Animal Crossing: New Horizons, like previous entries in Nintendo’s popular simulation series, had always been intended to provide a relaxing escape from reality. After all, nothing says “getaway” like setting up shop on your own private island for all of your fun animal buddies to live on. In an unfortunate and amazing bit of timing, however, New Horizons’ arrival became more vital than ever by launching at the brink of COVID-19 lockdowns, giving a now-confined player base the perfect mental distraction. That’s not to say that serving as a great coping mechanism is the only reason we love New Horizons so much. Global pandemic or not, it’s one of the most charming, entertaining, and engrossing titles of 2020. 

Building islands from patches of dirt into your heart’s desire, whether that be sprawling villages or carefully crafted tributes to your favorite fandom, is a blast that’s only improved thanks to the addition of terraforming. Sculpting majestic waterfalls or chiseling that perfect cliffside has been a dream come true for fans, giving them the tools to shape islands into whatever form they want. Besides giving players increased agency and ownership over their islands, terraforming makes it easy to wipe the slate clean and build from scratch. Inviting friends and strangers over to your island and showing off your hard work and creativity ranks among the most rewarding experiences of the year.

 

The new Nook Miles system broadens the game’s appeal by providing simple, tangible goals to rope in more purpose-driven players. Typically mundane actions like picking fruit, chopping wood, or simply saying “hi” feel more rewarding when Nook Miles are sprinkled on top, which can be used to buy items or travel to other exotic isles. In a similar vein, crafting provides a more engaging method of obtaining new tools and furniture. Sure, it can be annoying to have a shovel break when you need it most, but materials are largely abundant and mashing the crafting button always feels satisfying.  

Fun seasonal updates (except for maybe Bunny Day) have made New Horizons the game that keeps on giving, showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Enjoyable as it is to compete in fishing tournaments or take wedding photos of smitten alpacas, it’s still fun to kick back with the normal, daily loop. Designing clothing patterns, unearthing fossils for Blathers’ museum, or playing the Stalk Market all offer a great time. Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention the residents themselves, who remain a joy to hang and shoot the breeze with.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a wonderful game on its own merits, but it also became one of 2020’s most important releases. This year has been hard on many of us, and Tom Nook’s wacky island experiment kept a smile on our faces when the world seemed determined to do the opposite. It doesn’t matter if you invest several hours each day or only check in once in a blue moon, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a comforting warm hug and a landmark entry for the series.


Want to read more about the best games that 2020 had to offer? We’re counting down our Top 10 for the year, so navigate to another entry using the links below!

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