With New Horizons Nintendo has reached the point in developing their virtual life simulation where once you’ve gone through the introductory period of establishing a home, building up community relationships, and mastering the various tools and tasks, you’ll want to keep playing, again and again, and again. Unlike the previous Animal Crossing editions, it no longer fades into predictable routines even though this is still a game that has no end where it’s just the day-to-day cycle and the hope for changes brought on by the weather, mail, and new shopping catalogs.
Yes, it helped that New Horizons launched at the beginning of a pandemic that sent people into their homes under lockdown and the theme of a deserted island for this edition is a perfect escape for everyone facing quarantine, but it’s the scale of experience this time, the freedom of customization tools, and the ability to shape your own spaces that keeps giving the game life.
Yes, you can garden, fish, catch bugs, and do woodworking as before to collect and produce things to make an income for the cycle of virtual life, but this time your collection of critters lives in an atmospheric museum, full of exhibition hallways informed with educational knowledge that is pleasurable to visit, beating the usual Pokedex or trophy cabinet systems for collecting.
Many items that you acquire can now be customized, not just clothes and furniture, but everyday items and it’s not just changing the colour, thanks to a rudimentary paint program you can give items your own graphics, to create banners and signs, allowing players to create restaurants, sports arenas, dance halls, you name it. Because you can share your creations by sharing a code or by inviting visitors to connect to your island online, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has used the game to give educational tours, bands have given virtual concerts, and one group has turned the game into a late-night talk show.
A new expansion, just released, adds the ability to swim, dive and collect marine life which then also adds to the experience at the museum, provides more ingredients for your workshop, and provides new influences for the fashion market.
With the game using our real-world time and calendar, the promise the original Animal Crossing introduced was that the game would refreshen with the change of the seasons and the changes they bring, creating an experience to enjoy year-round, but not enough players stuck around to find out.
Now there is the creativity of other players who introduce a flow of surprise and ideas and so I expect this, we’ll still see people playing throughout the year.