What a wild week it’s been. I’m not talking about the obvious – I’m fairly certain you didn’t come here to read about that – but more about the sweet phenomenon that’s gripped players around the world. All day and all night my WhatsApp has been buzzing with friends and family members asking so many questions. What fruit do you have? Can you throw a few iron nuggets my way? Can I pop over to your island to grab a few things? And who the hell is that creepy sheep dressed up as a clown wandering around your town square?
To call Animal Crossing: New Horizons a success would be something of an understatement. In Japan it’s established itself as the biggest Switch release yet, a mantle I’m sure it’ll soon take elsewhere too. Screw the sales, though – in terms of buzz, I can’t remember anything quite like it since Breath of the Wild. Current circumstances certainly play into that – this is escapism, pure and true – though Animal Crossing has been on an upwards ascent ever since its inception. That its moment has come now, when that escapism feels so vital, just makes it all the sweeter.
It’s a far cry from the early days when Animal Crossing was a strange secret here in the west. It took just under a year for the GameCube original – itself an expanded port of an N64 game – to come to America, but more painful was the two years it took after that for it to make its way to Europe. I remember first reading about it in Edge around the time of the US launch and the concept – a game that moves in step with every minute and month of the real world – lodged in my brain until it became an obsession. It wasn’t too much longer before a Freeloader turned up in the post along with a freshly-imported version of Animal Crossing and a brand new memory card that could play host to my village.
That was back in 2002, and 2002 will forever be lodged in my mind as the year of Animal Crossing. It’s where I lived for at least half my waking hours, making acquaintances with this strange cast, trying to catch a glimpse of Pete the Postman or doing all I could to complete my library of NES games. It’s where we all lived that year, me and my flatmate scribbling each other treasure charts in-game as we buried gifts for each other on that delicious grid-like map.
If 2002 was the year of Animal Crossing then so too was 2006, when Wild World proved how perfect the Animal Crossing formula was for handhelds as the series came to the DS. It’s when Animal Crossing started to blossom into something else, a strange cult becoming stranger still as its secrets and charms were admired and subverted by a community growing at a rapid pace. And so 2013 will forever be an Animal Crossing year (I’m sorry, we don’t talk about Let’s Go To The City much around these parts), with New Leaf becoming another obsession that lingers on all these years later. I still check in on my village every once in a while, maybe just to chat to Brewster over a piping hot coffee or to exchange some words with my best friend Mac.
And 2020, I’m sure, despite everything else that’s going on right now, will lodge itself in my memory as another Animal Crossing year. Indeed, it’s probably going to be one of the best Animal Crossing years yet, with this influx of new players, and new people who’ve given into the obsession the series breeds. My heart’s soared as others have been won over by the slow-burn nature of this most sedate of life sims, of how millions of us have been uncovering its mysteries together, in tandem, and how we’ve all been able to share all those many details that make Animal Crossing such a constant joy. If New Horizons isn’t exactly the best Nintendo game to date – though I think you could, if you really wanted to, make an argument for it being so – then it’s most certainly the very best of Nintendo; sweet-natured, positive and resplendent in its craft. How lucky we are to have a game like this right now.