2020, a phrase that once meant perfect vision, is today a term used for a year that has blinded us with nonsense. In a year where everything happened at the worst possible moment, one thing seemed to defy all chances and fall at the most perfect possible time. Not just in years, but maybe in our lives as well. That would be the launch of Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch.
In the United States (where I live) Animal Crossing: New Horizons was launched on March 20, 2020. And while it was already widely praised as a “must-have” title for the Switch, a new outlet surfaced in the States … quarantine.
Although most of the world’s nations realized a few months ago that they needed to get into the quarantine train as soon as possible, the United States wandered the plague like some unconscious Winne Pooh forging petri dishes for honey jars. So when states finally decided to start issuing home detention and quarantine orders, it happened almost at the same time as Animal Crossing: New Horizons was launched – and it was perfect.
Instead of people stuck in isolation and in their heads, over five million people who bought the game in the month of the game’s launch now had new ground to discover and people to interact with. And not only that, but it was also a way of crossing animals more than previous generations, giving us now only a house that we can adapt, but an entire island. We could make our own things, set up furniture outside and, what is more impressive, completely terraform the island.
Instead of visiting people on similar islands, people could develop their creativity completely flexibly. I visited cities that were everything from recreation to cities from the original Pokemon, modern Tokyo shopping districts to islands completely excavated to create floating island houses surrounded by water. Visiting your friends almost didn’t feel like you were exploring how their game was going, but like you were visiting their home.
It didn’t hurt the launch that many celebrities also came into the game a lot last year. Elijah Wood has become infamous as one of the most polite people you could ever visit your city. Instagram Brie Larson has become a fountain of her screenshots showing her city. And one of my favorite moments was when YouTuber Gary Whittu grabbed the stuck arm of the famous tough guy, virtual avatar Danny Trejo, and took a tour of his island. Listening to Danny Trejo giggle as he shows the laying of the food cart and his street layout is one of the sweetest things I could ever imagine.
As time went on, Nintendo adapted a new feature to the series that also helped make it a pandemic hit, timed events. Traditionally, if you played the Animal Crossing game and wanted to see all the things that, say, a Halloween event has to offer, all you had to do was switch the system settings to day and boom, this is Halloween.
One of the things I was worried about was the game that everyone was using as an escape from the pandemic, and a few of its beats were spoiled by people jumping forward and destroying discoveries. Nintendo was a step ahead. Now, if you wanted to celebrate events like the recent “Toy Day,” you need to make sure your game was up to date and online on the exact day, and then, and only then, can you participate in the event. Even after that, if I wanted to repeat “Toy Day,” rewinding on the 24th day would simply provide me with a cold winter day devoid of events. It’s a great way to allow everyone to experience something at the same time. During these events, you can also visit other people’s cities to celebrate with them. Sitting on a bench on July 4 with a friend and chatting while the fireworks went off across the ocean was genuinely comforting.
The events roughly started with Bunny Day, the Easter equivalent of Animal Crossing. He taught Nintendo a valuable lesson about scheduling, as Bunny Day put eggs everywhere, including in the water, basically destroying a fishing tournament that happened at the same time, making it more likely to catch eggs than needed fish.
Over time, Nintendo has made events much more enjoyable, often adding things that remained in the game even after the event. For example, the Halloween event provided you with a host of new skin colors and hair colors giving people more customization options. It even allowed you to plant a pumpkin crop that could then be used to make a wide range of pumpkin-themed items. The “Turkey Day” event gave you a bunch of rustic things to build. “Nature Day” even brought a beloved NPC for crossing animals, Leif, a cute sloth inspired by Bob Ross who can sell you all kinds of plants, including shrubs that allow you to replace your fences with shrubs that actually blow in the wind and produce flowers at selected times years. For example, if I go to my city now, I will see that my holly bushes are alive from berries. It even runs a special event especially for your birthday which I found too sweet and slightly scary.
Even outside of events, there are always new things in the game that you can discover and do that allow you to get more out of the game. Whether you’re adding real images to the game, discovering bizarre flaws, or staying uncomfortable late to take a look at a bizarre alien, New Horizons constantly lets you discover new things.
Now that the cat is coming out of the bag with most of the events at Animal Crossing except New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, it will be interesting to see if 2021 can make Animal Crossing interesting now that all the events have been revealed, but I’m excited to find out.