Why Animal Crossing Could Never Be GOTY 2020
Why Animal Crossing Could Never Be GOTY 2020
I liked Animal Crossing. A lot. It took me a while to jump aboard the hype train, but when I did I was all aboard – no this won’t be an article solely made up of train puns. I’ll get back on track.
I was excited for a game that would help me connect with my friends, who I have trouble connecting with at the best of times because we live so far apart. Of course 2020 would then throw Covid into the mix, and my ability to see my friends became further hampered. Animal Crossing seemed like a gift from the gaming gods, sent down to Earth to save us all at a time when things were looking pretty miserable. And you know what, it kind of was!
There’s no denying that it is a GOOD game, probably great even. There’s no point in me going into the details and intricacies of the game here because its virtues have been espoused a thousand times over across the internet (it’s a popular game). For me though, the much touted social aspects of it really added an extra dimension to the excitement. I loved sending friends gifts and notes in the mail, and checking my own mailbox every day to see if someone had replied. Grand plans were made within our group to visit each other’s islands, and maybe even record a podcast from one. The latter never came to pass, for one important reason.
Animal Crossing New Horizons has shockingly poor online implementation.
Shocker, I know. This, a Nintendo game! This from a company who are generally at least 5 years behind everyone else in implementing industry-standard practices, and with a knack for making even the simplest system a convoluted annoyance to use. So really it’s no surprise that ACNH fumbled it’s biggest new feature. A lack of surprise, however, should not (and, in my case, does not) dampen the disappointment felt.
Visiting other peoples’ islands went from an exciting prospect to a major ballache within one day with the game. Sure, once you were on someone else’s island it was fun to run around and see what they had done to the place, steal some fruit and write something shitty on their notice board. I loved leaving presents and seeing if their shop had something mine didn’t, or even just goofing around together. However, with each trip to the airport, and every identical conversation with the Dodo Airlines rep, I became less and less excited.
Even worse was waiting for people to join an island. One by one the visitors came, each time bringing a loading screen of at least a minute and a cut-scene showing them arriving. If you fancied having multiple friends visit (as we did in the early days) you could be waiting almost 15 minutes for everyone to arrive, each and every time stopping you in your tracks. Cue the same rigmarole when someone decided to leave.
Why does this matter? It matters because after some initial heavy time investment, ACNH becomes a game of checking in daily for 15-30 minutes, harvesting things, selling stuff, placing orders at the shop, checking in on your neighbours and designing your home and island. What might be a quick stop-over to a friends island to admire their house and trade fruit suddenly becomes an ordeal that takes longer than you had wanted to spend in the game that day.
Consider also the reason I was so excited for this game in the first place – socialising. Getting together with more than 2 others, or hopping between friends islands, just wasn’t fun after the initial excitement had worn off. Piss poor implementation killed any notion I had of using this game as a substitute for hanging out with my friends.
Another reason I thought I’d enjoy this game more is that it seemed so chill. I mean, sure… it is. Kinda. But I think my definition of a chilled out game may be different to others. Returning day after day to harvest materials and chat to animals was boring more often than not. Seeing other people’s well-designed islands and houses made me sad and frustrated that I wasn’t better at the design aspect, and the Stalk Market, while optional, caused more stress than I care to admit (fuelled by rampant speculation on the TCP Discord).
My Switch tells me that I played this game for 35 hours, which isn’t an insignificant amount of time. I had some fun with this game, but my frustrations with it snowballed until they were all I could see. Talk about the game now, and I’m like a bull who’s had a red cape waved in front of their face. I just can’t help myself. This makes me sad, but I still don’t begrudge people their enjoyment of this game. I understand what it has done for some people, how it has brought them together at a time of isolation and fear, and even brought people into the gaming fold who have never seriously gamed before in their lives. For this (and more) it should be applauded. Game Of The Year though? No.
There have been better games this year, which have raised the bar in their respective fields far higher than ACNH has managed, in my opinion. The one I often refer to is The Last Of Us Part II, but you could say the same about Hades, Half-Life: Alyx and more besides. I won’t go into these games here, but the things that they did are worth more discussion and praise than a half-hearted attempt at bringing online social interaction to a game all about, well, social interaction. Nintendo dropped the ball big time, and most will forgive that or overlook it because of the time it released. Right game, right time. Sure, absolutely. I’d be interested to know how many of the 26 million plus people with this game are still playing it now, though.
To end my diatribe about a game that so many love, and find important in 2020 (sorry), I want to give you an analogy to cement my reasoning behind the title of this article. In 2006 the Nintendo Wii launched, and alongside it Wii Sports. The Wii went on to become the most successful Nintendo home console of all time (though the Switch may end up overtaking it eventually at the rate it’s going), and the heart of the experience for many was Wii Sports. Mums and dads across the land, and the world, were enthralled by motion controls and the ability to thrash their sprogs on virtual bowling. It brought families together, it transcended the gaming scene and became a cultural phenomenon. Had we experienced a similar event that year as we do in this one then I have no doubt that families across the world would have been using Wii Sports to bring some joy into their lives to stave off that fear and isolation I mentioned earlier on. And that’s fantastic.
However, that still wouldn’t make it Game Of The Year. In fact, in 2006 the biggest selling and most talked about game did not win many GOTY awards. This innovative and social experience took the world by storm, but as a game… it wasn’t the best on offer. Elder Scrolls Oblivion and The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess came away with the most nods for the best game of that year, with Wii Sports receiving a solitary award from Time magazine, not a publication known for their gaming credentials (but a sure sign that the game had penetrated the mainstream).
In 2020, this rings true once again. The cultural impact of ACNH cannot be ignored, and nor should it be, but for all the reasons I gave above it just isn’t the best game this year has to offer. The Cross Players awarded that honor to Hades, while The Game Awards (*spit*) gave The Last Of Us II it’s biggest award of the evening. At most you can say that this was Nintendo’s biggest and best game of the year, but given what they have released in 2020 that’s also not exactly the greatest accolade. In any other year this wouldn’t have even got a look in for Game Of The Year.
A big part of me wishes that it had come out any other year. Without the hype of it being Nintendo’s only release in months, and at the start of a national lockdown to boot, this could have been a fun distraction. Perhaps one day, when the world has returned to some semblance of normality and I’m not reliant on a game to help me socialise with my far-away friends, I will go back to my island and find that spark that led me to play it for more than 45 minutes to begin with. One thing is for sure though, I won’t be relying on Orville’s antiquated plane-based networking to socialise with my friends. Now excuse me, I’m late for a match on Fortnite.
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