Today marks the eighteenth anniversary of Animal Crossing. Animal Crossing became an instant fan favourite on its April 14, 2001 release for a plethora of reasons, and today I’ll be looking at some of these reasons as well as how their impact reaches far beyond the games themselves.
The first thing that stands out when you load up an Animal Crossing game is its bright colour scheme, inviting tone and enchanting music, and this is one of the reasons it changed gaming. You might argue that these are just traits of every game of all ages, which is true to a degree, but the way Animal Crossing forms its every idea around that of positivity was something largely unprecedented at the time. Games like Mario and Ape Escape had whimsical and happy exteriors, including positive messages, but they did have darker moments too – grimmer levels, one or two twists that set back the character, etc. Animal Crossing has none of that. Sure, there’s the occasional citizen that isn’t as friendly and you do have to stay on top of a few things, but you’re never at inherent risk at any point, something that was unheard of at the time. This is exemplified by the prominence of serious, broody games that were emerging in the noughties, so Animal Crossing carving out the happier niche was a notable and important contrast.
This was game changing in and of itself, but what pushes the impact of this further is the impact this style would have on the industry. Numerous notable games were either indirectly or clearly inspired by Animal Crossing, including Stardew Valley, many of the Harvest Moon games and even Grand Theft Auto V, which inherited the “game continues while you’re away” idea that Animal Crossing popularised. It also popularised the idea of “time travelling” – manually moving the game console’s clock ahead for the sake of advancing the in-game clock that is tied to it (for the sake of getting time based rewards quicker).
Furthermore, it pioneered the concept of social centric games on game consoles. While numerous chat room games have existed on computers over the years (e.g. Habbo Hotel), they’ve always been 1) on a PC and 2) reliant on Internet connection. Animal Crossing changed this because, through its ability to connect with friends to visit their world in DS entry Wild World, it created a social game beyond the confines of a computer (not that that’s a bad thing of course, pC mAsTeRrAcE, etc.), and while many console multiplayer games existed, the social aspect was always an addition to the core gameplay rather than the crux.
Lastly, it helped cement Nintendo as an all time great game company. Although this was made obvious by the likes of Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong, Nintendo hadn’t had a big original IP on the scale of them for years by 2001 (smaller IPs like Pikmin and series like Smash Bros. built out of the synergy of existing IPs, sure, but no huge, completely original ones for a while), so Animal Crossing coming along and becoming the smash hit it was assured that they were still on the ball.
Overall, Animal Crossing has had an incredible impact on the gaming industry and the consumers apart of it, and with the latest Switch entry confirmed for this year, the series is likely to continue for years to come, something I very much welcome given the hours upon hours of fun I’ve had with this franchise.
What are your thoughts on the Animal Crossing series? Is there any other impacts the series has had that I missed? Let me know all this and more in the comments or via my Twitter profile @JoshBSocial.