- “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” has been a quarantine hit, and many have praised its addictive, calming qualities.
- But in writer Jack Crosbie’s experience, the game has been frustrating, tedious, and immensely boring.
- The user interface is poor, the characters are meaningless, and the only fun part – playing with your actual friends – can be challenging.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
A few days after purchasing Animal Crossing: New Horizons – the wildly popular Nintendo Switch game in which the player lives life and completes tasks on a tropical island – I got an invite to visit my friend Andy’s island, Flavortown. Appropriately, Andy immediately gave me a pizza oven; I purchased matching sporty sunglasses from the blue hedgehog posted up outside Town Hall.
Inside his house, one room was decked out like a club, and we ran around in circles and wiggled back and forth pretending to dance. Andy and I are both roughly 30 years old, but for a few minutes, I felt as happy as my small baby-proportioned avatar looked.
But in the dozen hours I’ve put into the game so far, approximately 15 minutes have made me feel this way. Fourteen of them were spent on islands that are not my own, and one of them happened when my friend Dillon sent me a nice hat in the mail.
The rest of the time has been frustrating, tedious, and immensely boring, mostly involving mashing buttons to get through endlessly repeating dialogue boxes with chibi animals mumbling gibberish and re-filling countless holes I dug in the wrong place.
After a reasonable amount of casual play, here’s what I’m left with: Animal Crossing New Horizons sucks, and I don’t want to play it anymore.
This is not a personal attack. I know and respect many people who love this stupid baby game. My friend Alexa described it as less a game than a “dopamine generator.” If it makes you feel that way, please, do not let me spoil your soma. But thus far, my time on the game’s sandy beaches has left me with far more complaints than compliments.
The user interface is slow, clunky, and infuriatingly designed.
It requires as many individual button presses as possible to accomplish the desired action, and you are forced to navigate it in order to perform basically every action required of you.
Why is “put in storage” the second option on the list when I am operating the inventory inside my house, clearly trying to put things in storage? Why is it so hard to equip my net when I am being chased by a swarm of wasps? And why, for the love of Anthropomorphic Animal God, can I not eat the pizza in the pizza oven?
These are minor things, you might say. Fine. Let’s get to more important things. Prior to this game, my exposure to Animal Crossing was largely through osmosis, with Tumblr-era posts reminiscing about cute interactions with the lively denizens of their villages. (The game has several iterations dating back to 2001.)
So imagine my surprise when I was placed on a deserted island with only two fellow residents, not counting our Tanuki landlord and his sycophantic offspring. My companions were an obnoxious purple rhinoceros with a tic for saying “yo” multiple times in a row and a gym bro tiger who was admittedly pretty dope.
After I’d placed tents for my neighbours, they proceeded to do nothing.
I could talk to them, or give them gifts, but otherwise, they wandered around our little section of island taking up oxygen. Eventually, I got a barbell as a gift, but the buff tiger won’t come lift it with me. What is the point of this if I cannot even lift?
There are other tasks, but none are particularly rewarding. I could fish, although the mechanism is so basic it reduces the process to pulling the lever on a slot machine to see if the right critter comes out. I could collect fruit or plant trees, a time-consuming process that requires me to interact with the game’s aforementioned atrocious UI.
Consider Stardew Valley, another resource-management type game with an intricate internal economy and wealth of customisation options. Stardew’s sheer cosmetic variety is more fun, if slightly more limiting, than Animal Crossing. But what sets it apart is the compelling story and narrative at the heart of the game.
This is thus far my biggest problem with Animal Crossing: I have no connection to any of the villagers or characters who come through the island.
The only saving grace is the option to visit your real life friends’ islands.
But if I log on and none of my friends are playing, there is literally nothing that I want to do. The game relies heavily on its social aspects; without other human players its world is lifeless, dead, and repetitive.
Even those social aspects are hard to access. Playing with friends requires you to be in the same physical location, or have the Nintendo Online subscription, which costs an extra $US3.99 per month. If your internet service is anything but flawless, it’s also prone to booting friends off your island unexpectedly. And even if all those things go well, you still need to navigate several dialogue boxes and watch unskippable cinematics just to get one friend on land.
My friend Chris, who has put so many hours into the game he refused to give me a definite count, says that at a certain point Animal Crossing becomes less of a resource management game and more of “a game about creativity/customisation.” That’s fine if you’re a zen hoarder or want to re-create weird rooms that appear in Twin Peaks, but for $US60, I expected much more than a slightly more interactive Myspace page.
Also, Tom Nook is a capitalist overlord.
The entire setting and motivation of Animal Crossing is indentured servitude to an aggressive loan shark who appears to be selling a timeshare scam to the rest of the world’s inhabitants. In Stardew Valley, at least you get to choose whether or not to side with the monolithic megacorporation that threatens to overwhelm the diverse and thriving small town you live in. In Animal Crossing, you start the game as a cog in the machine, and there is no way to escape.
One of the first items I got was a hamster cage, complete with a tiny, proportionally-hamster sized rodent in it. As cosmetic items largely serve little interactive purpose beyond binary on-off switches, you cannot do anything with the hamster. But if you zoom all the way in, you can see it running on its little wheel for hours, making no progress and never changing course. I feel for that poor guy. He’s doing the same monotonous garbage as me, but he can’t even change the wallpaper.
Jack Crosbie is a writer who covers politics, culture and whatever else publications will pay him to cover. He is thinking of adopting a cat. Follow him on Twitter @jscros, unless you are going to be mean, in which case please do not.