Two Years Ago, Animal Crossing: New Horizons Was The Right Game At The Right Time
This time two years ago, we were in a bit of a strange spot.
Just as the wider world began to see COVID-19 as a genuine public health threat and the world prepared to knuckle down until we'd seen it off, the world was tinged with lethargy uncertainty. We had very little to go on, and as everything we knew began to close its doors and hordes of people collapsed out of supermarket doors with much more toilet paper than they'd ever need, society, in the UK at least, seemed to halt overnight.
As the country, and the wider world, began to take stock and do what they could to entertain themselves from their sofas after having their option to socialise rescinded, one game offered solace like no other - and on its second anniversary, Animal Crossing: New Horizons remains one of the very best examples of how video games can bring us all together.
Animal Crossing Gave Us Normality Back
As will be of no surprise to anyone, Animal Crossing is a game that thrives when it comes to giving players the chance to live a simple life. Meeting fluffy and feathery friends, setting up a tent, chopping down trees and collecting fruit, before moving onto the development of infrastructure, letting players create the ultimate getaway. This was true of the series in the first place, but New Horizons took this to a whole new level, leaving you on a dreamy island ready for you to doll it up into a tropical paradise.
The game was released there days before the UK went into its first full national lockdown, and adjusting to the "new normal" was deeply bizarre. Being restrained to our homes was something that very few of us were prepared for, but thankfully, Animal Crossing was there to offer some kind of routine.
Obviously the game saw a huge boom in its early days - players adored New Horizons, and it became an instant internet smash - but it was in the time after the game settled that it really offered some genuine solace.
Something as simple as logging on for 20 minutes or so every day to collect fossils, shake trees, hit rocks, and chat to Timmy and Tommy offered actual routine during a time when there was simply none, and once players had started to level out their islands and grow content with their design, it could become a daily ritual that helped to segment people's days. It became more than just a video game - it was an actual hobby that broke the mould.
New Horizons Was A Chance To Actually Socialise
Along with helping to make for an actual daily structure, the new Animal Crossing gave an opportunity for people to actually see each other again. Kind of.
Aside from the loathsome Zoom quizzes that got old much too quickly, people didn't actually get to engage with their friends and family outside of their homes much - but the travelling from island to island that New Horizons was able to provide was a much-needed tonic.
Running around friends' islands that were always better than my own, shaking trees, exploring museums and slapping my pals in the head with a net was a way for me, and many others, to actually engage with one another when we were expected simply to wait for everything to blow over.
Catching butterflies and running in circles with friends isn't exactly revolutionary for Animal Crossing, but paired with the real-life circumstances that brought many players in, and with New Horizons offering more wide-spread customisation than ever before, everything felt sweeter and more exciting than ever. It was made even better for long-time Animal Crossing fans too, who had waited 8 years since the launch of the last mainline title, New Leaf, seeing everyone flock to the franchise for a little peace in a tumultuous time. The game became a hub for joy, right when we needed it most.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons Remains A Franchise Highlight
Even despite the events that made the game such a grand icon of the pandemic, Animal Crossing: New Horizons remains a highlight for the franchise, and with the Happy Home Paradise DLC and its accompanying update, it has only got stronger since release. Though it's not expected to get any more changes from here on out, the game stands on its own as one of the very best in the line of the humble-life simulators.
The game became a crucial resource and place of refuge, and for that alone it deserves immense props. It may have dropped on the same day as DOOM Eternal, and for all of that game's merits, it didn't quite bring us all together much like Animal Crossing. And though we may live under the iron paw of Tom Nook, we live a sweet life on our own private paradises.