Animal Crossing
"Animal Crossing," a beloved franchise predicated on relaxing, fictional conversations with animals and homemaking, is releasing a new edition next year. (Image via Engadget)

If you were anywhere near a social media platform on Sept. 13, you probably had the same question as thousands of others — what the heck is “Animal Crossing”?

As an avid gamer, just know that I’m shaking my head in disappointment.

I can’t blame you, however. Admittedly, over a decade ago, my curiosity was piqued by a similar notion. I had just received my beloved Nintendo GameCube as a birthday present, and I was on the prowl for some new (and parent-approved) titles to fill my copious amounts of free time. The vibrant box art and quirky characters of the original “Animal Crossing” game were quick to snag my attention. In that moment, I shamelessly became the human embodiment of the “Shut Up And Take My Money” meme before it was cool.

From then on, I’ve been a die-hard fan. So, when this month’s Nintendo Direct arrived and proceeded to drop the news of an adorable new addition to the franchise, I was over the moon — and, honestly, you should be, too. Whether you have experience with video games or not, “Animal Crossing” is a charming escape from the stressors of reality for anyone with a minute to spare.

Home Sweet Home

On a basic level, “Animal Crossing” uproots your life from the daily slog of classes or a career and sets you in the most chill paradise known to man — or, at least it would be if any humans actually lived there. Your character, who looks reminiscent of a less terrifying ragdoll, will be the first.

Upon stepping out of that game’s transportation of choice, you’ll learn that the series is a far cry from something like “The Sims,” for example. Sure, you still get to live out your grandest HGTV fantasies (don’t even try to deny it) and decorate a cutesy digital home. However, I don’t think a greedy loan shark masquerading as a kindly raccoon was ever a guest star on “Fixer Upper.”

Tom Nook, the scoundrel in question, isn’t the only furry acquaintance you’ll make in your new home. Every single other resident, shopkeeper or tourist you can cross paths with around town is some species of animal. But, you could probably guess that from the name. What it doesn’t imply, though, is how positively lovable all of the characters are. Above all else, the “Animal Crossing” franchise capitalizes on the wide smiles and audible squeals of delight emitted when interacting with these characters on a daily basis.

Honestly, the game doesn’t get more complicated than that. Your experience within your own little community is entirely as you make it. Across all iterations, I’ve had several friends hop on the bandwagon, and no two of them played it the same way.

I’m a recovering completion addict, so I prefer to collect all of the artifacts and creatures for the museum while simultaneously selling the repeats to afford a mansion. On the other hand, my best friend elected to sell everything to finally get the last piece of furniture to polish off her living room design. Another friend preferred running around town in a Jason Voorhees mask and gossiping with the animals. So, if you’re someone that thrives on having no rules (or just general insanity), this is definitely your game.

A History of Wholesome

For some, “Animal Crossing” has been a collection staple since its first North American release in 2002. Players eagerly brandished their GameCube controllers and got to work earning “Bells” to pay off that first house loan and chatted the days away with a friendly cat or penguin (if they were luckier than me, anyway).

At the time, there weren’t a whole lot of other activities to partake in. After all, video games are best played with a group of good friends and, unfortunately, the endearing villagers aren’t the most helpful substitutes. Players began to clamor for multiplayer capability and Nintendo, ever the innovators, were happy to oblige.

When the first sequel, “Animal Crossing: Wild World,” released on the Nintendo DS three years later, it was clear that the franchise was set to evolve faster than the pixelated creatures living inside each cartridge. While it seems trivial to cheer for an in-game Wi-Fi connection now, it was a huge deal for series veterans in 2005. Don’t judge, okay. Suddenly, that huge home loan became less daunting with a second set of funds, and fishing tournaments got a lot more competitive with a fellow nerd in the mix.

Shortly afterward, the Nintendo Wii variant, dubbed “Animal Crossing: City Folk,” took that same concept and dialed it up to 100. It built a foundation for an online voice chatting feature that was rarely seen again in future system titles. If that negative end note doesn’t spell disaster for you, it really should. The third addition to the series was considered the worst for gutting the personality of its villagers in favor of promoting the use of this extra service with real human players.

Animal Crossing
“Animal Crossing: New Leaf” was a return to form for a franchise fans thought had taken a wrong turn. (Image via GameSided)

Fans endured years of speculation about whether or not Nintendo would make improvements in the next sequel or continue further into the void of mediocrity. As any Nintendo 3DS owner can attest, the developers managed to deliver with panache. “Animal Crossing: New Leaf” did exactly what its name infers.

Customization expanded beyond the home and into the entire town as you assumed your newfound role as mayor. The villagers were returned to their normal, eccentric selves. Life was good. So good, in fact, that the series had attained a new gold standard. Again, the theories began to erupt fast enough to rival the seediest of “Game of Thrones” fan-sites. How would they surpass this?

Turning Over a New Leaf

It took six years for an answer to appear on the horizon. According to the most recent Nintendo Direct report, which details upcoming releases and updates for the console, a new “Animal Crossing” game is slated to hit shelves in 2019. The segment didn’t show any gameplay clips or comment on any particular features, so would-be players are still very much in the dark.

That doesn’t mean I can’t be excited, however. The one (albeit obvious) detail everyone seems to be glazing over is that it’ll be a Nintendo Switch title. I can already hear the collective “duh” being muttered at your screen. I’ll try to ignore the glaring negativity and, instead, ask you to hear me out.

The player-base has been split on the medium for these games for, well, forever. The stationary console provides better graphics and a bigger screen to enjoy the game on. Conversely, the task-driven nature of the series lends itself well to a handheld system, allowing quick gameplay while on a 15-minute break, per say. As the Nintendo Switch touts itself as “the best of both worlds,” the next entry to the franchise already has incredible potential.

Moreover, as the “Nintendo Switch Online” program launched five days after this announcement, it stands to reason that the developers would incorporate some great cooperative features into the game. I’d hope it would be in an effort to maximize player satisfaction, but I wouldn’t complain if it was just to allure more people to pay for the service. I’m a simple woman — I see awesome content and I’m satisfied.

If you’re a legacy fan of the franchise, my work here is already done. Like me, I’m sure you’ve already put your pre-order in. Nonetheless, you could be a social media casual who stumbled in here to see what the hype is about. In that case, I assure you that “Animal Crossing” isn’t your typical video game. Assuming you have a lot of kindness and laughs to share, 2019 is about to require your services as newbie gamer. Your future villagers will be appreciative — except for maybe Isabelle, as she’s too busy tearing it up in the “Super Smash Bros.” scene to care.

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