Why 'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' Is the Ultimate Pandemic Escape

Anyone who’s been on the internet for the past week probably has probably stumbled upon people raving about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. But if you’re not a gamer—or you’re just not up on the newest releases—you may not know what all the excitement is about. If that’s you, the Animal Crossing-curious, we’re here to help.

What is Animal Crossing: New Horizons?

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH for short) is a video game. Or, in slightly more elevated language, it’s a “social simulation.” Part of a series that’s now almost two decades old (the first title launched in 2001 for the Nintendo 64), it’s the eagerly awaited fifth main installment. (There’s also a whole collection of spin-off titles.) It just launched on March 20, and people are hyped.

Why are people so obsessed with it right now?

Well, let’s just start with the tagline: “Escape to your island getaway—however, whenever, and wherever you want.” Sounds pretty great, right? Even without the series’ long and impressive pedigree, it’s probably not surprising that people stuck at home, watching the world’s chaos swirl around them, would want to escape to an extremely chill island and do some low-key activities with anthropomorphized animals.

In fact, nearly all the reviews on Metacritic—where ACNH currently has a 91 percent rating—mention the stark contrast between the mellow game world and the increasingly frenzied world in which we have to live. (If chill escapism isn’t your metier, you may want to try this month’s other big video game release: DOOM Eternal, a gory first-person shooter that lets you use a chainsaw against the swarming hordes of Hell.)

ACNH doesn’t just let you escape to a different world, though. Those “social simulation” tools let you create and customize nearly every aspect of that world—so naturally, people are using it to comment on this one. Are there memes? Oh, you better believe there are memes. How about a talking bear telling the player, “Those are in limited supply, so act fast if you’re serious” as both of them look at a stack of toilet paper rolls?

Perhaps the biggest appeal of ACNH is that you can play with friends. When a large chunk of the global population is social distancing, it’s nice to be able to visit your friends in a virtual world.

But what do you actually do?

Collect bugs. Go fishing. Pitch a tent. Make crafts. Upgrade your tent to a house. Decorate your house. Basically all the things you’d do if you actually flew to an island getaway. Plus there are talking animals.

Ok, you sold me. How do I get Animal Crossing: New Horizons?

You’ll need a Nintendo Switch or Switch Lite. If you don’t already have either of those and want to jump into the deep end of the pool, you can pick up the Animal Crossing: New Horizons-branded Switch, which gives you special edition pastel controllers and some ACNH designs on the device. That would normally set you back about $300—but it’s sold out in many places, with resellers looking for more than $500. (We told you it was popular.)

Luckily, if you’ve already got Nintendo’s system, you can pick up a digital copy of the game for about $60.

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