Animal Crossing doesn’t really seem like a fun game, yet millions of people have bought the latest installment, New Horizons, in its first week out, making it one of the best-selling Switch games of all time.
I personally love Animal Crossing, which is weird, because I rarely choose to play games like that. The games I play the most are difficult platformers, action games, and games that let me drive and fly fast. Compared to those, Animal Crossing is honestly boring. So why have I put hundreds of hours into Animal Crossing games over the years?
It’s because Animal Crossing has a certain secret sauce that makes it enjoyable and oddly addictive, a sauce made up of a handful of ingredients that all work excellently together.
The welcoming world
First, let’s talk about what we first notice when playing Animal Crossing. There’s the music, of course, which changes every hour into a new song that somehow perfectly encapsulates that particular time of day while providing a pleasant little backdrop for the moment’s activities.
Then there’s the little pitter-patter of footsteps on grass and sand; you hear the wind ruffle the leaves on trees and the ocean waves lapping on the shore. The sounds are almost therapeutic, like one of those Sounds of Nature relaxation tapes that used to be sold in department stores.
And the game is, instantly, relaxing, thanks to the music and environmental sounds combined.
Then there’s what it looks like. Like all great Nintendo games, Animal Crossing doesn’t shy away from bright colors. You’ll see lush greens with little fruits on trees and flowers on the ground adding pops of color, along with the blue waters and sky, the colorful butterflies, and the animal neighbors that come in all shades.
Every neighbor, no matter if they’re cranky, peppy, lazy, or snooty, is very friendly. They all tell little jokes, compliment your outfits, and clap when they see you catch a bug or a fish. You’ll never find a more amicable group of characters.
You can’t ask for a more pleasant place to be.
Being nice only gets you so far in games. There has to be something to do.
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
For Animal Crossing, the core progression systems are making your house bigger by paying off bigger and bigger loans, and filling out the local museum by donating every fish, bug, and fossil in the game. There are some other things to do too, like improving your town with bridges and decking out your various rooms to look how you want them to look, but those are just for personal enjoyment.
In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there are a handful of added systems that weren’t in previous games, like the ability to reshape the land and water of your island, add in more bridges and inclines to make traveling around easier, and improve civic structures.
New Horizons also introduces Nook Miles, which entice players to check back every day to complete various activities and earn miles, which can be spent on items, crafting recipes, tickets to travel to mystery islands, and other customization options.
Basically, you’re doing a bunch of chores. You’re not really developing any skills or getting any better at the game, you’re just… progressing.
What keeps us coming back
The feeling of simply progressing goes a long way in games. For puzzle games with seemingly infinite amounts of levels, like Candy Crush or Grindstone, that’s pretty much all there is, aided by the satisfaction of beating a level.
Animal Crossing doesn’t have any puzzles to figure out or enemies to beat, though. Instead, it has little mysteries, similar to gambling mechanics.
Every day you play Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s a dice roll that determines which pieces of furniture are available to buy from Nook’s Cranny, which fossils you’ll unearth from the ground, and which new visitors could be on the island. It makes you feel like you’d be missing out unless you play every day, aside from the fact that you wouldn’t be progressing your home, town, or museum at all that day.
It’s more than just that, though. Every time you cast your line at a shadowy fish, you’re never sure exactly what you’ll catch. It could be a measly sea bass or a huge oarfish worth thousands of bells. And running around looking for bugs could see you netting regular old ladybugs or coming upon shiny-blue emperor butterflies.
There’s the randomness of what comes out when you hit rocks or shake trees, and the very obvious mysteries of the mystery island tours.
Animal Crossing is all about potential. Maybe the next fish could be the big one that gets you enough bells to pay for a home expansion. Maybe today the bug-obsessed artist Flick will be hanging around town paying top dollar for bugs. Maybe the next present you see floating in the sky will contain 30,000 bells.
That’s what really keeps people coming back to Animal Crossing over and over again: The potential.
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe