Some of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises have received continuations or remakes in the last year or so. Franchises that fans thought were almost dead, like Advance Wars and Metroid, were given new life on the E3 stage. Players had been begging for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl remakes for years, and they are arriving this November in the form of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl.
Nintendo is a company that operates on nostalgia: I would argue that one of the biggest driving forces for its sales is the fact that they frequently give players a chance to relive or experience anew some of their favorite childhood characters and environments. Although this philosophy can sometimes leave the company stuck in the past, it’s obviously a strategy that works.
Animal Crossing is no exception. While each new iteration in the storied franchise has brought new villagers, new items to collect, and new events to experience, the fundamental mechanics haven’t changed since the game’s very first releases. Thanks to hype from huge online communities and collaborations with companies like Puma, Animal Crossing is bigger than it’s ever been. The series owes it all to Doubutsu no Mori, the Japan-exclusive first game in the franchise. While many fans first got to know Animal Crossing through its initial American release on the Nintendo GameCube, Doubutsu no Mori was actually an N64 game. This iconic release created just about everything the games are known for: The real-time day/night cycle, villager interactions, house decoration, filling the museum, and more.
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The long-term reaction to the Switch’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons was tepid, but Doubutsu no Mori/Animal Crossing still hold up today as some of the best games in the franchise. It’s high time they were remade for the Switch — not only to bring a classic into the modern era, but to put the Animal Crossing franchise back on track.
Note: Though Doubutsu no Mori and Animal Crossing are technically two different games for two different consoles, I’m using the names interchangeably here, as there are no major gameplay differences between the two. The vast majority of the localization changes for Animal Crossing were cosmetic adjustments to make the series more appealing to Western audiences.
Leading the pack
One of Animal Crossing‘s biggest selling points was its English dialogue. Simply put, it was just better than that of any other game in the series. Animal Crossing: New Horizons‘ dialogue was widely panned by fans for its repetitiveness and simplicity because it did little to express the true personalities of its villagers. While the original game’s villagers had a tendency to be standoffish, snobby, or downright rude, it gave variety and flavor to NPC interactions, which are essential in a game about connecting with and forming friendships among a group of virtual villagers. A potential remake’s dialogue doesn’t have to be mean and nasty to conserve the feeling of the original’s words; it simply needs to convey more emotion and be more varied than New Horizons’ repetitive text.
Animal Crossing also had a lot of variety in its seasonal events and music, two things that are imperative to a game that focuses on day-to-day experiences. Besides real-life holidays, Animal Crossing had unique events like Spring Athletics and lighthouse maintenance. When you explore your town on any given day, you never know what you’re going to find, particularly on a holiday, which is a huge part of the game’s charm.
The game also had extremely memorable music; when later titles deviated from Animal Crossing‘s musical style, they did so to their own detriment. New Horizons’ hourly songs frequently sound the same, and New Leaf based its music around sounds and effects rather than melodies. There’s a reason that I still find myself humming those melodies more than 15 years after I played the first game.
That’s not to say the original game didn’t have its faults. Like all the games in the franchise, Animal Crossing suffers from a lack of activities. Once you’ve checked out what’s for sale in Tom Nook’s shop, spoken to all of your villagers, and participated in any events, there’s not much left to do besides catch a few bugs or fish. Later games would remedy this somewhat with deeper pattern creation mechanics and town customization, but the main problem is still present in New Horizons. Little things here and there, like the time-consuming and unwieldy fossil identification system and the tendency for animals to steal currency and items right out of your pockets, occasionally made the experience more frustrating than it should be. To be fair, it was the first game in a franchise: it was trying something new, and it took risks that didn’t always pay off.
Rather than seeing these as blocks to a potential remake, they should be viewed as ways to move the franchise forward. The ability for animals to steal your items shouldn’t make a comeback, but maybe that mechanic could open the door to new methods of interactions with villagers, something that was supremely lacking in New Horizons.
Incorporating some of the series’ minigames and adventures could provide more things to do. The remake could even include town customization to some extent, though it can be argued that one of the most charming aspects of Animal Crossing was that you had to adjust to your town, not the other way around.
The Animal Crossing series has a huge fan community online. From sharing patterns to trading villagers and items, there is a thriving fan scene across a variety of social media sites. This is exactly what Animal Crossing is about: The creation of a community and the activities that bring us all together. It’s a nice sentiment, perhaps one that the whole world could use a little more of right now. New Horizons‘ release coincided roughly with the start of the pandemic, making many players proclaim that it was the ray of sunshine that we needed at the moment.
An Animal Crossing remake could be what puts the series back on track. Within that same fan community, item thievery and general rudeness were more common than they should be. Fans are slowly losing hope in the slow trickle of additional content that New Horizons will receive and are giving up hope of seeing some of their favorite missing NPCs in the game. The franchise is at a more turbulent turning point than it’s ever been. A remake would refresh the franchise, bringing back that spark that made it special while reuniting the community around an activity that they love. It would be an opportunity for younger fans to experience a game that they might have been too young to play when it originally released.
Porting over some of the removed items and clothing from Doubutsu no Mori would also make a potential remake a cultural experience, bringing the N64 title’s Japanese flair and personality to a new audience. Nintendo did it with Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver — why couldn’t it do the same for Animal Crossing?
Doubutsu no Mori/Animal Crossing has the potential to not only be Nintendo’s next great remake, but to rekindle what a lot of the community says is missing in the franchise. It’s not about making the perfect town with the perfect villagers or playing for 100 hours nonstop; it’s about experiencing the little joys that come with everyday life and finding your place within a community. It’s unlike anything in gaming — and Nintendo should bring it back for an encore.
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