“Damn, Daniel,” I say to myself. “You forgot to water the plants.”
Not actual plants, virtual plants. In myisland. I try to get my East Star rating and spent hours earlier this week organizing various monuments, lining beaches with tropical coconuts and decorating the highlands with shrubs and flowers.
Shrubs and trees are simple. Give them enough space and they will be good. But the flowers? It’s the flowers that get you. You have to water the bad boys every day if you want them to grow. Do you think you even get a 4 star island without filling it with dozens of floral friends? Fuhgeddaboudit.
Even if you don’t play Animal Crossing, you’ve probably heard a lot about it. The Switch game was soldin just six weeks, making it more popular than even Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee. It is a caricature life simulator that puts you on a deserted island and commands you to turn it into a paradise.
It is hard to describe the joy of this process for someone who has not played an Animal Crossing game before. Much of the game revolves around fishing, chopping wood, headstones and crafts. It is relaxing, but sufficiently goal oriented to be stimulating. Released on March 20, a large part of the world went into the corona virus lock and it was the perfect game to calm this chaos. There is no confrontational story or complex mechanics. New Horizons is a time sink, but it’s also simple, low commitment fun.
At least, in the beginning it’s low commitment fun. But now, two months in, it becomes a problem.
A pursuit of perfection
If you are the type of person who likes to get involved in a single game for long periods of time, New Horizons is a dream. If you like to play multiple games at once or, God forbid, juggle playing time reading or binge watching, it’s a wake-up nightmare.
A colorful, Happy wake up nightmare, replacing a grotesque Freddy Kruger monster for an avid racoon named Tom Nook. But a nightmare anyway.
Animal Crossing has not really ended. At a certain point you get an island rating (1 star) and have the task of improving it to attract more villagers. So you can get a 5 star island, highest rating on the scale, but does that mean you won Animal Crossing? I do not know.
In some ways, it’s not actually a game, more like an exercise in sculpture. Animal Crossing gives you lots of clay, sometimes literally, and a set of tools. Then you can do whatever you want.
Tom Nook, the above-mentioned nightmare raccoon in the form of a frugal real estate agent, gives you various tasks, many of which revolve around Bells, the other type of open money. Each day, you will also receive a set of tasks to complete, such as collecting 10 pieces of wood or 20 clumps of weed, in exchange for Nook Miles, one of two types of game currency. All this is fun but since the game is more about creativity than pursuing goals, they are essentially self-study.
I could sometimes find myself with my daily chores, collect all natural resources and stop wondering exactly Why. I would dig up fossils to sell for big money, which I could then use to add a new room to my house. But I had already added so many rooms to my house, just to talk about more extensions – and debts – by Tom Nook. Why.
I had seen people online post videos from their incredible islands. Islands that looked like they were designed by Animal Crossing’s actual development team. Islands that replicated games that Pokemon, The Legend of Zelda and also Pac Man. Islands that probably took hundreds of hours to put together.
I respect the stress, but I don’t have that in me. I’m not closing, I like to enjoy meat from one game and move on to the next. I spent dozens of hours with Animal Crossing, and I was ready to wind up. But without a logical endpoint, when?
I eventually got my island up to a 3 star rating, a pathetic achievement considering how much time has dropped in the game. Tom Nook congratulated me and said that K.K. The slider, a guitar that strikes the Jack Russell Terrier on which he had tried to catch his ear, would visit the island. The screen fades to black.
Next thing I know, K.K. is on my island. He sings a tune. The villagers love it. And as they swing towards his musical stylings, credits roll down the right side of the screen. yes! I had.
When I restart the game, Nook informs me that I have now unlocked the Island Designer app on my phone. This gives me the opportunity to lay the pavement, build rivers, shape rocks and more. In essence, he tells me that now the game really begins.
Too good to be true
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is truly a master class to hold on to.
Every time I start to ask Why, a new feature is unlocked, or a mysterious new villager comes to inform me of something new I can do. Seasonal changes bring new fishing and fishing opportunities, and new events are announced every two weeks. June is, apparently.
Often, the video games that are best serve to keep you connected by microtransactions. Praise to Nintendo: Animal Crossing has none. New Horizons is both fascinating and ethical.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t make you question your life choices at 11:56. on a Saturday night.