Want a relaxing, low-pressure game to play while you’re stuck at home? Look no further.

By Michael Lehman, Editor-in-Chief

I’m sure you’ve seen something about this game already.

Nintendo’s latest big release, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, literally couldn’t have had better timing. The game landed on the Nintendo Switch on Friday, March 20 and instantly took the world by storm, breaking sales records and establishing a dominant presence on Twitter and Facebook.

It’s uncanny that New Horizons – a real-time, life simulation game where you live on a relaxing island paradise with your friendly animal neighbors – launched at a time when literally half the world is entering some type of mandatory lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. I mean, Nintendo released four Animal Crossing games between 2001 and 2012 but zero games in the eight years that followed, only to release New Horizons in the most ideal marketing situation possible.

And the silver lining of it all? The game’s amazing.

I’ve been playing it a little bit every day since it came out, and I’ve gotta say – I’ve grown quite attached. It’s easily the most relaxing part of my daily quarantine routine. (I’ve already dozed off two or three times while playing it, no joke.) The graphics are slick, and the background music is so nice. (You’re stuck listening to one single track on a loop until you unlock City Hall, though, and that takes at least one week to get.)

Like past Animal Crossing titles, New Horizons is pure therapy, plain and simple. This time around, though, the developers must’ve been more aware of the game’s therapeutic appeal — because it feels like they really amped up the game’s “positive vibes” as much as possible.

Your anthropomorphic animal neighbors are friendlier than ever, often complimenting you and giving you real-world tips on how to take better care of yourself. It isn’t uncommon to find three or four of them in your plaza on any given night, singing together and just straight-up vibing under a starry night sky.

CHOIR PRACTICE: We’re forming a band. (Screenshot by Michael Lehman)

If you’ve ever played and enjoyed an Animal Crossing game, you’ll undoubtedly love New Horizons. It has all the old familiar mechanics but a ton of new features to keep you entertained. As always, you can still fish, catch bugs, and dig up fossils, and you can decorate your home and visit your friends’ islands via online play.

But there are also plenty of brand-new customization options, which grant players endless creative control over their avatars, homes and islands. You can decorate your entire island with any furniture you want, and you can even change where the island’s cliffs, rivers, paths, bridges and buildings are. You can also change the design/color of furniture and even your in-game smartphone, which has a ton of cute-sy little apps with various helpful features.

The possibilities in this game are endless.

The premise of this particular Animal Crossing game is simple: You’ve decided to partake in the Nook, Inc. Deserted Island Getaway Package, and it’s your responsibility to develop your little island into whatever paradise you want it to be.

In other words, this game is the perfect, harmless de-stressor that millions of people probably need right now.

Now, maybe it’s just the quarantine, but I have yet to hear of one Animal Crossing fan who isn’t absolutely enthralled by this game right now. Every time I play it, no matter what time of day it is, at least five or six of my close friends are online playing it as well, and it always makes me laugh. Here we are, a bunch of grown adults scattered across the country, finding simple joy in a silly game that appeals to our childhood imaginations.

ALONE TOGETHER: There’s something comforting about knowing your friends are playing the same game as you while you’re all apart. (Screenshot by Michael Lehman)

A lot of us grew up playing Animal Crossing when we were younger, so it’s no wonder we find this new game so appealing at a crazy time like this.

Never played Animal Crossing? Not a problem. I know several people who bought this game out of sheer curiosity or boredom, and they’re loving every second of it. Many of them bought it as a way to kill some time while in self-isolation, and this game is pretty much perfect for that.

The coolest thing about Animal Crossing is that there’s no “correct” way to play it. Sure, there are a few sequences of goals to achieve, but for the most part, you live your island life at your own pace. This makes it the perfect game to pick up and play every so often “just because.” Whether you want to play it obsessively or just once or twice a month, it’ll deliver the play experience you want. There’s always something new to find or do.

I definitely have a few complaints about this game, though. For instance, your tools (like your fishing pole, shovel and net) seem to break frequently, so you have to keep crafting them over and over again, and it gets old quick. (To avoid this, I use the game’s “customization kits” to change the color of my tools every so often, and this automatically renews them and keeps them from breaking.) The current “Bunny Day” Easter event (available via an online update) is also pretty terrible because Easter eggs are spawning literally everywhere.

MAKE IT STOP: Eggs are appearing basically everywhere in this game until April 12. (Screenshot by Michael Lehman)

Perhaps the biggest flaw of this game is that you’re only allowed one island per Nintendo Switch, meaning that all eight accounts on your Switch have to play on the same island, and this can create issues. The island’s resources are limited, and only one person gets the privilege to be the “resident representative” who makes all of the most important in-game decisions.

Personally, my sister and I actually like that it’s set up this way, but I’ve heard that this feature is causing problems for a lot of other players and families out there. At the end of the day, though, problems like these pale in comparison to how well-made the game is overall.

And to top it all off, it’s making video game history.

See, New Horizons is currently delivering something incredibly rare – something no video game has ever offered on such a grand scale. It’s offering a pleasant escape to a virtual world at a time when most of the real world is strictly off-limits.

Out of the blue, billions of people have been told that they must practice social distancing and isolate themselves at home for weeks, sacrificing all kinds of irreplaceable social experiences. It seems like almost everyone has already lost something special to them: weddings, time with elderly loved ones, sports seasons, vacations, etc. The list goes on and on, and it’ll only get longer.

As a senior at Huntington University, I lost the end of my on-campus college experience. All the closure I could’ve had with my college friends and professors went poof – gone just like that forever. There are so many “good-byes” I won’t get to say and so much time with loved ones I’ll never get back. Never.

Because of these losses, many Americans are currently dealing with a very confusing, complicated type of sadness right now. Some psychologists are even comparing it to grief – the feeling that someone or something has actually died. And as COVID-19 continues to spread, it’s more than likely that every American will eventually know someone who dies of this virus. It’s awful.

That’s why I’m thankful Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out when it did. It’ll undoubtedly offer millions of people at least some sense of peace and control in the months to come, allowing virtual lives to improve real ones.

And that’s an incredible achievement for a video game. Nice work, Nintendo.

5/5 stars.