Animal Crossing: New Horizons Exceeds Expectations

Game franchise evolves along with the generation that grew up with it



Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released on March 20, the fifth mainline installment in the franchise.

Based on description alone, one would think Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a game for kids. The player moves to a tropical island where they befriend talking animals, catch bugs and grow flowers, all while paying off an unreasonably high home mortgage to a raccoon. It’s simplistic, cute art style makes its target audience seem evident.

One scroll through Tik Tok, however, reveals that this isn’t the case. In the past three weeks following the game’s release, Generation Z has taken to social media to share memes and tips for New Horizons. But why? What makes this generation love such a simple, childish game so much?

Since its conception in 2001, Animal Crossing has slowly but surely become one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises, making a name for itself among classics like Zelda and Mario. Some rendition of Animal Crossing has been on most Nintendo consoles ever since its initial GameCube release, with five mainline games and three spin-offs, most being highly acclaimed by fans.

Unlike games that began with the start of the industry, Animal Crossing was created with a new generation in mind. Throughout the 2000s kids fell in love with the world of Animal Crossing, whether it was through designing their dream towns, collecting every fish, bug, and possible the game had to offer, or simply playing through a new life while making friends with their unique neighbors.

“Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is a free-to-play social simulation mobile game in Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series for iOS and Android devices.”

Since the last mainline game before New Horizons came out seven years ago, the majority of Animal Crossing’s fanbase is now made up of teenagers and young adults. Nintendo could have easily played off of nostalgia for a quick cash grab, a phenomenon that has become all too common with large entertainment companies. Instead, they listened to their fans. New Horizons noticed they were growing up and grew up with them, resulting in a beautiful, endearing game that is undoubtedly the closest to perfect the franchise has ever made.

The first thing people noticed was the stunning graphics. New Horizons makes great use of the Nintendo Switch’s technology to create a scenic, lively HD environment. It’s a drastic glow up from the heavily pixelated early games. The creators gave immense attention to small details, such as realistic ripples in the water and a soft golden glow resting over your town during golden hour. Rather than just waiting to talk to you, characters interact with the environment around them. Everything about this game is more alive than previous entries.

Gameplay feels as if it was crafted by the players themselves. Annoyed about new villagers moving in right in the middle of a path? You can pick where their houses go. Wish you had a pond that wasn’t initially on your map? Make one yourself using the new terraforming feature. From small DIYs to large scale landscaping, customization is at the forefront on New Horizons, one of many adaptations to fit an older audience.

In addition, fan-favorite previous experiences that were once lost have returned to New Horizons. Blathers, the museum curator, gives unique monologues describing his hatred of every bug you donate to him. You can once again wish upon shooting stars at night. Witty dialogue delivers quintessential Animal Crossing charm, with characters often breaking the 4th wall, insulting other villagers and using modern slang. All of these elements work together to create an entertaining getaway for people of all ages.

Animal Crossing Plaza is a free to play application developed and published by Nintendo for the Wii U.

Video games are often given a bad rep, mindless boredom solvers that cause kids to lock themselves in their rooms, limit social interaction and slack off on their responsibilities. In these times, when protecting the health of society is synonymous to “locking yourself” in your home, when everyone is searching for an escape, video games have proven to hold a more tangible purpose.

New Horizons builds community for players when all seems lost, whether in the midst of a pandemic or not. Currently, I’m using Animal Crossing as a way to connect with my friends and “hang out” online when we physically can’t, but its basic core value of “community” has been present for just under half my life. If I was struggling to make friends in elementary school, plugging the “New Leaf” cartridge into my DS made me feel less alone. Its simplicity was a source of comfort when I dealt with grief as a teen. I think more people are realizing the subtle beauty many video games hold in our current crisis.

It’s time to accept video games as a vast and varied art form rather than something to look down upon. New Horizons exemplifies innovation, and with a loving fanbase that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, the horizon seems bright for the gaming industry.