We had a lot of hopes and dreams for Animal Crossing: New Horizons when it was first announced way back in late 2018, when it was still going by the working title of Animal Crossing 2019. We put our heads together, polled our readers, and came up with a rather lengthy article about the various features we hoped the upcoming Animal Crossing game would include–and we have already seen a number of these features in the teasers for New Horizons. Obviously we fell short in a lot of ways, but who really could have predicted that this beloved franchise would lean so suddenly and so hard into gathering and crafting?
We asked to be able to build paths in-game, rather than relying on patterns. We asked to be able to decide where our animal villagers would place their houses. We asked for expanded storage in the form of a separate box to store our tools. We asked to be able to better customize furniture, and have more impactful public works projects. Looking back, our constant theme with these requests was control. (No, not that Control.)
Despite the fact that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is just around the corner, we’ve seen shockingly little of the game itself. We’ve seen some gameplay, snatched glimpses of new characters, new flowers, and yes, had collective, excited meltdowns over details such as kneecaps and toebeans. We’ve eaten up the idea of island life, but it wasn’t until yesterday, with the launch of the placeholder New Horizons website, that I realized what the theme of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is; and it’s not control. It was this line that made it all click:
“Sure, you’ve crossed paths with colorful characters near and far. Had a grand time as one of the city folk. May’ve even turned over a new leaf and dedicated yourself to public service! But deep down, isn’t there a part of you that longs for…freedom?”
That’s it, pure and simple. Animal Crossing: New Horizons threw a great deal of the established norms for this franchise to the wind, choosing to instead embraced not what players were asking for, but what they really wanted, without even being able to express it. It’s not just impressive, it’s actually quite heartwarming to realize that the developers had such a solid understanding of what the most dedicated Animal Crossing players actually craved; we weren’t looking to control our towns, ruling with an iron fist, we simply want the freedom to be able to shape our own miniature paradise.
In previous Animal Crossing games, we always found ourselves wandering into an established, if not a little bare bones town. We have always been the newcomer, fitting our house into the spaces not occupied by the town’s few villagers, using patterns and sometimes hedges to try and create a cozy walkway between our most-visited locations. We lived in fear of new neighbors dropping their houses in the middle of our rare hybrid flower gardens, and hoping that someone would suggest our favorite public works project so we could add the perfect decoration to our little town. We brought home souvenirs from the city or watched our village tree grow as our neighbors moved in and out, our shops expanded, and our museums filled fossils and bugs and fish as we slowly made our adopted homes ours.
It’s hard to describe Animal Crossing to someone who isn’t familiar with the series. I usually simply resort to describing it as ‘my own personal zen garden,’ a place where I bask in making it a flower-filled paradise for me to wander through, plucking fruit, digging up fossils, and snagging bugs and fish as I go. For the first time, my zen garden won’t come pre-arranged, with buildings I can’t move and villagers who will drop their houses down in the middle of my meditation area. No, this time I’ll be stepping into a blank slate. I can lovingly craft this space with an eye towards aesthetics, with villagers who will ask me where to place their houses, and real, honest-to-goodness, built-in, not hacked-in paths.
The rules around where furniture can and can’t be placed has been stripped away, giving me the freedom to decorate my front lawn, or drop my favorite blue bench beside a flower garden, if I feel like it’s the best way to enjoy the afternoons. And why shouldn’t I? This is a world where I use fruit, fish, and turnips to easily pay off massive loans to my raccoon landlord, if there ever was a game where silly rules, such as which furniture belongs inside and which ones should remain outside should not apply, this is it.
I can’t help but be impressed by the understanding and ingenuity of the Animal Crossing: New Horizons team. For years, they heard players asking for more control; they answered by giving us freedom. Freedom to start anew. Freedom to lovingly craft a layout and aesthetic of our own islands. I don’t know how they discovered what I really wanted based off of what I was saying, but it makes me all the more excited to explore my new island home. I can’t wait to see what other surprises and freedoms are waiting for me when Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes to the Nintendo Switch on March 20th.