I don't think an Animal Crossing game has ever been played like New Horizons was in 2020. Previously players have been happy diving in each day to greet villagers and tick through daily tasks. But last year, we collectively wrung every second of gameplay possible out of Animal Crossing: New Horizons for full our idyllic island getaway immersion, building our own little slices of paradise with designs that landscape gardeners and interior designers would be proud of. We took great pride in our stalk market profits, invested time to become active members of the thriving online communities, and regularly threatened to start our islands all over again just for kicks.
Throughout 2020 the familiarity of island life has been a comfort; a safe space to hang out with friends and get a welcome respite from the torrent of bad news in the real world. But, as we sit on the cusp of a second year in the grip of a pandemic and the dawn of the second year of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the game's sense of repetition and inherent safety comes with a strange sense of hesitation.
I have very vivid memories of playing through each of the main events in the Animal Crossing calendar, the first of which was Animal Crossing: New Horizons Bunny Day - the game's version of Easter. The event is coming up again this year on April 4, and the thought of terrifying Zipper T. Bunny returning genuinely fills the GamesRadar team with some fear. But not as much as the thought of the year repeating itself in Animal Crossing. Because of the fervor with which we all threw ourselves into island life last year, the idea of facing down the same events with the same rewards just doesn't have the same appeal.
But, Nintendo has already thought of that and is taking steps to negate that sense of foreboding repetition. This year, Nook's Cranny will offer a new item from an expanded Bunny Day series each day, which builds on the items you could get via the Animal Crossing: New Horizons Bunny Day recipes gained through collecting different types of eggs. That starts on March 28 and ends April 4, meaning there are at least eight new items to collect this Bunny Day.
For previous Animal Crossing titles, it's never been the tradition to update and enhance each event for the subsequent years. In fact, this seems to be the first time Nintendo has ever made such improvements, which is further proof of the ongoing success of New Horizons. It's a welcome relief that the developer has got ahead of player fatigue for its annual events, especially seeing as there was originally quite a backlash against the first Bunny Day when it came to the high drop rate for eggs during the event period.
These changes are a signal that Nintendo is approaching the second year of New Horizons with the right frame of mind. Giving us an excuse to get excited about a year of Animal Crossing all over again by offering additional incentives to the existing events is a great move to keep the momentum going. Making the familiar feel fresh is never an easy feat after all. If Nintendo keeps making tweaks like this, it should make for another fantastic year of island life. And that's particularly true when there are still gaps to add other fan-requested features and missing Animal Crossing characters to the line-up.
But, seemingly, Nintendo is listening in that department too and is using this first anniversary for the game to address a small slice of user feedback around custom designs. With the anniversary update, the developer has added 50 additional slots for both Normal and Pro custom designs, while also bringing a new Custom Design Portal app to your Nook Phone, removing the reliance on the terminal in Able Tailors. Plus, the Sanrio amiibo cards originally released in 2016 are making a comeback, and bringing with them 70+ new items and clothing to help ramp up the adorability rating of our islands (not a real rating, although it should be).
The anniversary is even making the real-world Animal Crossing app more useful too, with an update arriving in "late March" offering up a new currency known as Nook Points to collect. Points will be awarded to those who check in each day, and will be able to be traded for prizes to also use in-game.
Using the anniversary to add fan-requested features is a smart move from Nintendo. None of these are huge changes to the game's core gameplay loop, but these are welcome tweaks that arrive at a point in time where I know my personal interest in island life is dwindling. And that's despite the pang of joy I get each morning when my villager flings open the door of her house to face the day with a smile.
With such an approach to the repetition of island life, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is already well-equipped to carry on its success. As life promises / threatens to return to normal in the foreseeable future for the majority of us, our reliance on Animal Crossing as a sanity crutch may lessen, but we'll all be safe in the knowledge that when we dive back in again over the course of 2021, Nintendo has set a glorious precedent that there will always be something new to look forward to.