Animal Crossing – Welcome to Nostalgia!

Animal Crossing Box art

Released on:  September 16, 2002

Available Platforms: Nintendo GameCube

Price: Varies

Developed by: Nintendo Published by: Nintendo

Adolescence is an essential part of growing up. It is when a person starts forming their opinion on things and when they get a thin glimpse of the world’s oddities. In high school, we had a bingo rally where we would go door to door to sell bingo cards to people. Yours truly ended up selling so many cards that he won a prize for the most cards sold. This prize came in the form of one hundred dollars. Young Sergie used that
money (with the help of his mom) to buy a silver GameCube and the first GameCube game he owned: Animal Crossing.

I’ll never forget the afternoons I spent in the original Animal Crossing. Trying to pay off the loan to Tom Nook fishing, finding fossils, and hanging out with the villagers is something that always stuck with me. That is the reason why I still consider myself a fan of the Animal Crossing series, even today. Even though Animal Crossing: New Horizons made considerable strides in many aspects, it doesn’t quite capture the magic the original had. Today, we revisit the digital town where Sergie spent his adolescence. Is Animal Crossing worth visiting today?

Animal Crossing Title Screen

After conversing with the curious cat Rover (and answering questions that decide how the player looks and the town’s name), the player arrives at [insert town name). Not long after getting off the train, the player meets a business savvy tanuki (Japanese racoon dog) by the name of Tom Nook. He offers the player a house to set up their new life in (insert town name). The catch is the player has to repay Tom Nook for his generosity.
After a few chores (which acts as a tutorial), the player is free to do what they want in the quaint town of (insert town name).

If the introduction sounds familiar to those who’ve played the newer iterations of Animal Crossing, then they would be right. The opening and tutorial are a series staple that began with Animal Crossing. While the tutorial feels long for veterans of the series, it is ideal for new players to grasp where things are in their town and who lives there.

Animal Crossing working for Tom Nook
Tom Nook will have the player do some chores before they set out on their own.

While those used to New Horizons might find the graphics a little outdated, I love the aesthetic of Animal Crossing. Even though the player can’t change their hairstyle or pants, something about the visuals hits me in a unique way. I might chalk it up to nostalgia, but I find the simplistic visuals of Animal Crossing endearing.

Every now and then, I find myself going back to the soundtrack of Animal Crossing. The songs are simple compared to New Horizons, but that’s what makes them so memorable. The 6 P.M. theme will stay with me forever, and there are so many iconic songs from the game’s soundtrack that stuck with me even years after I first heard them in-game.

Animal Crossing is a “life simulator” (or life sim for short.) Daily tasks for the player include: helping the town flourish, aiding villagers with random favors, catching bugs, fish, digging up fossils, etc. While nothing new by today’s standards, the fact that stuff happened in the player’s town while the game is off was fascinating in Animal Crossing. The store would have hours of operation based on the system’s clock. If the player didn’t tend to their town for a few days, weeds would grow, and cockroaches would infest the player’s house.

I played life simulators before Animal Crossing, but I never experienced a game that closely followed the real-world clock. Playing the game that way made booting up the game after school exciting! Who would be out at this time? What could I find at the store today? Would the post office have the kind and lovely Pelly behind the desk or the hilariously grouchy Phillis telling me not to let the door hit me on the way out? Furthermore, sometimes it would be raining, which affects the availability of some fish and insects.

Animal Crossing over run with weeds
Yeah, It’s been a while since I visited my town…

To add to my previous point, the original Animal Crossing is the only one in the series that uses a grid-based map. This means that the number of trees per room dictates the town’s score. Having the player’s town score highly will unlock extraordinary items (like the Golden Shovel). The grid-based map also helped me locate many of the villager’s houses, which is helpful, especially at the beginning.

One thing I miss from the newer Animal Crossing games is villagers being mean at times. The fact that some townsfolk told the player off at points made the game hilarious. It gave the game more personality and made some exchanges so funny that I laugh at them even today. I will never forget the town snob telling me they got my letter and that it made their day, then showing a message from me calling them the worst thing ever.

Animal Crossing Mean villager
That’s okay Camofrog, you just need your morning coffee.

Animal Crossing had a brilliant way for players to send items to one another without even touching another player’s game. Tom Nook offered the option to associate a password to items players wanted to give to each other. The player would provide the passcode to their friend, to which they then told Tom Nook in their game. Tom would then give the second player their item. What’s super interesting about this password system is that a list of passwords still exists to get NES games as house decorations. Imagine that! The player’s house is filled with working versions of a whole bunch of Nintendo games!

Those trying out the original Animal Crossing for the first time after playing something newer (namely New Horizons) will notice a lot of missing features added in later iterations. Namely, the ability to place objects outside the player’s home, the multiple camera angles, the ability to change the player’s hair and pants, etc. While I love the quality of life improvements that the newer games added, the lack of those makes me feel more like another citizen of the town, making things feel more quaint.

The biggest gripe I have with the original Animal Crossing would be the fact that there are no modern consoles that can play the game (legitimately). The only way the player can try Animal Crossing out would be to either get a GameCube or a Wii that can play GameCube games and a copy of the game or emulate the game. One can set the player back a pretty penny, while the other is legally dubious.

Even though the game might be inconvenient to play today, I implore anyone who has a chance to try the classic Animal Crossing to do so. It is a quaint and charming game that will forever have a special place in my heart. It is a shame that there is no modern way beyond emulation to experience this gem that kickstarted a top-rated series, as it is worth exploring, even today.

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