By Alex Alusheff
Who knew getting into crippling debt could be so much fun?
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the horror game Until Dawn got my wife into gaming. She then researched games that she would be interested in playing and discovered Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
As a kid, I never got into Animal Crossing. I never understood the appeal of completing mindless tasks in order to pay off your debt to a fat raccoon named Tom Nook until I became a tax-paying adult.
But, I bought it for my wife on my Switch to help further develop her interest in gaming. As I watched her play it, I tried to figure what the hell you’re supposed to do.
The answer is basically whatever you feel like.
You start off by taking a vacation to a deserted island and then you can build it up over time. It’s kind of like the Fyre Festival scandal. As soon as you set up your tent, you’re immediately presented with the staggering bill for your flight and accommodations by Tom Nook, the greedy bastard who set all this up. You then spend your time doing whatever you can to pay him back. You can fish, catch bugs, pull weeds, harvest fruit, pick up shells, and sell whatever you find back to the Nooks to pay off your debt.
My wife loved it. She got excited whenever she caught a fish, and she swore whenever she got stung by wasps. Every time she figured out how to do something new, she cheered with excitement.
“There’s something about accomplishing mindless tasks that’s fun,” she said. “It’s satisfying.”
She played so much that she asked me to get her a Switch Lite. The only issue was that we owned Animal Crossing digitally since it was the height of the pandemic and there wasn’t a physical copy in existence. It pained me to buy the game a second time. Tom Nook must be laughing at my need for instant gratification when I should have waited to find a physical copy. Do they even exist?
But I took advantage of the fact that I could be in charge of my own island and started my own game. Approaching the game with cynicism, I planned to see how I could torture my residents. But my negativity toward the game soon vanished. (Tough I still was a little cheeky.)
My wife was right. There is something about accomplishing mindless tasks. It’s peaceful. It’s relaxing. It’s escapism. It’s what we needed after COVID-19 forced us all into lockdown, ruined the economy, and destroyed our retirement savings.
For those of you not on the bandwagon yet, Animal Crossing is like a mix of The Sims, Minecraft, and Stardew Valley. You get the customization features of The Sims, a very basic crafting feature like in Minecraft, and the do-whatever-you-want-to-make-money feature like in Stardew Valley.
While there are a lot of different tasks to do, the game can quickly devolve into a two-hour session of mindlessly fishing, catching bugs, and picking things up from the beach to sell them in order to chip away at your massive debt. It’s fun at first, but it gets old quickly.
The game remedies this by giving you other tasks to accomplish, like opening up the museum or building the general store. And when that gets old, you can recruit residents or customize your house or go on some trip Tom Nook set up and took forever to tell you about when you booted up the game.
Seriously, there is way too much dialogue in the game. It’s up there with JRPGs. I just mash through the dialogue options until I can get to the sales menu or collect my Nook Miles for talking to the boring residents. You may think I am missing out, but the characters all say the same things. When I need to sell something, I shouldn’t need to mash through the same four dialogue boxes just so I can gget to the sell menu. The same problem occurs when you want to donate to the museum.
The game rewards you for literally everything. There’s a lot to do and many times you cannot get a certain task done in one session. You have to wait a day in REAL LIFE or sometimes more for resources you need to replenish. It’s a good tactic to keep you coming back to the game.
However, it was a feature I struggled with because I prefer instant gratification. Even Stardew Valley allows you to play through multiple days in one sitting. And when you have a busy life and can only play for 30 minutes here or there, it feels like you’re chipping away at a task that will take too long to be worth accomplishing.
For example, when you want to build the general store, you need 30 units of iron ore and three different types of wood. I still haven’t accomplished that task because there are only two rocks on my island and I only get a few units of iron each time I mine them. I am only able to mine once per day given my short play sessions. So it would take me multiple days in real life to get enough resources, and while that may be appealing for some, it’s a turnoff for me.
I am sure there is an easier way to do this, but that would require looking it up online. And if you have to look for help online then it ruins some of the fun.
So clearly this game isn’t really for me and I may not be a fan, but I can still appreciate the purpose it served me and my wife.
We are able to play together on our separate switches with the local play feature. It allows us to visit each other’s islands and harvest resources that may not be available to us. I did snag some oranges from her so I could plant them on my island and sell the fruit for ridiculous profit (since my island only has apples).
And at the end of the day, it’s hard to hate on a game that piqued my wife’s interest in video games.
She has since accidentally used my debit card to buy Untitled Goose Game for her Switch.