My family and I live in Canada, so it was about fifty days ago when we were told to stay at home due to the pandemic that is currently sweeping our entire way of living.
“Time at home to catch up on that back log of video games, movies and books” I thought to myself.
As someone who doesn’t mind chilling at home in general, being told by the government to do exactly that was a dream come true. Having kids however, puts a strain on chilling at home for an extended period of time, LET ME TELL YA.
My wife and I had our third child back in February (a healthy baby boy) and our seven-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter have been at home with us all day, every day since self-isolating began. I’ve come to the conclusion that school is definitely cancelled for the year (they keep putting the cancellation off, but come on, it’s cancelled… JUST SAY IT) so I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that living indoors with my kids is going to be a thing for the next three months (or more? dear god no) until school officially starts again.
During the week, my wife and I help the kids with their online homework and try to get outside for a few family walks. I take care of the baby while my wife takes care of the family business she runs with her mom. By the time the kids are in bed, we’re exhausted. Weekends are just a free-for-all. We try to keep some structure in the household, but that completely goes out the window after a few hours of everyone being awake. I wouldn’t trade my kids for the world, but with them always around and a new baby to care for, I cherish the quiet moments now more then ever. When I do get a spare moment to myself, losing myself in a game world is exactly what I need.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons fills that need in spades. Having already sold an impressive 11.5 million copies since its release back in March, I’m clearly not the only one obsessed with it, which makes me feel a bit better. It has also been a way to bring our family closer together, because we’re all playing it.
I’ve played the series on and off throughout the years, starting with the original Gamecube version, but New Horizons is the first one that truly sucked me in. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Animal Crossing, it’s a life sim that plays out in real time. One day in-game is actually one day in the real world. If you start construction on a building, it won’t be completed and available for you to use until the following day. You plant flowers, catch fish, and pay off your house loans to a raccoon named Tom Nook. It sounds boring and ridiculous, but watching your own town (or island, as is the case with the new installment) grow and flourish is a joy. Since everything plays out in real-time, you won’t get to see winter until it’s actually winter (unless you time-travel by changing your system’s clock to a later date). This means that certain bugs and fish you can catch or events that take place change with each month. The game evolves with you each day, which is very cool.
At the beginning of New Horizons, you have nothing. Usually you have a house, but this time… nope. You arrive on a deserted island and Tom Nook talks you into getting a house and going into debt and immediately puts you to work creating the perfect island paradise. As you forage the landscape and gather resources like wood and iron nuggets, you can craft items (which is a new feature to the franchise) like a vaulting pole to hop over rivers to reach previously inaccessible areas. Your starter home is a tent, but paying off your home loan allows you to upgrade to a proper house. Your house can then be upgraded to have three extra rooms as well as an upstairs and a basement. You can fill these rooms with the various items and furniture you acquire. As you amass a collection of items, you can create the perfect bathroom, kitchen… whatever! The vision for your dream island will start to manifest. Everything starts to click and putting all the pieces together is an amazing feeling. After you’ve “completed” the game by gaining a three star (out of five) island rating, you gain access to terraforming, which allows you to place different types of ground like brick or dirt to create your own paths. You can even break the ground to create rivers and ponds or smash cliffs. You can shape the island to look however you want it to and you can really tell the difference between someone who has put ten hours into their island and someone (such as myself) who has put in eighty-plus hours (there are people on my wife’s friends list who are over two-hundred hours, so my measly eighty pales in comparison). Anything is possible and it’s a liberating feeling. On top of all this customization, you can even download other players’ clothing creations or custom patterns. If that’s not your thing, just create your own. The only limit is your imagination.
Playing Animal Crossing has become a daily ritual for my wife and I. Since we got sick of sharing an island (you can only have one island per console, please fix this Nintendo), we picked up two Nintendo Switch Lites and an extra digital copy of the game. We get up in the morning, make our coffee and breakfast and sit down to do our daily tasks in-game. It’s something to look forward to during these uncertain times. We talk about the different ways we’re going to go about achieving the coveted five star island rating and what villagers we’d like to have show up on our islands. We even have an assortment of apps on our phones to keep tabs on everything that should be done on a daily basis. There’s an app (ACNH Guide) that allows us to check off the villagers we’ve talked to, the fossils we’ve dug up, and the rocks we’ve smacked for resources. We also have an app (Turnip Predictor) that tracks our turnip prices, and another app (ACNH Exchange) to see other player’s islands and how much their turnips are selling for. I’m not even going to get started on selling turnips and the “stalk” exchange, but if you do decide to pick up the game, selling turnips is definitely a great way to make money in-game and you should look up how to properly take advantage of it.
The kids don’t play it nearly as much as we do, but they still enjoy their time. Our son shares an island with me on my Switch, so I always look forward to logging in and seeing what kind of improvements he has made when I haven’t been playing. It always brings a smile to my face seeing just how creative he can get. My daughter plays on our original island and has made some really great progress turning it into a small utopia.
It hasn’t been all Animal Crossing though. I have been working my way through other games. I did complete Golden Sun on Wii U Virtual Console and I’m currently working my way through Golden Sun: The Lost Age. I’ve also almost finished the Final Fantasy VII Remake. I really need to curb my obsession and finish these because The Last of Us Part II comes out next month and it’s at the top of my must-play list.
So yeah, you’re all caught up on what I’ve been up to. I play a ridiculous amount of Animal Crossing. In the time that I’ve typed this out, all I’ve thought about is playing Animal Crossing, and my Switch Lite is taunting me as it sits right next to my keyboard. There is plenty of terraforming to be done so I’m going to go and do just that.
I hope you’re all doing well. Stay safe. – NVJ