Finally! E3 2019 came and went, and we’ve made it. All the years of agony with amiibo Festivals, microtransaction-filled campsites, and unmet expectations are in the past. We’ve made it. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been revealed. We can breathe.
In case you aren’t a rabid Animal Crossing fan like some of us, I’d like to fill you in on the Animal Crossing journey that Nintendo has taken us through during the past seven years, and share my thoughts on the new game. This is going to be a long one, so jump to the end if you just want the summary.
My experience with the Animal Crossing franchise doesn’t go back as far as my relationship with Nintendo. I was young when Animal Crossing: City Folk released on the Wii, and my only connection to it was renting it once from the video store. Nothing about this stuck with me for years, so I didn’t really care for Animal Crossing yet. Then came the 3DS, which was the first console ecosystem that I fully took part in. I was beginning my appreciation of Nintendo in the early days of 3DS, consuming all the media I could around it. When Animal Crossing: New Leaf came around in 2012, I was on board day one. I loved everything about the game, and spent 2 years of my childhood running around my virtual town every morning and night. This one stuck with me, I realized how enthralling the simple charm of the series could be, providing me years of enjoyment and experiences as I met other people with the game. Inevitably, I moved on from the game, but I was ready for more, alongside the rest of the fanbase.
Around 2014, anticipation for the Wii U’s Animal Crossing title started growing. The year before, they released a mini-spinoff app on the console featuring animal villagers to give Miiverse users some discussion fodder. This was insignificant, but it was the franchise’s first presence on the Wii U, creating hype for the first HD home console mainline release. I remember people being convinced that Nintendo would reveal it in their E3 2014 presentation, to no avail.
A major blow for fans came the following year at E3 2015. Before Nintendo’s presentation, amiibo figures featuring AC characters were leaked. This could only mean one thing, a Wii U game, right? Well, Nintendo had other plans. Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival was revealed, being a Mario Party clone without any of the fun minigames. Nobody wanted it, and nobody was happy. The game released, and it was fine at best, but it wasn’t the mainline release that everyone wanted. But hey, at least we got a wave of great amiibo figures and cards that I happily bought for dirt cheap when nobody wanted them.
It has always been a suspicion of mine that amiibo Festival was ultimately proof of a scrapped Wii U title converted into a cheap money grab, in order to make the Switch (then codenamed NX) release more impactful. The only interesting aspect of the game was a survival island game which eventually led to the theme of the Switch game.
For the next few years, every time Nintendo had announcements on the horizon, Animal Crossing was always expected. Every Nintendo Direct felt like “the time,” but it never came. The Wii U’s lifecycle passed, being the first Nintendo console since the N64 to miss having a mainline AC release.
The 3DS managed to keep the series alive through the years. Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer was a welcomed spin-off based on New Leaf that emphasized designing buildings with decorations. It introduced new ideas and mechanics around furniture, which got moved back into New Leaf with a major Welcome amiibo update in 2016 that added a bunch of new features to the now four-year-old game. This included a camping section of the town, which added a significant theme to the series moving forward.
Next up came a mobile game in 2017, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, which was a simplified version of Animal Crossing with an emphasis on camping. This was an interesting release, because it was much anticipated leading up to its delayed launch, but fizzled out because of the mobile aspects which led to an inferior experience. Even if it wasn’t great, it introduced new mechanics like crafting and friendship which would contribute to the features of New Horizons.
We’re up to four spin-offs now since New Leaf in 2012, and the Nintendo Switch is the new platform of Nintendo. It’s the perfect console for Animal Crossing. Because it combines handheld and home console gaming, the AC franchise will no longer be split into portable and home releases. In 2017, a new game wasn’t really anticipated because of the Switch’s already packed launch year, so Pocket Camp was going to have to sustain fans for a while.
You might be wondering why it matters that Animal Crossing had such a large gap between releases after New Leaf. Animal Crossing is unknowingly one of Nintendo’s top performing series, tailing right behind Mario and Zelda sales-wise. On top of this, the first four AC games had under five years of wait between each release, so the eight year gap between New Leaf and the Switch game is unprecedented. Though, it might have been worth it for the giving the development team time to create the Splatoon franchise.
Finally, 2018 came. Then it mostly went, until September when the announcement finally came of a new, real Animal Crossing game coming in 2019. It happened alongside the reveal of Isabelle joining the Smash roster, and it continued the trend of teasing fans by keeping them on the edge. Nevertheless, it got announced; it was really coming.
There was little doubt leading up to last week at E3 that we would get the true unveiling of the Switch release, but that didn’t make the reveal of Animal Crossing: New Horizons any less satisfying. Rarely am I more hyped by seeing the word “Nook” on a black background.
Unfortunately, the 2019 launch was not met, and New Horizons was delayed to March of 2020. While this is disappointing, it is a commendable decision by Nintendo to increase the quality of the game without overworking developers, which they’ve stated is a priority.
Here’s where the positivity comes in. This game is simply beautiful. Upon my first watch of the reveal trailer, I was floored. A rare, magical thing happened. My dreams that were beyond realistic expectations are being met by the new game. After the themes of the survival island in amiibo Festival and camping in Pocket Camp, I really wanted to see the series try a more “survival” direction, and that’s exactly what we got. Starting from the ground up to build a town through gathering and crafting is a genius way to add more to the core gameplay loop, and extend the life of the game. I could rant about everything that we know so far, but this isn’t the place for that. It is simply glorious how perfect the game seems to be turning out to be, and after all the build-up and years of waiting, it seems to be paying off in the best way possible. I, for once, am satisfied.
Since the release of the 3DS game, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the Animal Crossing series experienced a drought with a plague of lesser spin-offs. Year after year, E3 became an event to torture fans of the simple animal simulation series, and now, we have gotten past it. Animal Crossing: New Horizons looks to be simply fantastic, and Nintendo succeeded in making fans happy. There is no catch, there is no lingering fear. Similarly to the games’ nature, we are experiencing an era of simple joy, and I can’t wait to experience New Horizons.