At first, this article title was going to be “10 hours with…”, then it quickly evolved to “A full day with…”, and finally, here we are: I have played an Animal Crossing game for 35 hours. I can practically hear you laughing from here.
Based on the play time and progress of literally every single person on my friends list, I have done the equivalent of picking my initial character stats in an RPG. I remember when 35 hours meant something, but with Animal Crossing, it’s basically taking the game out of the wrapper.
I’ve hardly written about Animal Crossing in the past, mainly because it was never my thing, but if I were to bring it up in the past, my thoughts would be, “I don’t get it.” Why do people like this game? I played it briefly (and by that I mean, under an hour) on the GameCube a few years ago, and it didn’t feel right to me. In fact, it felt a little depressing. But “depressing” is about as opposite as the fans of the series would describe it.
After I wrote this last paragraph, I checked my history and found that I did actually write a bit about it before, mainly about Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp which I did spend some time on. But Pocket Camp wasn’t a core game in the series, and so I’ll let that go. And uh, this may re-ruffle some feathers, but the article was titled: The Most OVERRATED Video Games.
In my defense, I did end my rant by saying that I might give it a shot if the series ever came to the Switch. Well it did, and I did. So there! I paid the $60 toll, now I’m ready to party.
First and foremost, I can say that I understand it now. The game is absolutely adorable, packed to the brim with positive vibes and happiness and exclamation points! I get the love, the obsession, the hundreds-to-thousands-of-hours-long playtimes, the fact that people play a title for years, the small tasks that slowly but surely chip away debt and thus slowly but surely afford the player upgrades in the form of a bigger house and fun things to put around your little village. It’s cool, and absolutely satisfying when it pays off.
What surprised me is that a game like this would keep me going for 35 hours at all. I mean, I get RPG fatigue around 30 hours, typically, and that’s with an engrossing story which AC definitely is not about, but my point is that the in-game timer just crawls for me in RPGs (or any other genre, for that matter), yet AC:NH went from 5 hours to 35 hours, between profile checks. How the hell did that happen? As they say about time flying when you’re having fun, let’s just say those are some true words.
But historically, simulators sink their hooks in me, I get obsessed for ~20 hours, then I figure out “the system”, get a routine going, and bam – I’m bored and I stop playing. But something about Animal Crossing feels.. different? Simply put, I think there’s a great deal of satisfaction to be had be performing repetitive tasks that are a part of everyday life. Not to say that catching bugs is part of life, but if you think of it as work then it feels much more rewarding. Weirdly.
The Sims series is completely based around running the life of virtual people and doing trivial things like eating and going to the bathroom, and it’s successful because people like to put themselves into other situations! It can be quite fun to life in an alternate little world for a while. Hell, we might grind away in AC the same way we grind in real life, but this grind has immediate payoff whereas real-life can take its time for all your planning and hard work come to fruition.
What pleased me the most about AC:NH was the very neat tie-in of the real-world clock paired with the seasonal events and daily updates of items and visitors. Of course if you’re a long-standing fan of the series, you’re probably thinking, “well duh, Geddy, that’s the whole point of the game,” and what I guess I’m trying to say is that it was actually far more fun than I expected. Is fun the word? I think so – I enjoyed it and I smiled all the way through.
The fact that every month, the fish and the bugs and the everything else rotate out in ways that would make sense given a) the season, and b) your hemispherical location, blows my mind. Nintendo must have an entire team of designers and wildlife experts dedicated to planning all of this stuff around the clock. Not to mention all the daily content that changes out – hot items in the shop, rugs for sale, wallpaper availability, you name it! How on earth do they manage this? Maybe it’s my career as a software engineer that keeps me oddly curious, because man that is interesting to think about.
The gameplay is just as I expected, lots of doing of random things like fishing and catching bugs and pulling weeds and whacking trees for wood, and it’s satisfying if not a little tedious. It’s a bit slow overall, and that leads me to my first point, if you can call it that – you need to play Animal Crossing with the right mindset.
I knew this going in, yet maintaining that mindset became increasingly difficult as the weeks went on.
Eventually, the daily grind of bug catching, fishing, catching a million stupid eggs, banging rocks, and and breaking my 300th axe grew quite old. Really, I thought the idea of crafting better and better items was that the inconveniences disappeared after a while. Not so, however. Things still break, and fairly often at that.
Where I felt myself becoming turned off by the idea of continuing to play was when I upgraded the main tent into a shop (this is also the time that Isabelle showed up), and spoke to Tom Nook. He offered the ability to boot out tenants, build ramps and bridges, and do all sorts of extracurricular activities. Looking at my friends’ profiles and seeing their playtimes hovering, on average, 200 hours (!), I realized at my meager 30 hours (at the time) that I had barely scratched the surface of this game. To be honest, I had enjoyed the slow progression right up until that point – but then a pile of potential tasks fell into my lap.
This was, coincidentally, the same weekend that the whole Turnip Stalk Market started up. Stupidly, I looked at the /r/animalcrossing subreddit, and found people compiling Excel sheets of prices of turnips, and people requesting mandatory “donations” as payment to visit islands to make trades. This hit me a little wrong. In fact, the first thing I thought of, while not necessarily related or even the same concept, was the Diablo 3 real-money auction house. Did I really need to do this shit to “maximize my potential” in what was pitched to me as a relaxing game to catch bugs?
