How Nintendo Invented a New Genre with Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing Retrospective
Animal Crossing Retrospective

If you’re a fan of Nintendo’s adorable life-simulator series, it might surprise you to learn that Animal Crossing started life on the Nintendo 64 way back in 2001. Although the N64 version of the game never made it to British or American shores, we did get Dōbutsu no Mori (Animal Forest) on the Nintendo Gamecube instead in 2004, under the title Animal Crossing.

Even in Nintendo’s stable of family-friendly experiences, Animal Crossing was seen as something of a wholesome oddity when it hit the UK in 2004. There was no grand quest to embark on, no castle to explore, no princess to save. Instead, the adventure was found in the most seemingly mundane scenarios.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons logo

If you’re a fan of Nintendo’s adorable life-simulator series, it might surprise you to learn that Animal Crossing started life on the Nintendo 64. Although the N64 version of the games never made it to British or American shores, Dōbutsu no Mori (Animal Forest) got a worldwide release the following year on the Nintendo Gamecube, under the title Animal Crossing.

Even in Nintendo’s stable of family-friendly experiences, Animal Crossing was seen as something of an oddity when it first arrived back in 2002. There was no grand quest to embark on, no castle to explore, no princess to save. Instead, the adventure was found in the most seemingly mundane scenarios.

The Gamecube original was a critical and commercial success, with many critics praising its gentle pacing, innovative multiplayer features, and undeniable charm. However, it was the follow-up on the Nintendo DS that really secured Animal Crossing’s place as a true flagship Nintendo title. Animal Crossing: Wild World sold over 11 million copies and garnered massive critical acclaim. The handheld format proved perfect for the quirky game’s mechanics, allowing players to visit their town whenever they pleased. The multiplayer functionality of the DS also worked greatly to the game’s benefit, allowing for players to visit each other’s villages with ease.

We all remember our first trip to Animal Crossing. As the only human in a town full of animals that resemble the most squeezable of Japanese plushies, you immediately feel at home in your village. For all the jokes about Tom Nook’s financial trickery (we suspect he might be even smarter than he lets on), we have to appreciate that the guy gives you a house, with no deposit or guaranteed return on investment, but purely out of the kindness of his little tanuki heart.

In order to pay back your debts, you will take on a number of jobs and tasks from retrieving items for villagers to digging up fossils. Exploring the game’s world will reward you with items that you can sell or put on display in your home – but make sure it fits the room’s feng shui! As you build up and decorate your cosy homestead, other players can visit your village and leave notes and gifts for you to enjoy.

Perhaps the most appealing thing about Animal Crossing’s gameplay is the forgiving nature of how it all plays out. If you don’t want to do a particular activity, there’s no pressure to engage with that mechanic at all. Not interested in deliveries? Not to worry, a local hedgehog will pick up the slack for you. If all you want to do is spend your days fishing, you can catch all the mackerel you can carry and spare not one thought for the fossils languishing on the beach. You can expect to see all manner of new features in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, thanks to its tropical setting. There’s even an ocean-themed Nintendo Switch that just might be the cutest thing we’ve ever seen.

All the main games play out at this gentle, almost lazy pace. That’s just how things work in Animal Crossing, it’s a warm, cuddly facsimile of real life, a place you can go to when the real world gets stressful and just chill out. Like many of Nintendo’s best games, Animal Crossing can make anyone, regardless of age, feel like a kid again.

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