To someone who has never played Animal Crossing, it sounds like a demented fever dream. A racoon called Tom serves as your landlord on an island that you’re free to design and craft however you see fit.
A white Jack Russell Terrier called K.K. Slider visits your island once a week to throw a concert for you and your fellow residents, and somehow, the newest instalment in the series sells over 15 million copies within the first few weeks of release.
In a gaming landscape dominated by people getting hyped about players in NBA being able to drip sweat or The Last Of Us 2 having the best animation this side of a Pixar film, it seems that simplicity is what really connects with people. Simplicity is what Nintendo have done best for over 30 years.
The failure of the Wii U was a wake-up call to Nintendo: players don’t really care how many polygons are on a character’s face, they just want fun and games.
A massive part of the Switch’s success was the availability of four killer gaming experiences within the first six months of the consoles release: Breath Of The Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Edition, Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Odyssey.
The WiiU, by contrast, relied on HD ports of third-party games at launch, with the only true killer game at launch being yet another side-scrolling Mario game and ZombiU, which ended up being ported to other consoles anyway.
Coming off the back of the WiiU, Nintendo had essentially blown a 3-goal lead against Sony and Microsoft, and started the generation very much as the underdog. Then Nintendo remembered: there’s no point chasing the same demographic as Xbox and Playstation. Sure, you can still get ports of the latest blockbuster FPS games on the Switch, but that isn’t the consoles main appeal.
The main appeal of the Switch is its simplicity and its pick-up-and-play philosophy. Want to play a few rounds of Rocket League in between class or waiting for dinner to cook? No problem. Sure, you still have to download patches and updates, but they’re nowhere near as intrusive or annoying as the PS4 or Xbox.
When you want to fire up a round of Mario Kart, you don’t have to wait 6 hours for the patch to download like say, Call Of Duty demands you do seemingly every other week.
The release of a new Animal Crossing game coinciding with the entire world being forced to remain indoors was a perfect storm, but New Horizons would have been a success with or without the pandemic.
The original 2002 Gamecube game was one of the best games for the console, and its subsequent success on handheld devices has ensured a continuing steady stream of fans who were always going to buy the latest instalment, much like how Pokémon is a guaranteed seller.
New Horizons is the Nintendo philosophy at its shining best, anyone from 4-90 can pick up the game and get something different out of it.
With PlayStation and Xbox still somehow engaged in a worse version of the Cold War, where polygon counts and GPU speeds stand in for nuclear weapons, Nintendo are more than happy to appeal to the average consumer who wants to just have fun. And in the weeks and months to come, lord knows we’ll need it.