Take a look at the best-selling games of 2020, there’s one game that stands out among the mishmash of violence, crudeness, and sports. That game is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. A cult-classic-turned-mainstream-hit, Animal Crossing is a palate cleanser for gamers looking to take a break from the more high-octane alternatives.
As one of the most popular life-sims ever, Animal Crossing’s appeal keeps growing. So, where did it start, why is it so popular, and what can you expect to see in Animal Crossing’s latest iteration?
North America’s first brush with Animal Crossing came in 2002 when it released on the Nintendo GameCube. But the story actually began months earlier in Japan.
Dōbutsu no Mori, which roughly translates to Animal Forest, made it to Japanese store shelves in 2001 as a late release for the Nintendo 64. The game, which gave users control over a human character who moved into a town full of animals, established many of the tent-pole game mechanics that Animal Crossing fans would grow to love.
More importantly, it used a real-time clock to mimic the passage of time. This feature made the game feel like a living world, moving forward even when you weren’t playing.
Needless to say, Japanese gamers loved it. So, Nintendo ear-marked it for a North American release.
It would take over a year before Animal Crossing would “move-in” to North American cities. While thousands of lines of dialogue had to be translated, those weren’t the only modifications. New furniture and clothing items were added, as well as North American holidays.
The plot remained largely the same. You, a human, move to a new town with nothing but hopes, dreams. Soon after arriving, you receive a house from the town’s mercurial business magnate, Tom Nook. Paying off your debt to Nook becomes your prime motivation. As you pay it back, Nook expands your house, expands his shop, and unlocks more and more things to buy and collect.
Animal Crossing hit a nerve in North America too, receiving praise from all who experienced it. The game was fun, wholesome, and addictive enough that Nintendo committed itself to make more.
Animal Crossing: Wild World
Animal Crossing: Wild World for the Nintendo DS marked the franchise’s first foray into the mobile market. As with anything involving Animal Crossing, it was a successful venture.
As in previous and future iterations, the player controls a human character that moves into a town full of animal-like persons. That’s not to say that Wild World didn’t introduce new elements into the fold. Wild World introduced the slingshot, watering can, new holidays, and expanded character customization.
Wild World’s biggest feature was being able to connect to the Internet via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Connecting to the Internet allowed players to visit their friends’ towns. The online features were such a success that they would become a key feature of the series moving forward.
The improvements and addition of online play would outweigh Wild World’s downgrade in graphics when moving from GameCube to DS. As such, Wild World would go to receive acclaim from fans and critics, while selling a remarkable 11.75 million copies worldwide.
Animal Crossing: City Folk
As the series return to consoles, there were a lot of expectations on Animal Crossing: City Folk. Considering it was slotted as their big game of holiday 2008, Nintendo certainly had faith in the game.
By now you’re probably familiar with the series’ broad-strokes story: your character moves into a town full of animal-like characters, where you have to pay off the debt to the dastardly Tom Nook while making new friends along the way.
City Folk threw a wrench in the spokes of the franchise by adding “The City”. This new location acted as an off-site hub for shopping, exploring, and interacting with special characters. With the introduction of The City, this Wii exclusive set the foundation for the various off-site locations that exist in the games that followed.
In addition to The City, City Folk expanded on Wild World’s online features. While players could still visit the towns of your friends, they could also communicate through letters and limited voice chat through the Wii Speak peripheral.
Despite prime positioning, City Folk didn’t garner the same level of admiration as the franchise’s previous titles. Many thought the game didn’t add much to the series, equating it to “Wild World 2.0”.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
The critics were unanimous, Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS was a grand slam. Not only did it bring the series back to handhelds, but it also introduced the most new features since the Nintendo 64.
In New Leaf, the player is no longer just a willing inhabitant — they’re the Mayor. In turn, they take on a variety of mayoral responsibilities such as regulating and improving the town. The game’s new features include town customization, town ordinances, and public works projects. The game also introduces a ton of new buildings including the Kick’s Shoe Shop, The Roost coffee bar, and Re-Tail.
Moreover, Nintendo would release the Welcome amiibo update three years after launch. Although the update was meant to push Nintendo’s new line of Animal Crossing amiibo figures and cards, it added a whole suite of new features and quality of life improvements all for free. The biggest additions were a location in the Campground, daily objectives called Town Initiatives, and the ability to arrange furniture using the touch screen.
All told, Animal Crossing: New Leaf would end up being one of the 3DS’s best-selling titles with international sales topping out at 12.45 million.
Enter the Nintendo Switch and the hotly anticipated sequel Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Nintendo was mum on details for a long while, causing many to speculate if an Animal Crossing game for the Switch would ever see the light of day. However, in late 2018, a new title was confirmed.
New Horizons diverts from the familiar plot of the series. The game is set on a deserted tropical island owned by Tom Nook. So, instead of moving to a fully formed town, players are responsible for building up the island and inviting their animal friends.
Paying off debt, fishing, and catching bugs would remain, but so much promised to be different.
New Horizons includes so many new features that we only have time to elaborate on a handful of them.
As previously mentioned, your home is actually a tropical wilderness with nothing more than a tent and ad-hoc community center at the beginning. From here, you set out to design the layout of the island from scratch.
As you progress, New Horizons unlocks a bunch of new game mechanics including item crafting and customization, traveling to randomly generated islands, decorating the town with furniture, and even terraforming! You can build and destroy cliffs, rivers, lakes, and pathways to your heart’s content. The only limitation is your creativity.
Finally, Nintendo has promised monthly events and free DLC support on an ongoing basis. There really is no telling what New Horizons has in store, which makes it one of the most exciting additions to the franchise to date!
Release and Reception
The hotly anticipated New Horizons released on March 20, 2020 to much fanfare. And, the praise hasn’t quite subsided yet. Its Metacritic score is currently a 90, with many calling New Horizons precisely the kind of video game we all need right now.
In North America, the game’s launch sales surpassed that of the entire Mario and Zelda catalog. It’s inspired online communities, memes, YouTube communities, and so much more. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has become a movement that doesn’t show any signs of stopping any time soon.
That’s good because we all have plenty of fish to catch.