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Now simulate your vacation with Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing: New Horizon is the ideal game for lockdown, writes TIANA CLINE as she builds her home away from home

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Some days I like to remove my shoes, socks and take a slow walk up the beachfront gathering shells and hoping to stumbleacross a message in a bottle. Other days, I take my axe and hack the fruit off every tree on my island hoping like hell I don’t get stung by wasps or that dreaded scorpion. Again. 

Welcome to Animal Crossing: New Horizon (ACNH), a social simulation game that’s what you make of it. As the newest (read: only) resident of an exciting island getaway, it’s time to set up, encourage others to move in and make your new island the home away from home (away from quarantine) you want. 

How you spend your days is entirely up to you. ACNH is set in real-time – if you log into the game at 2AM, it’s dark out. Moths will flutter towards lights. You’ll hear crickets chirping and see a sky filled with stars. Certain island residents will be out and about, others will be sleeping, and the shops (if you have one) will be closed. What’s more, the game is based around seasons: right now we’re in Autumn and the leaves on my island trees are turning different shades of brown and yellow and there’s a cool breeze in the air.

The island around you is alive with critters and bugs and,while you’ll see some regularly, others are seasonal. If catching critters is not your thing, you could spend your time weeding and planting flowers – different islands have different flowers (and fruit) and how you plant your blooms may result in unique hybrids.

The tools you use all need to be crafted. To do that, you’ll need to unlock, buy or be gifted DIY recipe cards. DIY in ACNH is bigger and better than ever before – not only can you create endless items, you also have the option to customize them. Making a bed? Why not change the linen to fit the aesthetic of your home? Who wants ugly raw wood chairs when you can paint them the perfect shade of black?

All of these options are available on your Nook Phone. This little smartphone is given to you at the beginning of the game by Tim Nook, the island’s industrious racoon who sets you up with many things, including a debt to pay off. 

You don’t just get a house, you have to earn it. You can’t just upgrade it – there’s a fee to pay. ACNH’s in-house currency is Bells. There are many ways to earn Bells, from selling off the items you collect and craft to shaking trees and hitting rocks.

In ACNH, turnips are the new oil. You can invest in these delightful veggies from Daisy Mae and sit and watch those turnip prices to see if your stalk shares will rise. It’s about finding the perfect time to sell and make the big Bells. You can also sell turnips on a friend’s island… which is why there are now Reddit, Discord and Twitter threads as well as an entire website dedicated to turnip prices for die-hard ACNH traders.

Besides Bells, there are also Miles. Miles are in-game achievements (think rewards programme) you receive for unlocking certain things. Miles can be used to buy Nook-themed clothing and household stuff, special island items, and DIY cards. You can even use Miles to fund a getaway ticket and go plunder, we mean visit, another island.

Provided you have a Nintendo Switch Online membership, you can also invite others to come visit your island and you can go to theirs. It’s a great way to connect, travel and socialize, especially when self-quarantining. From weddings to graduations, ACNH fanatics from around the world are using the their ACNH islands to celebrate events they can no longer attend in real-life. I recently saw a Japanese company decided to host its meetings within the game – sorry Zoom, no one liked you anyway.

The beauty of ACNH lies in its endless details and whimsical surprises – it’s how you choose to decorate your home. It’s what you wear: one day you may dress up as a detective, the next day a villager will gift you with a Viking hat. I change my clothes more in ACNH than I do in quarantine. 

If you delve into ACNH’s clothing customisation options, you’ll find yourself in endless Tumblr and Pinterest threads where players have spent hours crafting outfits down to the tiniest detail. Some people have even recreated famous artworks – who wouldn’t want a mini Van Gogh in their island dwelling?

Using someone else’s custom design is as simple as scanning a QR code to the Nintendo Switch Online app and then uploading it to your Nook Phone via the custom design maker. You can also search by creator ID in the Able Sisters clothing store.

It almost reminds me of when The Sims first launched and one of the coolest things you could do (besides getting Drew Carey to come to your house party) was find and download user-created clothing sets. 

ACNH’s charm lies in the fact that you can play it to fit in with your gameplay style. While you may not be able to craft a gun and shoot annoying villagers, you can (gently) encourage them to move on. Just be warned – they may show up on a friend’s island. 

How the villagers interact with the world you’ve created for them is truly amazing. Make friends and they’ll bestow you with gifts, send you letters and teach you new things every day. Leave out instruments and someone, somewhere, will come banging on your keys. And if you have the stamina to create a five-star island, you may unlock terraforming, which gives you the ability to tweak your island into the one you’ve always wanted, Minecraft-style, block by block. 

You may spend your days digging up fossils or waiting for stars to fall from the sky, but there’s a reason ACNH sales are nearly bigger than Mario and Zelda games in the US: this perfect little family-friendly game is the distraction we all need during the COVID19 pandemic. 

ACNH is jam-packed with surprises, and sometimes just plain weirdness. When you think you’ve seen it all, you’ve done, dug up and caught it all, Nintendo announces all the new updates – Leif’s Garden Shop! – and special days coming up to keep you coming back for more. For many, Animal Crossing is so much more than  game, it’s a new way to interact with the world.

Ultimately, ACNH is about delayed gratification: the trees you plant today won’t have fruit growing tomorrow. You cannot fill a museum in a day. Take in the moments, pace yourself, and come visit my island. I have pears. 

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