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Animal Crossing’s big moment is magical and well-deserved

What a wild week it’s been. I’m not talking about the obvious – I’m fairly certain you didn’t come here to read about that – but more about the sweet phenomenon that’s gripped players around the world. All day and all night my WhatsApp has been buzzing with friends and family members asking so many questions. What fruit do you have? Can you throw a few iron nuggets my way? Can I pop over to your island to grab a few things? And who the hell is that creepy sheep dressed up as a clown wandering around your town square?

To call Animal Crossing: New Horizons a success would be something of an understatement. In Japan it’s established itself as the biggest Switch release yet, a mantle I’m sure it’ll soon take elsewhere too. Screw the sales, though – in terms of buzz, I can’t remember anything quite like it since Breath of the Wild. Current circumstances certainly play into that – this is escapism, pure and true – though Animal Crossing has been on an upwards ascent ever since its inception. That its moment has come now, when that escapism feels so vital, just makes it all the sweeter.

It’s a far cry from the early days when Animal Crossing was a strange secret here in the west. It took just under a year for the GameCube original – itself an expanded port of an N64 game – to come to America, but more painful was the two years it took after that for it to make its way to Europe. I remember first reading about it in Edge around the time of the US launch and the concept – a game that moves in step with every minute and month of the real world – lodged in my brain until it became an obsession. It wasn’t too much longer before a Freeloader turned up in the post along with a freshly-imported version of Animal Crossing and a brand new memory card that could play host to my village.

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