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I Returned to ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’—And You Should Too

Nana the perfectly pink monkey in her perfectly pink home.

Do you remember the running bit about Animal Crossing: New Horizons and quarantine? People liked to joke that the two were an in-job staged by Nintendo to boost sales. I don’t know about you, but I certainly ended up giving a lot of my early quarantine time to New Horizons, so it was certainly an apt musing at the time.

However, with the passage of time and with so many things happening, it’s only natural to move onto other things. And since that initial lockdown, a lot has happened, even though it often feels like it was only yesterday! I got carried away with a plethora of other things going on, and as I did so, the sleepy island paradise I named “Tarokona” (after two of my favorite flavors, taro root and kona coffee) became nothing more than an icon on my Switch’s home screen.

Lately though, I’ve been finding myself in need of something that could help me slow down a little. This is the Year of the Rabbit, after all, bringing with it all the high-speed changes that it was slated to bring. Your girl’s been in need of a break and thus I’ve somehow been led back to Tarokona.

Wild to mild

As uploaded by The Centurion Report

These past couple of years, I’ve felt some hesitation coming back to Animal Crossing because I grew up with Wild World, and I knew the drill: each day passes in real-time and the game keeps score of how long you’ve been gone. And in Wild World, those villagers got BRUTAL about it.

Not only was I always failing to save my game because my charger kept getting lost and my DS would keep dying on me, I also had too much school to keep up with the game on a consistent basis. I’d feel such a distinct sense of shame coming back to my dinky little town, overrun with weeds, looking like trash, only to be greeted with my favorite villagers saying shit like: “You really LEFT me?! Your BEST FRIEND?! How could you DO that, I hate you!!!”

Some part of that must have stuck with me over the years, as I’d look at the New Horizons logo and feel curious, yet ultimately decided I didn’t want to “deal with the guilt-tripping.” Lol.

But what’s ended up happening is that the villagers in New Horizons kind of swing in the opposite direction. There were already videos comparing how tame their responses are compared to older games, but nothing could have prepared me for how oddly comforting it was to be so pleasantly reunited with my favorite wolves and monkeys.

Instead of getting cussed out for having an avoidant attachment style, I’d approach my old buds and get the cutest responses. A wave of nostalgia came over me as I remembered how the game’s tone was so comforting during those early COVID days. This game really was made with good vibes in mind, and it still shines through, even three years later.

One thing did strike me as odd though, in an interesting, if somewhat sad way: after getting back into the swing of things in the game, I ended up taking a weeklong break without even realizing it. When I turned the game on again, the villagers were once again very startled and disturbed by my sudden disappearance.

I took week-long breaks all the time back when I first played the game, and nobody batted an eye. Did I traumatize poor Audie? Is she shell-shocked? Whenever I dip out for more than 24 hours now, do they all just assume I once again fled the coop for the big island at the other end of the sea? Maybe they updated the game to be more responsive since I last checked, I don’t know, but either way, it adds a whole new layer to the times when they randomly decide to tell me how much they appreciate having me around. Youch buddy. Sorry for being a flake.

Paradise lost and found

Dobie the old wolf gives us a delightful little tour.

I gotta say, my island is looking damn good. I tended to remember Tarokona looking kind of dumpy, but I’ve realized that’s only because we were getting videos of people making entire cities out of their islands. I never had that kind of ambition in these sorts of cozy games; I like my game spaces to feel both natural and lived-in.

But since I first played the game, they’ve really updated things to make the island feel even more livable. For one thing, villagers will actually visit my house now. My favorite villager, the pink monkey Nana, came over the other night and just kind of bummed around the house. They don’t even really do anything—they just react to furniture and plop down on the floor, looking stoopit, but it’s such a delightful little touch that had me cooing and cawing nonetheless.

You can also cook now, and forage for ingredients. It feels really cool to actually have a function for my ironwood kitchenette, instead of just turning the sink on and off … even though I can’t really forage or grow anything other than pumpkins, since it’s still currently winter.

Look, I know that for those who’ve been consistently playing the game since release, this is all old hash. But for me, it’s been really delightful to settle back into the game and be reminded of how comforting it was in a whole new context—and have new content on top of it. For a long time, I’d just written the game off as yet another life sim that gets tired and bored once you run into a lack of things to do.

But as I get older and I seek the humdrum comforts of day-to-day life more than ever before, I’m better able to recognize the merits of games like these. Sure, I don’t need to play them obsessively every day, nor do I plan to, but it feels good to know that if I need to unwind and just putz around in a peaceful environment before I go to bed, Tarokona will always be there waiting for me, no muss no fuss.

Is it worth returning to your island?

Animal Crossing
Credit: Briana Lawrence

I only include this last section because I’d imagine there are a lot of people out there like me, who don’t normally play a lot of cozy games yet got sucked into the hype because of COVID. Let me just say this: it has been nothing but fun and laughs getting reacquainted with the natural silliness of this game.

The animals have the goofiest dialogue, which has actually been expanded upon since launch, and the way they interact not just with you, but with each other is utterly adorable. Plus, it just feels kind of cool, returning to this thing you built during a highly chaotic time and finding that it still runs pretty damn well.

I think, if you still have the game, you may as well see what your crazy neighbors are up to right now. Even the ones you don’t like all that much. Yes, Sylvia, I’m talking about you and your ugly joey. I love you, you annoying purple ‘roo.

(featured image: Nintendo)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer, dog mom, and casual insomniac. Her prior experiences with media have taken her down many different roads, from local history podcasts to music coverage & production. Niche interests include folk music, elves/wizards, and why horses are cool actually.