Seven Things I Hate About Animal Crossing: New Horizon: A Love Letter
Days spent fishing out by the pond, flowers swaying in the breeze, butterflies floating by. Strolls along a moonlit beach, wet sand occasionally bubbling with hidden life. An afternoon wandering the cliffs amid the echoing crescendo of twin waterfalls.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is an astounding work of collective epiphanic moments, a love letter to nature and all of its wonder. More than any digital experience I’ve had before, Animal Crossing is a game made enticing by its minutia, its attention to tiny detail, and lovingly crafted art.
There is no big moment -- aside, perhaps from the weekly concert and credit roll -- in this game. Instead, it’s an experience that celebrates the beautify in everyday mundanity. Excited, I wake up every morning in life to wake up every morning in Animal Crossing. I dress, to rush to my Switch to dress. And then head out, not in life, but in-game, to see what’s for sale in the local store, wander the offerings at the clothes shop, and then spend the day basking in accomplishing the small goals of life on a happy island. I dig a hole. I fill it up. I pick up weeds. I clean the branches from the ground. And throughout, I marvel at this tiny polychromatic Polynesia. An island wonderland that makes even the most banal seem marvelous.
With more than 300 hours spent on a game that hasn’t been out for even two months, I -- like many Animal Crossing players -- have become a bit of an expert on digital island life. And, though I do love my little home -- with its ground-floor bookstore cafe and office -- this much time spent in any one game is sure to start showing signs of wear.
So this breakdown of “problems” with New Horizons isn’t meant to illustrate that the game isn’t good, but rather in being too good, in taking up so much of my time, I’ve started to notice some of its subtle, annoying seams.
Mass Production: As with most of the things that bother me in Animal Crossing: New Horizon, I didn’t realize just how much I was annoyed until I was hundreds of hours into the game. It takes, I noticed, six button presses to craft one item. So when you get the opportunity to make a bunch of something to sell in the local store (or to use for fishing), you end up spending a lot of time sitting in one spot pushing a button over and over again. It became such an annoyance that I decided to build a machine out of LEGO bricks to do the repetitive work for me. Now I slap my switch under the LEGO button-pusher and wander off to do real-life trivialities --- like the dishes -- while my Switch gets poked through that crafting screen 60 or 70 times. I’m not going to debate the reasoning behind this bit of game development, but it seems like a sensible and straightforward fix to allow people to choose how many of a thing they want to craft, rather than forcing them to craft something one at a time for 20 minutes.
Everything is Your Wardrobe: OK, I get it. The developers maybe didn’t want to limit what could store clothes. But something is lost in my fantasy life, a sort of second black cat, when I open a stove and the game asks me if I want to change my clothes. It’s worse when it’s a rocket or a safe. What would be great is if the game either focused on sensible things being wardrobes and not having that option for, say, a refrigerator. Better still, why not let me store my bags of cash in a safe? Or maybe I could store turnips in the fridge? Just a thought.
Animation: Why can’t I climb the rock wall or sit on the lifeguard seat? Perhaps a better question is: Why can I sit on a bench, but not that lifeguard seat right next to it? It’s frustrating to buy something only to realize it’s merely decorative and has no interactive use. But almost more frustrating is trying to puzzle out the rules of what is and isn’t interactive. Did the developers roll a dice? Was there coin flipping involved? There doesn’t seem to be a lot of reason behind what does and doesn’t have interesting animated interactions and what doesn’t.
Mystery Purchase: These ties in neatly to the issue of animation, but brings along with it another problem. The items for purchase at the shop, while sitting right there in front of you, aren’t always easy to figure out. Sometimes I can’t tell what a thing is by its description, and there’s no way to find out more. Worse still, I have no idea if the vacuum cleaner I may want to buy has any animation or if it’s just a prop that will sit in the corner of my house taking up space.
Placing Items Outside: I love that the game allows me to go into a special mode to place and rotate items in my house so I can get everything just right. Why can’t I do this outside? I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit placing and replacing plants and trees because they don’t always drop where I think they will.
Did You Hear the One About …: OK, so I don’t know if I ever find the jokes in Animal Crossing funny. But I happy to be a fan of shaggy dog jokes. Dad jokes, for a dad like me, are like a little hug from a friend. But after a while, they start to get to you. And, let’s be honest, some of them don’t even qualify as dad jokes. They’re more word soup approaching bad pun. How about a counter that notices you’ve read the same thing 400 million times and decides not to say anything at all. I might even pay for that as DLC.
Blathering: I like Blathers, the entomophobic Owl that runs the museum. Despite what I just said, I still laugh every time I wake him up and he does that whole “who” bit. That said, he sure does talk a lot, and he does it in a way that requires me to respond with button pushes. A sort of in-game nudge, to get him to move along his long-winded responses. But here’s the thing, Blathers isn’t the only one who blathers. It’s everyone on that island, even my head (I’m assuming here that the game’s interaction dialogs are all me thinking to myself.). I wish there were a way to say, “Yes, every time I select something I’m sure of it. Please, for the love of God, don’t ask me. Also, I will choke the life out of you if you ask me twice.” An Animal Crossing dialog-diminishing expert mode would be lovely, thank you.
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