There Won’t Be A Game Like Animal Crossing: New Horizons Again

I’ve been an Animal Crossing fan since Wild World and haven’t looked back.

Whether it was spending those sleepless nights hunched over my DS Lite, or blowing off my summer classes in college to catch bugs in New Leaf, there’s always been a place in my heart for this series. It’s been one of the few constants in my life – something comfortable that I can always escape to if things get rough.

That experience is pretty universal, too. Ask any longtime Animal Crossing fan, and most will likely tell you how the game’s been a comfort food for them in hard times. It makes sense, as the series’ laidback design philosophy and cozy aesthetics are designed to be an accessible comfort for audiences young and old. In a crowded and competitive marketplace, it stands out as something almost anybody can latch onto and find solace in.

But in 2020, Animal Crossing hit a little different. More than ever, we needed a game like it, and Nintendo delivered the best one yet. New Horizons dropped right at the outset of COVID-19 hitting America, and wound up being a bigger success than any entry before it. As social distancing became the new normal, millions of people withdrew from the world faced with a life devoid of parties and family gatherings. Nintendo was there for those people, providing them with a virtual sandbox to call their own and play around in with their friends.

It grew into so much more than that, though. In the following months, Animal Crossing transcended mere gamehood and attained the coveted status of “cultural institution.” People unable to see each other tied the knot in-game, and others mourned lost loved ones using the title’s robust creation tools. American politicians rolled out virtual campaigns alongside talking animals, while the Chinese government banned sales over virtual protests.

At this point, then, it’s almost disingenuous to compare New Horizons to its 2020 contemporaries. Sure, Hades and The Last of Us Part 2 are amazing titles, but they didn’t play a major role in fundamentally reshaping a society in crisis. No other game this year, really, can claim that it did as much for the world as Animal Crossing. Maybe there were titles that we liked better, or thought moved the industry in interesting directions, but there’s no denying that Nintendo produced the most important game of the year.

Related: Animal Crossing: Wild World Made My Life A Little Less Lonely

But they won’t be able to do it again. Nobody will, in fact.

We needed Animal Crossing as the pandemic hit, but as we’ve grown more accustomed to living in isolation, that need has long since passed. For better or worse, we’re used to living like this, and those of us that haven’t died yet are making the best of what we have. As we’ve stayed socially distant, we’ve settled into our own rhythms and formed our own routines. I’m not much of a humanist, really, but our collective ability to cope with the worst possible shit never ceases to amaze me. If nothing else, human beings are resilient, and can cope with even the worst of adversity when given enough time and resources.

That resilience, though, comes with sacrifice. We outgrow our old tools, and so, too, have we collectively outgrown Animal Crossing. People are still playing it and buying it in droves, of course – by any and all standards, it continues to be a rousing success. However, that success is much quieter now, and not something driven by players desperate for something that feels normal. Most of us have found new ways of staying connected with the people we care about, and discovered new comforts as the months have worn on. Some countries have even returned to normal, thanks to wide-reaching and effective government intervention. Boy… that sure sounds nice, huh?

Point being, practically nobody is coming to Animal Crossing now for the same reasons they were earlier this year. Its time in the sun as a cultural hub has passed, and it’s returned to merely being a fantastic game. Even so, however, that doesn’t make what it accomplished any less impressive. In fact, it’s fair to say that no game will ever be able to capture lightning in the bottle like it did ever again.

It’s a tired old adage, but an apt one in this case – Animal Crossing: New Horizons was more than a game, if only for a moment. But what a moment it was.

I’m not sure there’ll ever be one quite like it again.

Next: Animal Crossing’s Isabelle Gets An Aggretsuko Parody Trailer

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Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.

She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.

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