Animal Crossing: New Horizons can’t arrive soon enough. Each day that passes is another day closer to gloriously frittering our hours fishing, decorating, and paying off debts to a raccoon named Tom. And sure, anticipation is its own fine fruit to pluck, but what’s a would-be Villager to do when the wait becomes worse than counting the hours until Toy Day comes?
Not to worry, intrepid forest folk. We here at Goomba Stomp’s Animal Crossing Headquarters (ACH) have prepared a Citizen’s Guide Of Games To Play While You Wait But Can’t Wait For The New Animal Crossing. In the form of that venerable internet vehicle: a numbered list! Grab your shovel and your finest kicks from Kicks, we’ve got you taken care of like Isabelle takes care of business. Which is to say extremely well. Have you even met Isabelle?!?
5. Untitled Goose Game
For The Villager Who Loves To Hate Their Neighbors
Every self-respecting Villager has dug a moat around a neighbor they don’t like. In Untitled Goose Game, you get to mess with all of your neighbors all of the time. It’s your job! You are a goose, and you need to wreck people’s yards and lives. And despite the constant honking (or perhaps because of it?), it ends up a relaxing experience, too.
Outside of the inherent joy of neighborly torment, the total package that is Untitled Goose Game is, somehow, weirdly tranquil. It’s set in a gloriously pastoral British burough, beautifully realized, with an evocative and simple piano score that makes you feel like Mister Rogers is somewhere nearby, smiling. And sure, there are tasks at hand, but you can also just wander around, honk at stuff, and drag food into lakes. Like in real life.
It’s the deepest cut and oddest stretch on this list, but there’s something here that does pull from the same radiant pool of sedative gameplay as Animal Crossing. And even if you don’t see it, have faith: honking, flapping, and making nerds fall over never gets old.
Animal Crossing Extreme Edition
If your favorite feature of Animal Crossing is to make yourself maximally efficient at paying off piles of bells, Forager might become your next hardcore eye-watering obsession. But play it at your own risk.
In Forager, you are a wacky little creature who lives on and maintains a semi-procedurally-generated island. Your job is to collect resources and treasures and to build more and more structures. Isn’t this all sounding deliciously familiar?
You can immediately see that Forager looks very different from Animal Crossing, sporting a charmingly-grotesque pseudo 16-bit-throwback look. Aside from its unique visual style, there’s more than a lack of unmitigated cute that sets Forager apart. In direct opposition to island relaxation, Forager’s systems are unforgiving and relentless by design. There is never a wasted moment between crafting towards your next goal. Everything you do is dedicated to progression, and this can prove either gratifying or overwhelming, a reaction that depends on your disposition. That said, there are many fine and fun wonders to behold in this strange little management game. The systems that are in place can prove very satisfying if this style of semi-masochistic gameplay brings you joy.
If your reason for docking on Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ deserted island is to chill, Forager may not be your alternate island of choice. But if you’re the type who maxes out their beetle catching in order to expand their home at all costs, get on board because Forager will deliver what you need in spades.
3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
For The Fan Of Neighborly Fetch Quests and Daily Routines
When most think of Fire Emblem, the first thing they imagine isn’t generally day-to-day task management in the forest. While the newest entry in the series is largely about hard-core turned-based strategy, there’s a whole other half of this game where the Animal Crossing thirst can be quenched.
An enormous chunk of the gameplay in Fire Emblem: Three Houses is spent between the giant strategy battles. In these long interstitial spaces, you serve as a mysterious new teacher in a Hogwarts-like castle for aspiring battlers and must build relationships with students. Relationship-building activities include gardening, chatting, and lots of delightful lunches. Even the pointless fishing mini-game is great (and doesn’t that sound familiar?).
While the intense and strategic battles that punctuate each chapter in this soap opera-like quest are a far pole vault from the laid-back breezes of the Animal Crossing series, the routines in-between truly do echo some of the sweetest moments of Animal life.
2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Both Breath of the Wild and Animal Crossing: New Horizons deliver on the greatest of all video game promises: freedom. Go where you want and do what you want in whatever way and pace you see fit.
Outside of this broad comparison, there are smaller common threads; notably, playing dress-up. If much of your time in Animal Crossing is spent admiring the latest fashion trends that the Able Sisters have on offer, you might get your kicks seeking out the long list of high fashion armors in Hyrule. And if customizing is your passion, head to Hateno Village’s Kochi Dye Shop to stay on trend while battling bokoblins.
And while you’re in Hateno, you can pop by yet another joyful parallel to Animal Crossing life: your own little house! Sure, it isn’t nearly as customizable as yours will be on your island resort (we’re ready, BotW sequel!), but getting your own little abode in BotW is a pure fun nonetheless. Where else will you hang your many flame swords?
Breath of the Wild is widely regarded as the greatest game of a generation, and is itself reason enough to pick it back up any time. But when you dig deeper into the rolling fields of Hyrule, there are more than a few passing similarities in what makes both of these flagship Nintendo series so sublime.
1. Stardew Valley
Animal Crossing Meets Harvest Moon, Hooray!
This one is a gimme. Stardew Valley is a little life sim where you live in a village, farm, fish, forage, and dig. It’s shameless about its Animal Crossing influences, but it truly grows into its own wonderful game that becomes second only to the source material in this strange sub-genre of “relaxing life sim.”
There is much that separates Stardew from life as an adorable animal. The biggest difference is that, unlike Animal Crossing’s real-time day-to-day clock, Stardew take place in set increments–each day is about fifteen minutes of gameplay. So if you’re of a mind to grind and keep getting things done, the Valley is yours to farm and dig up.
While still quite relaxing, your tasks are, in general, more demanding. Crops must be tended to, and livestock must be petted, fed, and given silly names. Relationships must be maintained and grown (or cast aside with aplomb). And while it may be controversial to say so, once mastered, it offers a superior fishing mini-game. There are even caves to spelunk and blobs to slash.
Many of the differences between the two series are due to Stardew also pulling from another juggernaut of life sims, the Harvest Moon franchise. But here Stardew Valley improves upon its source by adding fun twists of magical realism and long-running and well-constructed character arcs for neighbors and friends.
Stardew has been such a success that it is likely that, in the circle of glorious video game evolution, it will have an impact on the design of the newest Animal Crossing entry. And that’s no bad thing; there’s room enough in this world for two gloriously relaxing life sims.
Stardew Valley is a wonderful game in its own right, owing much to Animal Crossing as a source while having a wonderful voice of its own. If you’ve found your way to this list and not found your way to that game yet, stop reading and get downloading. It’s time to farm.
No More Bad Times
To be sure, there are still more contenders. What are yours? Let us know in the comments!
And to be even more sure, none can truly hold us over until we collectively land on the shore of our new deserted paradise. But while we wait, bask in the warmth of contentment knowing that there are many fine games to play each and every day. And if you can’t take the wait any longer, just remember what a wise cat named Katrina once said: “Bad times… are just times that are bad.”