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Animal Crossing Has Breathing Room

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March-April of 2020 was shaping up to be a couple big months for gamers. With big hits such as Doom Eternal, Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Cyberpunk 2077 all planned to release within close proximity to one another, the period looked like the greatest time to be alive as a gamer. However, updates came down from developers announcing delays to the dismay of many, leaving March with Doom Eternal and another contender: Animal Crossing.

What Animal Crossing Is

Animal Crossing is a life/social simulation game first released back in 2001 by Nintendo for the Nintendo Gamecube. Players take control of a human in a village full of anthropomorphic animals and go about their days doing tasks and other outdoor activities. While comparable to other simulation games such as The Sims—where the game centers around players building up their characters and relationships—Animal Crossing differs itself with its whimsical nature and charm. 

Focusing more on exploration and completing requests rather than micromanaging stats, Animal Crossing’s open-ended game design lets players go about their in-game lives however they please, without the hassles found in other sim titles. Along with the innovative use of consoles’ internal clocks to simulate real passage of time and a wealth of character customization options to fit any player’s desired aesthetic, Animal Crossing’s immersion, replayability, and charm keep players coming back to experience the magic of these adventures all over again. 

The franchise now has four primary entries and four spinoffs, the latest main game being released in 2015, showing the remarkable success and popularity the series has with its fanbase and community. The popularity of the franchise also paved the way for a spinoff mobile entry and the series’ inclusion in Super Smash Bros., with the player character Villager and his/her adorable assistant Isabelle becoming playable fighters in Smash 4 and Ultimate respectively, catapulting the franchise into the limelight once again with the quirkiness of Villager and Isabelle and the sheer mountain of memes that resulted from their inclusion. 

The Next Game Crunch

With the last main title released in 2015, a new Animal Crossing game was inevitable. Confirmed in 2018 during a Nintendo Direct and first teased during E3 2019, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was to be the next main title of the franchise. 

Originally slated for a 2019 release, New Horizons was delayed until 2020 following an announcement made by Nintendo’s Yoshiaki Koizumi during Nintendo’s E3 2019 Nintendo Direct. 

“We need to change its release date to March 20, 2020. To ensure the game is the best it can be, we must ask that you wait a little longer than we thought.”

On top of this announcement, Nintendo President Doug Bowser gave a statement explaining the delay beyond game polishing and quality checking. In an interview with IGN, Bowser explained another contributing factor that led to New Horizons’ delay: avoiding crunch.

“For us, one of our key tenets is that we bring smiles to people’s faces, and we talk about that tall the time. It’s our vision. Or our mission, I should say. For us, that applies to our own employees. We need to make sure that our employees have good work-life balance.”

Working overtime, commonly referred to as crunch, is a widespread practice in the gaming industry of near unhealthy and extreme proportions to meet a project’s deadline. This act of extreme overtime and rushing puts not only the developed games at risk but also the developers working on them, pushing forward a product that has not been given the time it needs to be completed. Crunching, among other factors, contributed to Cyberpunk 2077’s own delay.

To avoid such a burnout and an unpolished, mediocre game, Doug Bowser stated that Nintendo would not be releasing New Horizons before it is ready. Due to this delay, Nintendo’s stock market value posted a 3.5% loss in reaction, an equivalent amounting to over $1 billion in US currency. Despite this setback in the eyes of stockholders and fans, the situation may have worked in Animal Crossing’s favor.

The Month of Delays

Prior to entering the New Year, everyone had their eyes glued to the March-April season, and for good reason: the months were looking stacked. Filled to the brim with heavyweight titles, March-April was shaping up to be a great time for gamers.

Capturing the hearts of fans since the ‘90s and becoming a cult classic, Final Fantasy VII Remake was slated to fall on March 3. Doom Eternal—a follow-up to 2016’s Doom, an action- and gore-packed romp through Hell and the series’ return to stellar form—was confirmed to be released on March 20. CD Projekt RED, world-renowned for the Witcher series, planned for Cyberpunk 2077 to drop on April 16. Each game presents some of the best the industry has to offer against which only a few other games this year could hope to compete. 

There are other popular games releasing within the same month that are worth mentioning, such as Persona 5 Royal and Half-Life: Alyx, but they are not as built up as the hypetrain gathered behind the aforementioned titles. Although Half-Life: Alyx is hypeworthy, being the latest entry in a franchise that lay dormant for more than a decade, it is not as accessible as the previously mentioned titles due to the expenses required to run the full VR setup, clocking in around $1,000 compared to the standard $60 price for new games, making it a title hard to be excited about when most gamers will not be able to even play it.

However, the dream of a perfect spring of video games came crashing down once delays were announced for Cyberpunk 2077 and FF:VII Remake. The March-April season went from being the greatest time to be alive to a quiet and tame month in comparison, leaving Doom Eternal to take the spotlight. However, thanks to the Final Fantasy and Cyberpunk departures, it gives breathing room for Animal Crossing to shine as well. 

It is clear how different the delayed games and Animal Crossing are in terms of genre and fanbase, each with its own niche and audience. However, this lack of competition for the month of March, aside from Doom, gives Animal Crossing a chance to stand on its own and not be overshadowed by more hyped up titles, giving it time to reach more players and potential fans and flourish without the pressure of sales and competition weighing it down. After countless backlash of delays, this dawning of a new horizon may be what the series needs.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons releases for the Nintendo Switch on March 20, 2020.

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