Animal Crossing New Horizons Pearly Gates
Image: Nintendo Life

How many hours have you clocked up playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons?

A quick check of my profile page shows '185 hours or more' at the time of writing. For someone who routinely complains about not having enough hours in the day to play through epic RPGs--somebody who loves nothing better than a short, sweet and finite 3-to-5-hour game experience--I've managed to put a substantial amount of time into New Horizons.

185 hours averages out to over 90 minutes a day, every day since the game launched back in March. Obviously, much of that time was spent experimenting, gathering information and screenshots for guides, so the work benefit of dipping in every evening is probably a factor that kept me coming back. Plus, of course, lockdown.

I looked up my playtime after recently missing my daily visit for the first time since launch. I broke my streak reluctantly, but it was late and sheer bleary-eyed exhaustion overruled my desire to check for Jolly Redd's Treasure Trawler (now there's a Captain Toad sequel if ever I heard one!).

Once the seal was broken, it was easier to miss the next day, too, and the one after that. Wedding season took its toll on me and I wondered if my time with the game was up. I noticed similar sentiments cropping up online; a general creeping malaise punctuated by the odd moaner brushing up on 400 hours-played who is apparently unsatisfied with the game's value proposition.

While hateplaying the game into a triple-figure hourcount is something I don't believe anyone would do, the generally mixed reaction to the updates poses an interesting question. Some players appear to take the existence of rolling seasonal updates as a sign that the game isn't really 'finished' yet.

To a certain extent, they're not wrong. Compared to previous entries, which included all the annual events from the start, New Horizons isn't yet 'content-complete' in the same sense. Time travel to 31st October, for example, and at the time of writing there won't be a pumpkin or piece of candy in sight - that will be coming in a free update nearer the time.

Meting out events regularly throughout the year has several benefits for both Nintendo and non-time travellers. There's the fresh round of online interest from media and audience alike generated every month or two which keeps a sense of wonder and surprise around the game. From the developers' point of view, it also eases pressure by broadening the delivery timescale of event content - no need to crunch before launch to cram everything in on Day One. Being a more traditional player, I enjoy this slow-and-steady drip feed approach, although there are some downsides.

Animal Crossing Wedding Season
The ceremony dragged a bit. — Image: Nintendo Life

In general, Nintendo manages player expectations well--look at how it handles the announcements of incoming Direct presentations--but the word 'event' is very broad. It includes short, one-day events like Rover's May Day maze (for me, the best one so far), the two-week International Museum Day stamp rally, and the month-long Wedding season (which soured my enthusiasm after the first few days). Flagging these up via updates inevitably raises expectations that are ripe for the dashing.

I can sympathise with people who have felt underwhelmed, but Nintendo is hardly hocking some unfinished Early Access title on unsuspecting gamers. I could stop right now, never play it again, and New Horizons would comfortably remain my GOTY. The fact the game continues to evolve makes it all the more interesting, especially for a Nintendo title. The arrival of new bugs (in the Northern Hemisphere) and the wetsuit at the start of July brought me back into the fold. Gotta get those beetles and sea creatures.

Animal Crossing isn't like other games. You don't complete it, you don't beat it; you live it. That's the main reason I've managed to fit it into my life most days for the past few months. It becomes part of your routine. "Sorry, I know we've got to go out, but I've just got to pop into Twin Peaks to buy turnips." Those words came out of my mouth. Twice.

Animal Crossing New Horizons KK New Life
Image: Nintendo Life

The notion that New Horizons will finally be 'feature complete' come March 2021 feels absurd to me. Perhaps the majority feels differently, though. Maybe there'll be a wave of gamers finally picking it up after a year to get the 'full' game.

Obviously, I'm not suggesting players can't be critical of content--there are plenty of tweaks that could improve various aspects of the game--but I can't understand somebody putting dozens or hundreds of hours into something and then moaning about a lack of content, or that it feels unfinished. In pure economic terms, it's one of the 'best value' games I've ever played; we're not even six months in yet and there are plenty of event drops yet to come.

It seems to be a classic 'glass half empty/half full' situation, but the first six months of 2020 have given me my fill of negativity for the year. Do people really feel like they're getting an incomplete experience from New Horizons? Let us know your thoughts in the poll and comments section below.

Does the rollout of event content throughout the year make Animal Crossing: New Horizons feel like an incomplete experience?