If you want a word of advice from an Animal Crossing newb, DO NOT LOOK AT REDDIT. Or anywhere else for that matter. Just play the game and enjoy it. Visit the islands of close friends who are playing for roughly the same amount of time as you, or you may feel perpetually behind. If you’re anything like me, you will feel like you just learned how to craft a single brick, where others have built reconstructed the Great Pyramids next to a full-scale replica of the Taj Mahal. It’s some mixture of FOMO (fear of missing out) and a self-realization that even given all the hours in the world, I am not nearly creative enough to pull off the stunts others are are doing. Also weird.
Right up until this point, I had been enjoy my slow progress, but seeing how much I needed to invest in the multiplayer component if I wanted to make any real progress made me realize that the game has (for now!) run its course.
I know! I hear you screaming, “progress isn’t the point, FUN is the point!” I’ve had plenty of players tell me that slow and steady progress while doing relaxing things is the key of the game, and maybe in my later hours I lost focus of this, but this leads me to another issue with my playing of AC:NH.
In short, it doesn’t meld well with my personality. We are simply incompatible in the long term. I’m an efficiency freak; if I sense I’m wasting even a few seconds, I’ll stop and rethink everything. And to be efficient and make any progress in Animal Crossing, I basically needed to quit my job and play for at least 10 hours per day. I thought this was supposed to be do-able in 20-30 minute increments of time, but it takes me 45 god damn minutes just to dig up fossils and whack some trees, and then rebuild all my broken stuff, and then whack some more trees, and then turn in the fossils, and then find another fossil, and then… repeat and repeat and repeat.
I was blissful when the store was upgraded and I learned that they had a drop-off box outside. “Surely, this will save time on the 20 load screens I see every day when I go to sell my loot!” Nope. Well, yes, it would, but I’d also lose a huge portion of my pay, and I wouldn’t get paid until tomorrow. So that feature became immediately useless to me.
I ran into the same issue with that Magikarp game where I was doing the same exact thing every day, for absolutely no real reason. Of course there’s more of a purpose in Animal Crossing, but upgrading my house for the fifth time didn’t feel all that special like the first upgrades did.
So there is one major complaint that led me to an indefinite hiatus – the slow, repetitive conversations for selling loot.
How about Bunny Day? Ohh, Bunny Day. The Bunny Day event was the last day I played, and I threw in the towel when I realized I had to go through an entire conversation with the bunny in order to trade three of my Wood Eggs for a single Sky Egg so I could finish crafting the Bunny Day recipes. This was so arduous and pointless and wasted so much time. Why couldn’t I trade in increments of 5 or 10? I immediately put down the controller and closed the game.
You know what it reminds me of? If you’ve ever played Earthbound, think back to when you went to save your game. You had to call your dad using a telephone and sit through this endless conversation, every single time. It’s absolutely grating. The Angry Video Game Nerd did a review on Earthbound a year or two ago, and he has this excellent rant about the endless rambling in the game, particularly around the save system. The whole review itself is top-tier entertainment, but his rant about the game saving is precisely how I feel about every conversation in Animal Crossing, and I highly recommend it.
Like, come on, tell me once and then let me fast-track through it. I live in New Jersey and we do things quick and fast. The charm and humor of the owl in the museum was enjoyable.. the first 88 times, then the second 88 times I found my eyes wandering off-screen while my right hand mashed B to skip the dialogue, and my left hand grabbed my coffee to sip. Eventually, finding a fossil after I had already stopped by the museum felt too much like a chore.
Perhaps the final straw was the realization that Tom Nook is an expert in exploitation. Memes aside, he makes you absolutely bust your ass running errands for him, rewarding you with what essentially amounts to pennies. No debt reduction, nothing – a few sheckles and a friendly pat on the back. Thanks, Tom. The sheer amount of furniture I had to craft at the beginning of the game to get my initial influx of visitors was absurd, but I did it, thinking that I would get some kind of recognition, and when none of that happened (he lets you say maybe two words every time there’s a “ceremony” for something, the ceremonies seeming more like a self-congratulatory performance to service Nook’s vanity), I was pretty put off.
You’re no doubt thinking, “this guy sounds nuts. It’s just a game, have fun.” And have fun I did, I swear! But the repetitive tasks paired with the fact that I’ve got a least 45 minutes of chores to do before I can do anything of significance grew old after a while. Simulators are a lot of fun for me, until they simply aren’t, and that point with Animal Crossing: New Horizons was roughly 35 hours.
Well, that, and I really wanted to play Trials of Mana. More on that soon!
I’m sure I’ll return to check my island in a bit, perhaps once my little one is born in a few weeks and my free time is a little more, eh, spread out. Quick jump-in/jump-out games are ideal for that type of situation so I’ll find my way back to pick the metric ton of weeds that are sure to have grown back by then.
Hope everyone else is having a great time with Animal Crossing and continues to do so – like I said, I think the game is excellent, but it clashes a bit with my style of play. But based on the playtimes of my Switch friends, that doesn’t seem to be much trouble for anyone else, so carry on and have a blast!