I love the little things.
The secret spice that makes Animal Crossing: New Horizons sing like a rock and roll dog is its accumulation of tiny and thoughtful details. For me, it’s what keeps me coming back every day.
What follows is a highly scientific deep-dive into some of the sweetest small flourishes that make every day in our animal towns feel extra special.
1. Nook Aerobics
In past Animal Crossing games, my desire to socialize with animal Villagers ranged between disinterested obligation to axe-wielding disdain. But in New Horizons, I only dislike half of my town.
Like in Westworld before it, all of the NPCs are always up to something, and that makes me at least 20% less likely to dig a trench around their homes. Apple’s snapping selfies, Deli’s taking naps, Ankha’s idly singing K.K. Metal – they have a list of shenanigans, the best of which can be happened upon over in Resident Services. Pop in to face Isabelle’s fence-loving judgement and you’ll catch her and Tom up to some delightful silliness – dusting the table, doing tandem stretches, or golfing in the back.
This little touch is a big improvement on previous games and really makes each town and the little animal folk in it feel alive.
2. Fish Tank Features
Whenever I catch a new fish, I immediately hurl its tank to the ground for inspection.
From the delicate porcelain bowl of the goldfish to the majestic swimming enclosure of the oarfish, there are loving details to every fish’s home. But the best bit is when I flick the little light in each fishtank on and off.
Pro-tip: a coelacanth in its tank is one of the coolest light sources in the game.
3. The Able Sister’s Front Window (of Joy)
Every morning I scamper out my door and sprint to see what new hats and socks are at the famed Able Sisters tailor shop. But if I’d care to get a preview, I need look no further than their front window.
In another adorable little feature, a highlight from the day’s new clothes is showcased in the window’s display. If only I could bust it open with my shovel before 9am to get in there sooner. I’m a stalk market bellionaire, I’d pay for the repairs!
4. That Glorious Gramophone
K.K. Slider records are cool.
Sure, he’s the only musician in this entire animal world, but when you have the puppy dog chops to deliver high-quality variety that spans K.K. Reggae to K.K. Technopop, what more do your cute little ears need?
But where does a discerning island audiophile listen to these wonderful jams? As any Radio Shack clerk knows, not all sound systems are created equally.
In yet another turn of delightful detail, the sound quality of every radio source in New Horizons is unique. The cassette player is quietly distorted, the high-end stereo blasts pristine beats. Best of all is the gorgeous gramophone. Kick back and grab a coconut drink as you drop the needle to soak in the scratchy sounds of K.K. Etude. You won’t regret this moment alone.
5. Good Vibrations
The pavlovian thrill of catching a coelacanth in Animal Crossing: New Horizons borders on addiction. But I’m not here to judge, I’m here to catch more giant fish.
One of the finest subtle touches in New Horizons is tucked inside Nintendo’s much-lauded (and ever-drifting) Joycon. Each fish you hook sends its own faint vibration, and when you’ve got an oarfish or a coelacanth on the line, you know it. The real rumble kicks in, you get that fish on the hook, reel it on in, gulp down more endorphins, and scurry back to the ocean for just one more cast.
It’s raining, get out there.
6. The Pitter Patter of Little Feet
In an act of defiance to Kicks, I often run around my island with no shoes on. I hold nothing against the shoe peddler, I just wish he was Redd.
But no matter what footwear you’ve decided to slip on (or off), they all sound a little different. It’s not just the shoe, it’s also the surface that you’re scampering across. From the sweet little squish in the mud to the satisfying clop and squeak-turn as you tear across museum floor, each set of footsteps sings its own sweet song.
7. The Butterfly Room
We need to talk about how awesome the museum is. I know the load times are long, and I don’t want to hear it.
The level of detail put into each exhibit in The New Horizons Museum deserves its own little trophy given to the army of inevitably equally adorable designers who made this magic game happen.
The sweet pathway that guides you through the dinosaur exhibit, the stunning multi-level fishtanks and the little windows you can peer through to drink them in, the super-science backroom in the insect wing. The tiny vents and security panels and infinite other little touches. There are too many to call out.
There is no feature in Animal Crossing that has been given a greater upgrade than the museum, full stop. And the greatest little room of all is the butterfly room. Suck up those load times, head to that fountain in the west wing, and sit, surrounded by a rainbow of flapping glory. I defy you not to feel better about the world.
8. Rice Cooker 4-Eva
I purchase, gather, steal, and beg for any item I can get. Do you have an extra yellow vacuum? Send it to me. I need to see what kind of quirky feature each and every object might have when I stand in front of it and press the A-button.
Not every little thing in the game delivers a useless and satisfying secondary animation or sound, but when they do, I shout, “Hooray!” and do a dance.
The TVs have all these different shows! The lawn mower revs up! The horsey bounces, the trike squeaks and pedals, and the creepy bamboo thingy summons a ghostly head. And for some reason, none of these detailed interactions amuse me more than the little rice cooker.
Press A, watch the little lid pop open, and stand clear of the little puff of smoke. Delightful.
9. Blathers Still Hates Bugs. So Much.
“And though bugs are the bane of my existence, rest assured the wretched thing will get the best of care here.”
Much like in life, many of my adorable animal friends have a tendency to talk too much, regardless of whether or not I’ve heard what they have to say several hundred times. But it should be noted, quite a few of these un-skippable screeds aren’t just a series of questionable puns.
Veteran players of Animal Crossing know that Blathers hates bugs. But in New Horizons, Blathers’s capacity to go on and on with disdain about the insect world has reached new heights. While his initial volley of repeated preamble is enough to make anyone want to run from the museum, I implore you to stick around or you might miss his deepest disgust.
“As if this weren’t odious enough, look closely and you will find these antenna…are covered in tufts of hair!” Please, torture him with bugs.
10. The Jet Streams Above
It delights me to visit my friends’ islands. Sure, there’s the glory of cashing in on a good turnip price, or the joy in devouring still more socks at a whole other Able Sisters store. But for me, there’s more to it.
I say this with neither pride nor shame – I’m more than 200 hours into Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I know the rivers and trees of my island better than the layout of my Brooklyn apartment (that I never leave). To explore someone else’s well-trodden Animal Crossing isle is to walk in their shoes (or lack thereof).
I love to mark how they turned a path, set up a maze, set aside a field of flowers. All of it tickles atrophied muscles of affirmation, empathy, and togetherness. It’s the reminder that I need right now, that we’re all on this island together.
And when I return to my island home, I look up to the sky to see one of the greatest reminders of all: jet streams up above to show that a plane has flown on by.
We are not alone. A very nice detail, indeed.
In a time of crisis, we take comfort in the small things. Animal Crossing is bursting with comfort.
From the nighttime-only owls on the bulletin board to the shadows that each passing cloud casts; from rain dripping off the trees after a downpour to each and every K.K. Slider album cover – the sum of these cute parts is what makes Animal Crossing shine.
If my Switch will bear it, I’ll return to this comfort for 200 more hours.
I love the little things, and I love Animal Crossing.
What are your favorite details? Let us know in the comments!
All images were taken from the author’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Monster Island, with permission from Tom Nook and Leigh (who lives on Monster Island with me and we have fun)