I’ve never been a huge fan of the Animal Crossing games — the closest I came before was getting really good with Villager in Super Smash Bros. — but I’ve fallen in love with Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Stuck at home indefinitely, Nintendo’s tropical island adventure is the perfect escape from our brutal coronavirus nightmare, but there’s one thing I didn’t expect from the new game: It keeps encouraging me to put down my Switch and take a break.
In an uncertain time where socializing and even going outside is rightfully discouraged, we’re all spending a lot of time with our screens. Here at Inverse, we've published roughly a dozen streaming guides — we even packaged them all together in a streaming guides guide — but there’s something to be said for turning off the TV, even if there’s nothing else to do. Enter: Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which uses several creative mechanics to make you slow down and take a break just as often as it pushes you to complete one more level.
Like the Animal Crossing games before it, New Horizons is tied to the passage of time in the real world. When it’s daytime outside, it’s daytime in the game. When the sun goes down IRL, it’s nighttime in Animal Crossing.
At the same time, major events and features are tied to the passage of time. Just built a new house? You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to check it out. Unlocked the Museum on your island? Take a break, it won’t open for a couple more days. Unlike other games, you can’t just skip ahead or put your character to sleep so time passes more quickly, you'll have to wait. (Time travel is possible with a relatively simple hack, but I’m personally enjoying the leisurely pace the game asks me to play at.)
Of course, there’s always something else to do in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. There are unlimited fish and bugs to catch. You can customize your virtual house and change your avatar’s outfit. You can even hop in a plane and jet off to visit a friend or loot a Mystery Island for all its natural resources. But every time New Horizons tells me the next big event won’t happen for another day, my initial reaction is often to put down the game and take a break.
Animal Crossing encourages this same behavior in other ways too. Shovels, bug nets, fishing rods, and other useful tools in New Horizons degrade over time and eventually break. You can always craft a new one, but the realization that I’ve swung my axe to smithereens is often the reminder I need to call it a night and go to sleep.
Even gathering resources in New Horizons is designed to make you take breaks. You can thwack the trees and boulders on your island to gather iron, wood, and other elements. But you can only thwack each tree a few times before it’s depleted, forcing you to wait another day for more resources. Once I’ve run out of trees to chop, I know it’s time to stop gathering digital fruit, put away my Nintendo Switch, and cook some actual dinner.
All these little speed bumps might make Animal Crossing: New Horizons feel slow — sometimes you really just want to get lost in a game for hours — but I’m finding that it’s exactly what I need right now. Everything from my Netflix account to my PlayStation 4 beckons to me with endless entertainment. It’s nice to have one distraction that’s not totally devoted to sucking up every minute of free time I have.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available now for Nintendo Switch.