New Horizons was my first Animal Crossing experience, and boy, it was a great one—and perfect timing too. I know I’m in good company when it comes to the people who bought their first Switch and their first Animal Crossing game during the pandemic, though of course there are the veterans for whom this was just another addition to their Animal Crossing library too. I am so thankful for the game, and I've spent… far too many hours on it, for sure.
But eventually, it started to get to me. I wanted to move things around on my island, but it took so long. (I resolved to not use time travel.) It was also expensive. And overwhelming. So I put it down for a few days. And when I came back, I felt guilty. My villagers were disappointed and hurt that I’d left them. (Digitized, personified animals shouldn’t have such a hold over me, but darn it, they do.) So I put it down again for even longer. And when I came back again, it was worse. Not to mention the weeds, the cockroaches, and the feeling of missing out. There were new bugs! New fish! DIYs I needed to find! How the heck do you build a snowman? So I put it down again, and I didn’t pick it back up. Every time I thought I might, I imagined the tedium of getting everything back in order, of hearing how my villagers had feared I didn’t like them anymore, navigating the new events that had already mostly passed, and trying to catch up on the things I had missed out on.
I’m not the only one who was experiencing ACNH fatigue by the time winter rolled around. Most of my friends who got the game around the same time I did had slowly started drifting away from their islands as well. Some of us got busy again, while others had new games taking up their time. I had at least one friend who felt the same as I did, though—overwhelmed with redoing the things she wanted to change now that she understood how the game worked—and to deal with it, she did the unbelievable (at least to me at the time): She started over. Lost were all her hard-won DIYs! Erased were the furniture collections she’d worked so hard to curate! Forgotten were the villagers she’d grown to know and love! It seemed unthinkable, and yet… so very wonderful.
A clean slate. A fresh start. A redo where I actually know what the heck I’m doing this time around. Was it worth it? I figured I wasn’t interested in playing as things stood, so if I wasn’t going to play anyway, then what’s the real loss if I start over and, well, maybe still didn’t play? Does it matter whether my Switch has a bunch of houses and decorations stored on it that I never go visit or if it has a bare island I never go visit? Not really, so I figured I didn’t really have much to lose.
So I did it. And, stupid as it may sound, it was a little scary and a little sad.
But also, it was great.
Animal Crossing veterans will probably roll their eyes at this, but wow, the game goes so much faster when you know what the heck you’re doing! Yes, there are things you have to wait for, as they’re dependent on the real-life passing of time (I still don’t want to time travel—no shade to those who do, though), but wow, understanding what is going on from the outset really sets things into motion. I know I am going to be adding more buildings later and so I know to place things appropriately. I know what things in the Nook Stop should buy as soon as I see them because I’ll want it later (even if I don’t have a use for them now). I know I don’t have to invite every animal I meet on a mystery island to come back and join my neighborhood. I know how to lay out my houses so I have room to decorate around them, and I know I don’t have to stress too much about the placement of rivers and cliffs because terraforming will come soon.
Let me tell you something. It’s a totally different experience.
Animal Crossing turned 20 this year, and for any of you reading for whom New Horizons wasn’t your first rodeo, I get it—you are probably laughing right now. But think back to that very first game, whichever yours was, and what you didn’t know at the time and the snags and frustrations those things caused you. No matter what you’re playing, it’s really a whole new game when you, well, actually understand the game.
So if you’re new to the franchise like me and haven’t opened Animal Crossing in a while, a reset might be exactly what you need if you’d like to revisit that feeling you had last year when Tom Nook was a new acquaintance and you hadn’t even heard of sea diving yet. It seems counterintuitive that letting go of all your hard work and careful planning might make for a better gaming experience, but let me tell you something: it makes all the difference.
Have you started over, or are you still going strong? What has your Animal Crossing pandemic experience been like?
By the way, if I've convinced you to take the plunge and you want to know how to start over, here are the steps:
Select System Settings from the Switch home menu.
Open Data Management.
Scroll down to the Delete Save Data option at the bottom.
Select Animal Crossing: New Horizons Save Data and confirm.
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