It was the first thing I gave up as soon as my life returned to a semblance of normalcy after the pandemic, and it happened to be Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a game that was instrumental in keeping my mental health in check during the crisis. Because I had far too much else to do in real life – there were simply far too many other games to play, far too many real-life friends to visit, far too many bar doorways to darken – I couldn't justify devoting hours to tending to my virtual gardens and checking in on virtual friends on the internet.
My interest was piqued, however, by the Animal Crossing: New Horizons update 2.0 and the excitement that surrounded it, and I decided to revisit the game more than a year after I had last played it on the Nintendo Switch. For my daily New Horizons routine, while the familiarity is still there, the amount of new content is overwhelming – especially considering that much of it is not advertised in-game. My ability to learn how to play the updated game and make the most of the new content has been made possible by the dedication of New Horizons fans as well as the power of social media.
In some ways, returning to Animal Crossing: New Horizons after a year has been predictable, but in others, it has been completely unexpected, as you might expect. Here's what happened when I returned to my hometown.
An uninvited guest who had arrived without being invited
My island is immediately warmed by the familiar tune as soon as I boot it up, and I'm greeted with the tried-and-true Isabel message after recharging my nearly-dead Nintendo Switch and updating the year-old software. Her routine check-in is interrupted by her spending some extra time vaguely explaining ordinances, a new feature that you can use to affect specific aspects of your island and which she does not fully understand. Unlike a lot of New Horizons features, I have to look them up to find out what they actually do – which is fortunate, because one tweet that highlights the negative aspects of the Beautiful Island ordinance immediately dissuades me from taking part.
The moment Isabel finishes her announcement, my little avatar walks out of the house and is greeted by a blinking mailbox, which is stuffed with gifts, including a birthday cake from my mother (a belated happy 31st birthday to you, Mom), and a one-year anniversary cake from my husband and me, among other things. The number of gifts in my mailbox is actually too large for me to fit them all in my pockets, which I had almost completely filled during my previous play session, so I decide to go back into my house to unload some of them before returning to the playground.
As I walk away from the computer, an eerie skittering cockroach appears out of nowhere and startles my avatar, but not me. The good news is that I've encountered these nasties before and was able to squash one under my feet before the Happy Home Academy had a chance to lower the rating of my home. After the cockroach's ghost has been exorcised to the heavens, I decide to re-acquaint myself with my immediate surroundings. As I walk through my house, I stop in my onsen-inspired bathroom and my kitchen, which has been styled to look like a 1950s diner.
Puddles, one of my islanders, interrupts the tour of my cockroach-infested home before it can go any further. Because I'm perplexed, I freeze in place – when was the last time islanders walked into your home and demanded to be let in? Puddles says, "I'm on my way in, comrade," and then walks away. My avatar appears to freeze for a brief moment in the doorway as I exit the kitchen, as if anticipating the arrival of Puddles, as I exit the kitchen. My excitement at the prospect of giving her a tour of the house grows as she walks through the door, but it quickly fades as she walks out the other side.
The sight of another cockroach skittering across the floor causes Puddles to jump in surprise, exclaim that she despises bugs, then turn around and leave the room in displeasure. So, what exactly was it in the first place? In response to your question, I raise my voice. Animal Crossing is full of surprises, and Puddles' brief appearance is just one of many instances where I discover something new that hasn't been advertised in the game before. It is possible to take a lighthearted approach, such as the entomophobic villager, but this can also be extremely frustrating, as the exclusions mean that you may miss out on new features and content entirely.
Attempting to figure it all out
The following day, I proceed to the Resident Services building (while painstakingly plucking every weed in my path), where I will formally enact the zoning regulation that Puddles had requested. Isabel's descriptions of each ordinance are painfully brief, so I turn to the internet to see which ordinances have been chosen as the most popular by the general public so far. I'm initially drawn to the Beautiful Island ordinance, which Isabel explains to me means that villagers will water flowers more frequently, because my island appears to be quite barren in comparison to some of the other builds I've seen. Several people have already expressed their displeasure with the avalanche of tweets and Reddit posts, which warn players of the flower overload caused by villagers watering them to the point where they reproduce like Gremlins.
What would have happened if I had been successful in getting the Beautiful Island ordinance approved? Despite the fact that I've only barely paved it, the building layout is illogical, and several rivers have been partially dug through as a result of an attempt to build an island inspired by Venice that I abandoned in the middle of the construction process, my island is in desperate need of renovation. Having passed the Beautiful Island ordinance, my island would have been overrun with flowers, which do not stack in your inventory and must be dug up one at a time from their various locations. There were already an excessive number of random flower clusters on my island, which caused me to groan in frustration as I dug them all up to do some landscaping – the Beautiful Island ordinance would have caused me to lose my mind if I hadn't done it quickly – and the Beautiful Island ordinance would have caused me to lose my mind if I hadn't. As a result of the efforts of other Animal Crossing: New Horizons players, I am only spared mental anguish, as Isabel would have derived some sick pleasure from the flowerpocalypse.
On my second day back, trying to dig Venetian canals quickly becomes tedious, and I begin to wonder what else is new, aside from boat tours with Kapp'n, that I can do to keep myself entertained. Because I remember the excitement that comes with cooking, when I go to purchase a recipe card from the Nook boys, I'm immediately turned away and told that I don't have the ingredients necessary to obtain cooking recipes. According to what I've learned from researching online (thanks to Animal Crossing: New Horizons cooking recipes), I'll have to visit Resident Services in order to purchase a Be a Chef! DIY Recipe+ upgrade with my Nook miles, which I will not be able to do with my Nook miles. As soon as I'm finished with this task, I head back to Nook's Cranny to pick up some more recipes, excited about the prospect of bringing over a carrot cake to Puddles to make up for the cockroach mishap. My cooking dreams are put on hold once again the moment I see the ingredients – where in the world am I supposed to find wheat?!?
Animal Crossing: New Horizons will feature farming, which means I'll need to purchase some vegetable and crop starters from Leif, as well as a few other items, before I can start growing things. I don't want to waste any time waiting for that obnoxious sloth to come to my island once a week, and I also don't want to waste any time getting my crops started. With time running out, Puddles is in desperate need of a carrot cake to help him forget about my cockroach-infested home. Even at the risk of sounding cliche, I abandon my Switch on the couch and pick up my phone once more, furiously Googling the Leif shop's website on a daily basis. After some investigation, it was discovered that the weed wizard can have a permanent shop set up on Harv's Island – all you have to do is pay him 100,000 ACNH Bells to persuade him to accept your offer.