passing can mean a few things if you don’t play on any given day. Like with previous games, “neglecting” your island can result in your islands villagers leaving, your island going into disarray, and your home being infested. Couple that with the turnip thing, and you’re potentially screwing yourself over by buying turnips and failing to check prices every day you are thinking about selling. With that last example, since the prices fluctuate daily, you could go from a chance to sell at 150 Bells to 50 Bells.
But wait, there’s more:
- Not harvesting fruit one day is a day you lose towards the next harvest
- You can miss special visitors to your island
- You will miss the free buried Bells and your Bell rock for each day you miss
- You can miss an easy-to-make Hot Item of the Day
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I feel it perfectly encapsulates the problem presented with Animal Crossing. Granted, any game out there will technically put you at a disadvantage compared to other players if you choose to take a day off, but this is a different animal altogether, and not the friendly kind you find roaming the islands; this one seeks to remind you that you wasted your precious time doing things other than doing your chores in Animal Crossing.
The FOMO issue extends beyond just missing a single day. It can mean that missing even just a specific time of the day to find a certain fish or bug, or you could even miss your chance to buy something from Nook’s Cranny, or any of the numerous traveling merchants. Worse still, missing a certain time of year can result in making you wait literally months to have the opportunity to “complete” the game.
I guess that’s why using the Nintendo’s Switch’s date & time settings to trick the game into thinking you’re at a different time and/or date, though it can be tricky to use the tactic correctly and not accidentally screwing things up for yourself.
Island (Quality of) Life
Something that I find myself thinking every time I start my daily tasks (because I’m still hopelessly addicted), is how small inconveniences compound upon themselves. As an example, as of the time I’m writing this sentence, I spent a portion of my morning checking what the Hot Item of the Day was. Today, it was a “Log Dining Table”. In this case, due to my obsessive nature, I had dragged Jennifer into consistently collecting all of the available wood on the island, every day since we have been able to store it.
And every day, because we have such an enormous stockpile of resources we sit on, and constantly replenish, we were able to craft 82 of these things. This morning, because I know what it means to have an easy-to-make hot item opportunity, we calculated that based on our stockpiled Hardwood we could make 82 tables, which at double the value of 1800 Bells, meant we would make 295,200 Bells just from crafting.
Easy money, right? Well it was fortunate for sure, but tedious beyond belief, since crafting large amounts of items takes forever, and requires you to sit through the same four dialog options repeatedly, for every crafted item. That same dialog annoyance carries over to every single conversation you have with the Nooks, Isabelle, Blather’s, and other merchants. It wouldn’t be so bad if skipping through the dialog was simpler, but you have to wait until the character you’re talking to finishes their sentence before being able to move to the next dialog. The way around this is to mash the “B” button, but if you get overzealous, you can accidentally find yourself cancelling the conversation quite easily. There’s little rhyme or reason for why you have to sit through the same formalities every single time with conversations and crafting, but you do. It’s almost as if Nintendo deliberately wanted to make it difficult.
Likewise, just doing the normal chores around your island is needlessly frustrating. Placing items or using tools is guesswork most of the time since you don’t have a clear indication of where you’re actually doing work. If you want to dig holes with regular intervals of one space apart, like when planting an orchard of fruit trees, you’re going to be eyeballing it the entire time. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if it weren’t that the game’s layout is grid-based, meaning if you’re off even by a little bit, you’re going to be off by a lot more than you intended. It seems like it’d just be more user-friendly to put a little reticle marking where your shovel is going to dig in, or where you’re placing something.
This lack of precision becomes even more of a problem once you gain access to the Island Designer, which gives you the ability to make paths, change cliffs or waterways. It’s really awesome, but again, it’s unnecessarily arduous. Painting paths onto the landscape is done one tile at a time, and it’s a borderline guessing game since you can be standing in front of the section you want to place the path, but being misaligned by even a hair could mean erasing the path you just placed, or placing it in the wrong spot.
It doesn’t help that the camera angles really suck, especially when you’re doing something like planting an orchard or collecting wood where trees are very close together. The developers seemed to have found a solution when making paths though, at least when going behind buildings. There, the camera angles to an almost top-down view. Similarly, you can angle the camera closer to the ground, which phases out objects like trees in the foreground in front of the player character, but once you move the camera goes back to the usual bird’s eye view. Strangely, zooming the camera all the way out doesn’t have this same problem, just the close-up camera angle…
The Big But
Still, despite every irritating feature of Animal Crossing New Horizons, I can’t seem to bring myself to put it down. Just like with my previous experience with Animal Crossing New Leaf, I’m still popping on every day to do my daily tasks. Yeah, so I’m picking weeds, collecting seashells and fruit, harvesting wood, watering plants, and decorating on a daily basis… You know, many of the fundamental things I should be doing in real life to take care of my actual house? Minus the seashell collecting and harvesting of wood and fruit of course. I don’t live in a beach house bordered by an orchard of fruit trees.
The fact is, I love Animal Crossing, but I have a hard time coming up with the reasons why. Perhaps Jennifer can help me out?
It’s laid back. It’s an easygoing game. The objectives are simple; no task you’re given is unnecessarily difficult. In most other games, you’re given objectives like “collect five corndogs” or “meet the master of the moon”, even before you’re able to. The game doesn’t tell you to plant ten apple trees or open up your island for visitors before you have the ability to do so.
Thank you! I feel this perfectly captures the magic of Animal Crossing. Sure, the mechanics may not be perfect, and you’re probably going to be doing repetitive tasks on a regular basis, but the fact of the matter is that it’s just a game to play to chill out. There’s something great about the simplicity, and one of the benefits of the way the game’s progression system is structured is that while I do feel like I’m punishing myself sometimes by not playing even just one day out of the week, I’m glad that there’s only so much I can actually complete in a day.
Something I’ve personally struggled with with many other similar games is the feeling that I could just do one more thing before ending my game session. With games like Cities: Skylines, it’s finishing that new section of my town, or with Stardew Valley, it’s playing one more day because I just need a little more money to buy something I’ve been saving for. With Animal Crossing New Horizons, you don’t get that same type of progression. If you upgrade your house, you have to wait until the next real day to see the fruits of your labor. If you want to find more fossils or harvest more materials, you need to wait.
What makes this nice for me, is it makes it easier for me to step away if I need to. While I do feel the desire to accomplish my daily tasks, I also feel much more free once I manage to complete them. I don’t feel compelled to continue, and it’s liberating.
All this isn’t even taking into consideration how easy it is to get people to visit your island (even though it’s still relatively convoluted in a Nintendo kind of way), and being able to show off your island and make trades is super helpful. I still wonder how Nook, his family, Isabella, and Blathers somehow manage to be on every island though…
Here’s the thing though. As for your personal enjoyment goes with games, your mileage may vary in comparison to mine. I love it despite the annoyances, though sometimes I find myself working obsessively towards a goal and try my hardest to claw out massive profits every day while still making our island look nice in the process. If you just want something chill to play, or you like cute, simple games, you may want to check it out. If you want something more involved with better quality of life mechanics built in, you may want to steer away.
Just don’t wait for a sale if you’re really interested; it’s Nintendo after all, so it’ll probably get a $10 sale in about five years if you’re lucky.