I have been playing Animal Crossing since it was first available for the GameCube in 2002. I still have the memory card with my saved game on it, and Animal Crossing (along with Ty the Tasmanian Tiger) is the reason I still have my GameCube.
I have owned every version – Wild World (Nintendo DS), City Folk (Wii) and New Leaf, for which I had to buy a 3DS. I got my Switch early on and just kept waiting for news of a new Animal Crossing.
My experience playing this version of Animal Crossing is fairly different – not because of changes (and improvements) to the game’s structure/design, which has happened with every release to date, but because online play has changed it completely from my previous experiences, which were very solitary single-player games. Sure, with the 3DS my son and his friend could visit my island, but that only happened when we were all in the same place. The other versions were mostly just me doing chores, paying off my mortgage and running errands for my neighbors. Yes, Bob, I can get you an orange but you are LITERALLY standing under an orange tree. Just reach up and pick one!
What is different about New Horizons? I no longer play the game by myself. A group of fellow JocoCruise-ers created an Animal Crossing FaceBook group and now very day we all check in, and post if there are things of interest happening on our islands. Typical info shared is the going rate for turnips, or the limited purchase item at Nooks. We let each other know when our gates are open for visitors. I now have dozens of AC friends from my cruise (who I may or may not have ever met on the boat) who I can visit or have visit me. You need a specific fossil to finish your collection? Just post to the group and someone either stop by to drop it off, or they will mail one to you. Sets and tasks that would have taken me months or years to complete in previous versions of the game are near completion because of the wild volume of co-op play happening in the game.
While I do worry this new way of playing will burn me out faster than any other version of Animal Crossing because we’ll start to lack specific goals, what I don’t think I’ll burn out on is the community we created. In my case, I am a member of the JocoCruise/AC community, and also a community of fans of the My Brother, My Brother and Me (MBMBaM) podcast. And other folks belong to other similar communities all over the world. People are throwing weddings, birthday parties and graduations, all online, all simulated in Animal Crossing. The “Graduation Together” TV special shown on all four broadcast networks featured Kumail Nanjiami’s giving an Animal Crossing graduation address.
Even if you can’t afford or choose to not purchase the online option required to play with other humans, you still have 10 animal friends living in your village. Some may be crankier than others, but every single one of them is delighted to talk to you. Even the crankiest residents randomly compliment you, or provide positive and uplifting messages. For anyone who might have a hard time connecting with other people in real life, especially now that we are all forced into a type of solitary confinement, there is always a resident in the game who is happy to know you, who will mail you letters and gifts, and who will stand with you on the beach while you make wishes on shooting stars.
Even the most jaded among us needs friends like that right now, and Animal Crossing provides them.