In just over a week, a single video game has taken the world by storm. We are, of course, talking about "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" for the Nintendo Switch.
"New Horizons," the fifth main entry in the beloved "Animal Crossing" franchise, arrived March 20 and has proven itself to be what fans -- new and old alike -- need. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, which has many staying at home to stop the spread of coronavirus, gamers have escaped to their very own island paradise.
"'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' is a feel-good experience," Bill Trinen, senior director of product marketing at Nintendo of America, told "Good Morning America" via email. "It's a game about comfort, warmth and the simple joys that can be discovered through interacting with nature and meeting friends."
The game itself follows your main character, a human, as it starts a brand-new life on a deserted island -- mirroring real-world time and seasonality -- with anthropomorphic animals as your neighbors, shop owners, museum operators and more. Beyond that, it's up to you to turn your new home into pretty much whatever you want.
Though this sounds like a solitary experience, it doesn't have to be. The game's online functionality allows you to either visit a friend's island or have that friend visit your island. There's also the chance to explore randomly generated islands.
"I think a lot of us are eager to feel connected now," Trinen said, noting how the game "encourages" people to experience it together and "fosters a sense of community."
All the stats indicate it has done exactly that, too. The game became the fastest-selling Switch title ever in Japan, selling 1.88 million physical copies in its first weekend, according to Forbes. It also, via Eurogamer, pulled off a similar feat in the U.K. (Sales figures for North America and overall digital sales weren't available at time of publication.)
Couple this with a resounding score of 91 from Metacritic -- as well as support from celebrities like Chrissy Teigen, Lil Nas X and Brie Larson -- and you have a certified hit.
Part of the joy in this adventure, though, is players' ability to showcase their individuality. Avatars can be customized, from simple things like highlighting one's fashion or design sense to more personal aspects like gender expression or even recreating birthmarks. One couple even staged a virtual wedding when their real-life wedding was canceled due to coronavirus concerns. This, Trinen explained, is because the game "was designed to give players the tools and choices they need to express themselves."
"It's inspiring to see fans embrace the game and find joy in building and sharing their new dream island lives," Trinen added. "Seeing all the heart and creativity players have poured into their islands has been an enriching experience for us [at Nintendo] as well."
It also appeals to a diverse demographic. This is a game for everyone -- men and women both young and old -- and delights all gamers, from casual to professional.
"Everyone's experience with 'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' can be unique," Trinen offered. "The game offers a rich level of depth and engagement, while remaining accessible to players looking for an approachable and stress-free island lifestyle."
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Another aspect of the game helping it take hold during the COVID-19 era is how it has proven to be an escape for players. Trinen called 'New Horizons' a "refreshing break" from the day-to-day reality and likened it to a "wonderful vacation." He even revealed two of his go-to activities to help him pass the time.
"One of my favorite things in 'Animal Crossing' is planting flowers to decorate the town and cross-pollinating flowers to get all the rare flowers, like black lilies or pink tulips. I plant rows of flowers along walkways, streams and cliffs, which really brightens up my island," Trinen gushed. "I also like collecting all of KK Slider's music, although that takes a little more time and dedication since he has so many songs across so many genres."
It's the simple pleasures like this in "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" that make Trinin sit back and reflect on why he joined the video game industry -- and, specifically, Nintendo -- in the first place: "It feels good to know you're making people smile."