Animal Crossing: New Horizons didn't feel complete until I reunited with my original villager friend

(Image credit: Nintendo)

One childhood memory I can recall with crystal clear clarity was the moment I got Animal Crossing on the GameCube. I was only 12, and outside of Pokemon, The Sims, and my obsession with Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, my young self quickly fell completely in love with Animal Crossing's adorable virtual world. So, you can just imagine how excited I was to jump right into Animal Crossing: New Horizons when it released earlier this year. But, ever since I started my island adventure, I couldn't help but feel something – or more appropriately someone – was missing. 

A huge part of what charmed me when I played the original game was the bond I developed with one villager in particular: Punchy the cat. The lazy villager with his humorous name and penchant for snacks and fishing brought me so much comfort and joy. As silly as it might sound, I've always counted this virtual feline among my childhood friends, and I know I'm not alone in this. After all, when it comes down to it, the true magic of Animal Crossing lies in the way it makes you care for the fuzzy, endearing animals that live alongside you. 

Since the game launched, I've seen dozens of other players like me set out to try and find the villagers they loved in their younger years. With adorable designs, distinct personalities, and whimsical catchphrases, the love for certain villagers has only intensified as the series has grown, and some have even become very hot commodities on the Animal Crossing market.  

Even after all this time, I still fondly remember my days spent with Punchy, and something inside of me just wouldn't let the idea of reuniting with my old pal go. So, with nothing but Nook Miles (and real money) to lose, I set out on a personal quest to bring Punchy home again and make my island feel more complete. 

Creature comforts 

(Image credit: Nintendo)

I didn't realise quite how popular my old favourite was until I'd set my sights on trying to get him. As one of the oldest villagers in the series, it quickly became clear that many other players remembered their time with Punchy as fondly as I did, and that meant that he was also in high demand. 

In a sense, I think many feel the same way I do about the old villagers they used to know. They become more than just a villager you had in your town when you were young. Maybe they helped you through a tough time, or they gave you a happy memory you cling to. In my case, Punchy helped me through a particularly turbulent point in my formative years when I was trying to adjust to some big changes. Despite how unsettled things were in reality, Punchy made everything feel safe and warm, and he never failed to put a smile on my face with his loveable personality. 

It's undeniably comforting to rediscover something from your childhood that made you so happy. It's the same kind of nostalgic warmth you might feel towards an old teddy bear you used to hold dear. I needed that kind of happy presence in my life, and so - in spite of this loveable cat's popularity - I became more and more determined to find my old friend. In a way, the obsessive pursuit to find Punchy gave me something to work towards and offered me the kind of distraction I needed. 

Luck of the draw

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Try as I might, though, luck wasn't on my side. As soon as I had plots of land free to introduce new villagers onto my island, I saved up Nook Miles and spent who knows how many on tickets to go island hopping in search of Punchy. With every flight I took with bated breath, my hopes of finding Punchy began to dwindle. Grinding my daily tasks for more Nook Miles became regimental in my pursuit to find my old cat buddy, but the lack of tickets I could get my hands on wasn't the only thing working against me.

The villagers you encounter on other islands are entirely random, so the chances of finding the one you covet are pretty slim. Not only that but once you have a free plot of land, you essentially have one day to fill it. If you don't, the game will pick a villager at random to claim your free plot.  So with time against me and my Nook Miles running low, I started to give up hope that I could actually miraculously find Punchy using the game's system. Before I knew it, I already had 10 villagers taking up every single plot. 

As soon as one of my villagers decided they wanted to try for horizons new, I once again set out to visit as many islands as I could in search of Punchy… but, alas, still to no avail. So, I did what so many end up doing if they can't find the villager they want up for trade: I set out in search of Punchy's Amiibo card instead. Sure, it might not have been as rewarding as actually finding Punchy, but I just couldn't wait any longer. Now, as it goes, I didn't end up spending too much real money on Punchy's Amiibo card (around £20), but it certainly opened my eyes to just how much certain villagers are currently going for.

"I've been waiting for you!"

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Like a shining beacon blasting through my letterbox, Punchy was finally in my grasp. As I loaded him up using the Amiibo function on the Nook Station, I felt far more emotional than I could have ever anticipated. I raced to the tent, wrecking my lovely flowers on the way in my excitement, but nothing could have dampened my spirits because my old friend was finally here. As soon as he greeted me, I was overcome with warm fuzzies. He'd transformed from a pixelated GameCube cutie to an adorable textured cat worthy of the Switch's graphics, and I couldn't have been happier to see his glow up.

To add a villager, you have to invite them to your island three separate times and make them gifts they request. Honestly, Punchy could've asked me for the world and I would have done everything in my power to give it to him. In the end, he only made very modest requests like a table made out of cardboard boxes or a simple wooden chair. The day of his arrival finally came, and I woke up extra early just to welcome him to Iced Tea Island. What happened next truly stopped me in my tracks. After I entered his house and ran up to greet him, Punchy exclaimed, "Hey, Heather! I've been waiting for you!"... I'm not ashamed to admit I got a little teary-eyed. 

And okay, this is probably a response other villagers say when they move in and it's not unique to Punchy - but to me, that simple line of text made the effort I went to entirely worth it. It was as though this was the Punchy from my childhood who I hadn't seen in well over a decade, and he'd been waiting for me all this time to find him again. Since Punchy moved in, the silly cat has made me smile each and every day, just as much he made me smile when I was 12. I have no regrets. 

If you're looking to get all of the critters this month, here's our guide to all of the Animal Crossing: New Horizons June fish and bugs

Heather Wald
Senior staff writer

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.