The rain is already back in my (current) part of the world, and rain always gets me thinking about Animal Crossing. Well, not Animal Crossing itself, but the rainy day theme from the original game. I can’t help but wander back to it whenever the first rain of the year shows up, and that’s usually the end of it. This time it got me thinking though. Animal Crossing will be 20 years old this year, and it’s still just as popular as it’s ever been. In fact, it’s more than a little amazing that it ever caught on at all.
By all rights, Animal Crossing never should’ve been more than a niche game. It doesn’t belong to a popular genre, it doesn’t have any traditionally exciting features, and it’s main activities are gamified versions of real-life actions. More has been added with every game, but even New Horizons is more about just chilling than anything else. This isn’t the recipe for an increasingly-popular series, and yet here we are anyway with Animal Crossing sitting at near-tentpole status as an IP. Wow.
I can’t rightly explain why it is that Animal Crossing has become so popular, but I have theories. The first is that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is just that good. The ability to make your own furniture, to trade it with other villagers around the world and then use it to build the island of your dreams? That’s an extremely appealing thing, especially in an age where control and in-person interactions both feel like they’re quickly slipping away. Losing yourself in your island, lovingly developing it and finally sharing it with other people, there’s immense appeal in that.
Another reason is is the game’s sheer uniqueness from everything else. It’s a completely chill game with clear boundaries and absolutely nothing to worry about whatsoever. There’re no crops to tend, no enemies to avoid, and no having to actively figure out a goal for oneself. Animal Crossing is the epitome of “no pressure,” and I think that made it more and more appealing as more people discovered and shared the games. There are plenty of games out there that require nothing of the player beyond their imagination; there are plenty of other “chill” games out there too. However, it seems like only Animal Crossing strikes the right balance between them, and that’s obviously a very powerful thing.
For me, the draw of Animal Crossing is mostly nostalgia. I can’t help but see the old games in New Horizons, the original Animal Crossing especially. For all the new things like island editing and online trading, I still can’t help but see the game I grew up with. I remember hunting for the coelacanth every time it rained and kicking the random soccer balls around for no reason. I remember scrambling for the floating presents (Nintendo Items!) , printing pages of item codes from GameFAQs and listening to Kapp’n’s song every time I sailed to the GBA island in search of rare bugs and fruits. I also had a big time competition going with my brother and my best friend as we raced to finish our museums and built up our houses. And we’d all bought the game on whim too! How incredible is that?!
Animal Crossing is incredible. It’s the unlikeliest success story of any game series I know. It’s absolutely lovable and addicting even though on paper it looks like anything but. It’s reached massive heights too, and that’s mostly because enough people were willing to take a chance on it 20 years ago. Wow! Long live Animal Crossing! May it stay beloved and relevant for another 20!
What do you think of Animal Crossing? If you like it, what’s appeal to you? If not, why stay away?
Image captured from official Animal Crossing: New Horizons trailer