It’s May 2020, the world is unlike it’s ever been in modern history. In a time where there is a deadly virus across the world, playing a game like Resident Evil 3, while a fantastic title, hits a little too close to home. Arguably the same could be said for the upcoming The Last of Us 2 which was my initial prediction for 2020 Game of the Year. With this in mind, I was desperate to find a game that felt wholesome and relaxing. I mainly play games that I love but bring me great amounts of stress and there are enough unknowns and stresses in our lives at the moment that I knew I needed to find something different.
That’s when I found Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a review of the game, I’m not going into all of the minute details. But I wanted to express why I believe this is the game of the year in a year none of us thought would go this way.
New Horizons has been out for just over two months now and it has captured the attention of almost everyone I know who I play games with. I’ve even seen it tempt those I know who dislike or are uninterested in traditional “gaming”. I have never personally played an AC title before so it was all brand new to me but the concept of building up an island from scratch was aspirational, the one thing I truly need in a game to become invested. I’ve since plowed over 130 hours in to the game in just 3 weeks and still feel like I have plenty to do. I can’t go out into the real world with out the risk of catching a life threatening disease so instead I’m spending my time creating an entirely fictional one. In this time, I bought my fiancé a Switch and a copy of New Horizons as a birthday present so now we can play together as well and the title has completely hooked her too. She is the prime example of someone who does not play “traditional” games and has always been uninterested in them, but Animal Crossing gave her something different and most importantly, enjoyable.
One big aspect of playing Animal Crossing that I was pleasantly surprised by is the effect I’ve seen it have on people with anxiety. My fiancé suffered from anxiety and panic attacks and this was the main motivation for picking the title up for her. While I’m not saying this fixed all of our problems, being able to wind down after a busy, tiring day, being able to jump into New Horizons has massively boosted her mood and general well being. Games have all kinds of effects on people and this has been one of the most positive effects I’ve ever seen.
Animal Crossing also allows you to play the way you want to. There is no set way to get through the game. You can go hardcore like I did and grind for bells and nook miles or you can relax and just build your Island up with cool stuff and add furniture to your home! You’ll likely do both just by playing the game casually anyway so you can pick your path. I personally built up my home and paid off all of the loans within a month and now feel like I can purely focus on getting a 5-star island!
That is the magic of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I can do so much and feel completely fulfilled by doing any of it. From dabbling in the turnip stock exchange to helping Wisp the ghost find lost parts of himself! You can even wish upon shooting stars if you look up at the right time. Or, if you’re more of an adventurer you can visit remote islands to gather resources to craft with. If you’re lucky you may find an island that rewards you with bells every time you hit a rock. If you’re even luckier (or unlucky depending on your perspective) you may find an island with money rocks AND scorpions. It may sound dangerous, but the worst that can happen is you faint a few time, the best is you catch them all and sell them for even more bells!
There is an element of completionism as well which has hooked me. If you’ve ever played Pokémon you’ll know the phrase “Gotta Catch Em’ All”. Well, Animal Crossing offers something very similar! The Critterpedia is akin to the Pokédex and shows you all of the fish and insects you have caught. You can donate them to Blathers the Owl who heads up the Museum on your Island. Along side this, you can also find, assess and donate fossils to create an incredible, curated experience. Seeing your museum filled with your donations has given me a real sense of achievement and I am constantly thinking about how to continue to add to it. Even the feeling of catching a rare fish or insect gives a mini high that I have never felt before in such a laid back gaming experience.
There have been plenty of great games released in the first half of this year and there will be some crackers coming in the second half of 2020, but I’m not convinced any of them will give us the warm, rewarding feeling that I get when I accomplish something new on my island. New Horizons current success may seem like it has come from the global circumstances but it is a fantastic game unlike any I’ve experienced before.
Having said that, Animal Crossing is the perfect game for the times we live in and if you have a Switch I 100% recommend picking it up to take your mind off of all of the stresses. The fact that the game runs in real time along side the real world means you encouraged to take your time and enjoy the simpler things; it’s amazing what a bit of fishing and crafting can do to your mood.
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