Old friends and new horizons: my emotional return to Animal Crossing

When I heard there was an enormous Animal Crossing update on the way, I was as unnerved as I was excited. I wanted to go back to my island, 承知しました; Kissing was a tiny paradise I’d painstakingly curated, hour by hour, in the depths of last year’s lockdowns – but had been avoiding since January.

過去のために 11 months I’ve let the place go to seed, missing in-game events and limited-edition items and, most importantly, ignoring the villagers who inhabit Kissing. Dom, the first creature on the land, a sheep who likes sports – how was he? What about Sprinkles, a blue penguin who wants to be a pop star? I’ve been navigating my return to real-life society very slowly, and I know from experience that when left alone for too long, the villagers of Animal Crossing are notorious for laying on the guilt.

The update lands. I download it and steel myself for the worst.

“You just kinda disappeared.” Sprinkles is happy to see me and angry that I’ve been gone all at once. “Well I guess I’ve finally lost my mind,” begins Gloria, the duck with the bob haircut. “I could swear I see Sarah in front of me.” Ice cold. I am hardly able to take it. My house is full of cockroaches. My island beset by weeds. My animals are furious, alienated or both. But I have work to do, so I dust myself off, offer pumpkins and peaches to my villagers as a mea culpa, and get down to the business of throwing myself entirely into Animal Crossing New Horizons 2.0: Escape from Nook Island.

The free update has plenty to discover. The museum now has a coffee shop, The Roost, staffed by the initially stoic Brewster – who grows fond of you the more little coffees you drink with him. You can invite other villagers in for coffee – even characters from Animal Crossing games of the past. Should you have his Amiibo card, Resetti – the furious mole who would call you names if you turned off your console without saving on the GameCube – will sit and drink an espresso as if nothing ever happened. It’s delightful.

Speaking of old friends, a personal favourite of mine, Kapp’n, is now offering boat tours to distant islands. Not only can you explore these new spaces but you are taken there on a motorboat by Kapp’n, who will sing you a little song every time. The offshore trips offer a crucial new component of the update: the mining of wriggly little talismans called Gyroids. がある, astonishingly, より多い 9,000 new items in the game, of which the Gyroids make up merely a couple of hundred.

Harv’s island, previously just a photo studio, is now also a tiny boutique market where the visiting merchants have set up shop permanently. There’s a farming and cooking component, あまりにも, meaning I have to fill in my enormous inland lake, thoughtfully decorated with dinosaur skeletons, to turn it into a sugar cane patch.

New Horizons has, with this new content, in effect tripled what you can do each day. Every morning, you can perform gentle stretching in the square with your villagers, your shameful 10-month disappearing act forgotten.

All of this before we even get offshore, away from the gaze of Thomas Nook and on to a nearby peninsula that marks the start of the paid expansion, (£22.49, or free if you have signed up for the Switch Online Expansion Pass). Happy Home Paradise is a whole different game. The premise is that, in addition to being your island’s resident representative, you have taken on a job offshore in a small, chirpy interior design startup. It is staffed by a manatee called Wardell, a grey langur monkey called Niko and a pink otter called Lottie, your boss. Together you build and design holiday homes for tourists – many, many tourists, each of whom has a specific set of ideas about the kind of holiday home they want.

Petri, one of the new villagers, asked me to make him a tea room. He likes science and wears a little lab coat, so I made sure there were IV drips at every chair. Deirdre wants a slice of autumn, so I put up wallpaper that looks like the woods and little heaps of flaming leaves everywhere. Both are so pleased with their holiday homes they clap and cheer. The process of building detailed doll’s houses for the villagers has the potential to be deeply calming, aesthetically pleasing … or deranged. Sometimes it’s all at once, and this cheerful juxtaposition is one of Animal Crossing’s true pleasures.

You can give the peninsula a school and a hospital; it uses its own currency and offers unique items to bring back to your own island. This is the perfect sister to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and there is a delightful interplay between your island and the enormous archipelago on which you eventually become the well-paid, beloved backbone of the Happy Home Paradise enterprise.

After a day or two on the archipelago, I returned to Kissing, souvenir chocolates in hand, and found Dom sitting in the sun by the river. I presented him with a chocolate and he immediately asked if he could come and have a holiday home for himself. Not only can we build homes for new villagers, but we can take ours with us, あまりにも. It is the perfect example of how Animal Crossing can delight by fusing the familiar with the new.

If you, 私のような, have been holding off on a return to the shores of your island, being mildly shamed by a line or two of dialogue is worth it in the long run. It feels good to be back.