Most of my 250 hours spent playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons were logged during the first five weeks or so after it launched. Animal Crossing was part of my routine then. Wake up, shower, have breakfast, brush teeth, play Animal Crossing, read news stories about how the pandemic will be over by May, sleep, repeat. Over time I fell out of this routine – I still showered and brushed my teeth, but Animal Crossing and perky news stories about washing our hands while singing happy birthday became less and less a part of my daily life.
This in itself isn’t that surprising. I’m used to single-player games, and while Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a single-player experience with only brief flourishes of online meetups, it doesn’t feel like my kind of single-player game. I like games that have beginnings and endings. Games that have a story to see through, a hero to root for, a quest to complete. I don’t think games always need to be win or lose situations where you kill or be killed, but I prefer a resolution. Animal Crossings: New Horizons has a credit roll once you fill up your island, and then the ultimate post-game goal of reaching a five star rating, but once I had achieved that, it felt like I was done with the game. It’s because of this reason that the Animal Crossing events couldn’t really lure me back – the game’s quest was already over.
For the dedicated players, getting a five star rating is just the beginning – my 250 hours in the game are a mere prologue. Now, it’s time to grow every type of flower and cross breed them for colours. They also need to catch every fish, capture every bug, and dig up every fossil. Their house needs to be paid off, every single spot of their island needs to be terraformed to perfection, and every villager’s friendship needs to be maxed out. This is the online player mindset – to just keep going and going and going until they achieve greatness. I’m impressed that Animal Crossing managed to claw 250 hours out of me, but it took the new island tour mechanic to actually get me playing again.
This new feature lets you make a minute long video of your island, narrated by a handful of prerecorded lines, featuring either ten images or three short clips chosen by you. I love my island, mainly because it looks exactly how you’d expect it to look after 250 hours. That is to say, you can tell I’ve put a lot of effort in and spent way too long doing bits of it, but it also looks extremely rubbish compared to the ones that have had 2,500 hours spent on them.
I’ve built myself a little beachside fairground, a gym, a festival stage for my own mini-Coachella, and a food court with custom-made market stalls. There’s even a football pitch, complete with a goal line beach ball for Darren Bent – if you know, you know. I’m just very happy with it, and getting to dive back in and show it off is exactly what I need to recharge my love for Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
The tour creator doesn’t take long to make… actually, scratch that. Because it’s Nintendo, you have to download the images you want via a QR code connection, then use a second QR code to access the images, then download and reupload the images to the tour creator, rather than just sending any of the Animal Crossing images I already had saved. It’s obviously to stop people memeing with non-ACNH images, but it’s a bit much. Anyway, as far as gameplay goes, the creator doesn’t take very long. Just boot up, wander around your island, and take a few snaps. I remember Animal Crossing as a game that sapped a lot of time from me, and while it was worth it, the fear of being pulled back in for another 100 hours or so is exactly why I’ve avoided it until now.
The events are designed to get people constantly playing in short bursts throughout the year, but I never believe that the burst will be that short. The big event I remember playing through when I was fully committed to Animal Crossing was the egg hunt, and even playing for multiple hours each day, it was a slog. The next time I went back for one, my more casual playtime meant I barely scratched the surface of what the event had to offer, and after that I just never bothered going back.
It feels wrong to think of a game so wholesome as Animal Crossing in these terms, but the events seem like a trap, designed to lock you up and force you to play six hours each day in order to get a special bathtub. The tour creator can be a quick in and out, but after wandering around my island again to take the snaps for it, I might end up staying a lot longer.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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