There’s something almost poetic about the timing of the release of the new Animal Crossing.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was always going to be a game that robbed workplaces of employees. For those of you new to the franchise, of for those of you losing partners to this profoundly weird game, think of it this way: Animal Crossing is a place. A pretty real one, too. And right now, the island of each player is very likely the only chance they’ll get to drift out of their quarantine and visit a calm, serene, gratifying faraway land.
So that’s how I’m going to cover it: like a tourist destination. It might be the closest thing any of us get to a holiday anytime soon, so why not review it as such?
Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review
First up, the travel experience itself. Dodo Airlines, the carrier that flies the player to their new island home, are… well, they’re dodos. They fang you across the seas to your island on what appears to be a water-plane, and once you’ve settled down, you can visit the airline office anytime you like to fly over to another island.
You can visit your friends, and see just how grotesque their design aesthetics are. Hell, you can travel to random uninhabited islands and pilfer said islands of all their natural resources. You can even visit the helpful little kiosk in the Dodo Airlines office and send calming letters to faraway compatriots.
It’s a thumbs up for Dodo Airlines. Although ironically, real-life airlines will soon go the way of the dodo if this pandemic continues.
Next up, the island itself.
You get to pick from a handful of fairly similar layouts, and then you’re introduced to the head of this whole capitalist endeavour; Tom Nook. The Richard Branson of the Animal Crossing universe, Tom Nook is a racoon who aims to make your time on your island as calm and carefree as possible.
His customer service skills are excellent, though his tendency to only employ family members veers towards nepotism. Are those little racoons old enough to be selling me saplings and shovels? Is there an Animal Crossing ombudsman? If there is he’s probably a fucking talking otter called Otto the Otter Ombudsman and frankly I cannot wait to meet the furry bastard.
Really, gripes aside, everyone working on this island is a delight. Five stars.
Activities! Every day, I wake up and shake trees, grab peaches, sell the peaches. I whack boulders and ore flies out. I catch insects and take them to a museum where a fusty narcoleptic owl yells at me and tells me he already has my proffered dragonfly. I sell the dragonfly and use the proceeds to buy a lime green stereo for my house, a purchase I instantly regret.
My house, by the way, needs to be paid off.
Once I pay it off, I agree to get a bigger house, and suddenly I have a mortgage. Even a billion miles from home, the stringy fingers of capitalism grip my ankles. It’s OK, though. Tom knows I’m good for it. He tells me every day I’m good for it. Has he slept? Is this startup of his going well, or very, very badly? He’s a racoon. Maybe those rings around his eyes aren’t meant to be there.
The other guests on my island, who I lured there timeshare-style by building houses for them at Tom’s behest (for free, I might add) are a goat with a workout fixation, a duck who spends nine hours a day Naruto-running around our dusty plaza, and a pig who asked me what my favourite album was.
I told him – quite sincerely – that right now, it’s Toto’s Dune soundtrack. Now, the pig approached me every day and asks me about Toto’s Dune soundtrack. If there’s a reasonable psychological snapshot of my real-life quarantined brain, this island is it.
I’m, working hard on improving the island. The museum is filling up with fish, insects and fossils that I’m lovingly accruing, even as my tools dissipate in puffs of smoke from overuse. I have a rather epic harvest of peaches, coconuts, cherries, apples and oranges now, and my town hall just received an upgrade.
Yesterday, a camel arrived to sell me carpets without showing me what the carpets were first. Did I sink thousands on a lucky dip that would, very likely, be sold instantly due to its catastrophic ugliness?
You’re damn right I did.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is fantastic. It’s polished, it’s weird, and I cannot overstate just how much pressure it is taking off me, pressure the real world seems insistent on piling on of late.
If you’re locked away during this quarantine – and you really, really ought to be – I can’t think of a better way to escape each day than a piping hot mug of this utterly lovely, baffling, meditative game.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was reviewed on Switch using a retail copy provided by Nintendo Australia.
Game Title: Animal Crossing: New Horizons