And that is something of a disappointment. As seems to be the case with Switch exclusives — it wasn’t really one on my personal gaming radar. I had no intent to pick it up prior to the day I actually did so. This was the pattern with Fire Emblem: Three Houses, too. Then, like now, there was an incredible blog and twitter presence in the lead up to release and immediately following. If you look at the blogosphere now for example — you’ll find absolutely no shortage of people who love this ‘Animal Crossing’ thing to death.
Twitter paints a similar picture. It was in fact the revelation on Twitter of the inclusion of the design tools (for shirts, flags, hats, pictures, etc) that finally tipped me over the edge to purchasing.
I liked Stardew Valley afterall, what could go wrong?
Well, as it turns out — a fair bit.
Before I begin though; if it isn’t already abundantly clear there are plenty out there who love this game to bits. My opinion is just that, and also it would appear to be a minority held opinion. So take everything I say with a giant grain of salt and the understanding that my experience wouldn’t necessarily be your experience if Animal Crossing: New Horizons otherwise sounds like your kind of things.
The Problem with Comparison
I thought because Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing both shared themes of ‘getting away to a quieter life’ and involving crafting and a slow unlocking of additional areas or things to do that they would play very similarly.
Or at least, similarly enough that enjoyment of one should safely ensure the enjoyment of the other.
This isn’t really true though.
I think the biggest issue I’ve faced is one of pacing. Animal Crossing: New Horizons (after a brief introductory sequence) aligns itself to real time. And I’m not going to lie — I find this concept to be cool as fark. Understandably those who can’t play at anything beyond a single time of day may feel differently as it would block access to certain fish and insects.
That’s not the issue I have, more it is how this time system is used. Essentially any action along the lines of building your house, placing an extension, building a museum is going to take at least a real time day from the time you trigger the action until the time it completes.
It feels a lot like a Mobile game time-gate to me — even though the icky pay-to-progress mechanics are of course absent.
Yes. The idea of the game at some level is to take it casually. Not to rush through things.
That’s all good and well. But for the style of player that I am it feels very much like the game is saying, ‘Alright, that’s enough fun for today’ every time one of these roadblocks come up.
In Stardew Valley, the days are more or less under your control. When you’re done with a day — or heaven forbid, you drain yourself of energy — the day ends and you commence a new one. Projects that take multiple days in Stardew Valley are therefore still under your control as to what pace they are completed.
There are other differences too — the focus in farm building vs. one of town and community, for one. But these are not deal breakers for me. It’s the pacing issue that so dramatically shifts the direction and my ability to enjoy them.
Pacing in the Early Game
Look, I realise the irony in complaining about pacing and then 600-odd words later still talking about the early game… But it’s just to give you a taste of the experience, OK? ;)
More seriously — I could even have withstood this early game pacing without issue for the most part. I’m actually pretty OK with taking a game like this in small chunks of progression, despite my complaints above. It’s not my favourite but it wouldn’t on its own be a death knell either.
Where issue compounds with issue is in part the execution. Specifically, the order in which things unlock.
Main example of this being when you’re going through the process of building the museum. There are two days where you’re locked out of one of the main aspects of the game — collecting and donating critters and fish. On the day you complete the initial five donations to Tom Nook — your raccoon overlord — you must wait a day for Blathers to arrive and setup a tent in the location you set. While this is going on, you cannot donate any further creatures.
Then for a short period you’re able to donate again once Blathers arrives, until he deems that you have enough to open a museum proper rather than just the tent he’s in.
While this is under construction, for another day, you once more can no longer donate any finds.
It Gets Worse!
Now, to build a shop — it wants 30 wood, 30 hardwood, 30 softwood and 30 iron.
The various woods? Not actually a problem.
But 30 iron? 30 iron… is… It’s very difficult. No- that’s not right. It’s rather tedious though. You can bang on rocks for perhaps 3-4 item drops per day. Those drops can be iron. Or stone. Or clay. Or an insect. (Actually, they usually come alongside one of the others.)
With the current event going on… It can be a *beep* *beep* *beep* Easter egg.
There’s another 10 days of these things to go. I’m sorely tempted to just put the whole thing aside until it’s over, because every time I hit a stone and get an egg instead of a piece of iron I am subjected to the sort of rage on display under the picture above.
So much for calm and casual!
But… I’m Kinda Committed; So Hopefully It Will Get Better
By which I mean — my user on the Switch is the ‘Resident Representative’ meaning that I have to be the one to continue with the major progression items such as building the museum or shop.
If it was just me?
I think I’d put this down already and just move on.
But… My youngest son is in love with the game. And it’s one of the few things we can even do in co-op!
There is a value in this that surpasses any of the issues outlined. By a long shot.
So I’ll continue my evening and morning sessions with the game. I won’t push any harder than that to get the store up and running. But I will keep pushing forward for my son’s sake and the gaming time together it gives us; especially during this lockdown period where he can’t see his friends at school or head out to play as much as he’d like.
So far as sacrifices for your family go — playing a game not up your alley is a pretty mild one.
And speaking honestly; Rakuno and others who told me the game opens up more after you have your house built (and the storage that comes along with it) and the museum properly placed were absolutely right.
Just the storage alone makes a significant difference to how the game can be played.
And I know it has far more in store yet. So perhaps; despite how I feel about it right now — it’ll yet surprise me and show me a different side.
This was a post for Blapril 2020, the annual blogging event (albeit usually as Blaugust), brought forward to help bring a sense of community during the challenging time of COVID-19. Blaugust is an event aiming to welcome new blogger blood into the fold and revitalise those who’ve been at it a little longer.
The Blaugust Discord is still available to join in, year round!