Today, April 14th, marks 19 years since the first Animal Crossing game was released on the Nintendo 64 in Japan as Dōbutsu no Mori (Animal Forest) back in 2001. 

To celebrate almost two decades of one of Nintendo’s most unique and evergreen series, the team at ACPocketNews wants to revisit the game’s history and see how far it has come since 2001.

Animal Crossing (2001)

The original Animal Crossing game originally released in Japan in 2001 for the Nintendo 64 but was soon after released again with improvements on the GameCube in the same year. This version wasn’t actually available in North America and Europe until as late as 2002 and 2004 respectively but introduced a ton of interesting characters who remained series regulars such as Kapp’n and the Able Sisters.

Series creator Katsuya Eguchi has been quoted as saying the key themes of Animal Crossing are family, friendship and community, and that he wanted to investigate these during a time of loneliness and unfamiliarity. This feels eerily similar to the current situation of COVID-19, with Animal Crossing: New Horizons creating the same sense of friendship and community Eguchi speaks of all those years ago during today’s difficult time.

Animal Crossing: Wild World (2005)

With the first game in the series achieving global success, Animal Crossing returned bigger and better with the launch of Wild World in 2005. Launching on the Nintendo DS, this marked the series’ first foray into handheld gaming (where it would eventually become the preferred way to play for many players) and allowed fans to fit their town in their pocket and take it on the go. 

Many features of the Nintendo DS (which is still considered innovative by today’s standards) allowed for a more interactive experience with your town and villagers; the touchscreen allowed for better inventory management and pattern design, the microphone could be used to shout out for your villagers to find out where they are and the communication capabilities meant you could visit local and non-local friends’ towns too!

Animal Crossing: City Folk (2008)

The release of City Folk (or Let’s Go to the City in Europe) saw the series return to home consoles on the Nintendo Wii, one of the best selling video games consoles of all time. As suggested in the title, this game allowed players to venture beyond their town for the first time and access an exciting shopping area where you could buy clothes, get your hair done and talk to special NPCs not available in your town.

This entry in the series also took in-game communication with friends to a whole new level, leveraging the Wii Speak device to voice chat with friends! 

Although this iteration in the series has been criticized for being too similar to Wild World, the city ended up becoming an important concept in the series, likely becoming the inspiration for Main Street in New Leaf.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf (2013)

Animal Crossing: New Leaf marked the series’ return to handheld consoles when it launched on the Nintendo 3DS back in 2013.

This entry shook up the series formula by allowing the player to assume the role of the mayor of a new town (and all the benefits and drawbacks that come with the job!) This gave players an unprecedented level of control over the town and allowed for the implementation of town ordinances and public works projects. This was a big deal at the time if your first experience of the series is New Horizons and you’ve got used to the Island Designer App already!

New Leaf also introduced a tropical island which likely inspired New Horizons as we know it today. In this entry, however, you couldn’t live on the island but it offered an exciting solo and multiplayer opportunity to head on a vacation, catch some rare fish and bugs, snag some exclusive furniture and rare fruit as well as participate in exciting minigames for prizes.

The connectivity enabled by the Nintendo 3DS also allowed for new forms of in-game communication, with Streetpass even allowing passive communication between consoles in sleep mode.

The Welcome Amiibo update added additional functionality to the game in 2016, introducing features to take advantage of Nintendo’s (at the time) new series of NFC-enabled figurines. This update included the campsite, which would go on to become an important feature in Pocket Camp and New Horizons.

The Spin-Offs

The Animal Crossing franchise saw a series of spin-off titles launched in 2015. Fan reception to these has been mixed, to say the least, and whether the games are inherently bad or were just disappointing because they aren’t mainline games continues to be debated. 

Happy Home Designer took the exciting gameplay feature of having your interior decor evaluated for prizes and released it as a spin-off for Nintendo 3DS in 2015. This is the first entry in the series to break away from the traditional Animal Crossing formula; instead of being part of a bustling community as in other games, players of Happy Home Designer are tasked with designing and building homes for clients.

Animal Crossing: amibo Festival is undoubtedly the worst-received entry in the series and marked the first HD game in the series when it launched on the Nintendo Wii U in 2015. This party game has been criticized for being nothing more than a vehicle to sell more units of amiibo and consequently, wasn’t a huge seller. However, the game does exist and it’s important to acknowledge both the highs and the lows of the series in order to appreciate it for what it has become today! 

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Opinions toward mobile gaming, microtransactions and whether Nintendo should be engaging with these continues to be mixed, but Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp launched as a free-to-play title on mobile in 2017.

A mobile game was definitely not what fans wanted at the time, particularly after the spin-offs of 2015, but Pocket Camp began to move the series back towards its traditional formula which was welcomed by players. Stripping the gameplay back to be able to be controlled solely by a touch screen, this entry in the Animal Crossing series had players living in a campsite amongst villagers who you can build relationships with.

One of the key mechanics in Pocket Camp is the gathering of natural resources, such as wood and cotton, to trade for furniture items. This marked the first time furniture couldn’t just be bought in the series; a concept that becomes a core to the gameplay of Animal Crossing: New Horizons in its crafting system.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020)

And here we are at the present day with New Horizons, launching just under 19 years since the original title. This is undoubtedly the biggest Animal Crossing yet, introducing an unprecedented level of customization options for your villager, home, and even the island itself.

If you’re reading this, I imagine you’re more than familiar with the story of New Horizons but just in case: in this entry, our favorite tycoon raccoon Tom Nook has expanded his business endeavors to an Island Getaway package where you can set up shop on an uninhabited island and build a bustling community from the ground up.

Arguably the most important shake-ups to the traditional formula in this game are the crafting system and terraforming. The crafting system allows you to harvest the natural resources of your island and use them to craft a huge range of furniture and other items to really personalize your island. This has become so integral to the gameplay of New Horizons and feels so at-home in the series that it’s almost hard to believe we went 19 years without it! This entry in the series also introduced being able to place items outside, not just in your house, allowing for complete customization of your island so it feels personalized and unique.

And if placing furniture outside wasn’t enough to live up to your creative vision for your island, New Horizons introduces terraforming in the form of the Island Designer app which allows the player to move cliffs and rivers! This unparalleled level of control over your island allows for complete customization of your island’s landscape and terrain meaning that you can make it look exactly how you want it. Want to have a home hidden in the mountains? Fine, build some cliffs and put down some inclines! Want to place a building in a space that the river runs through? Fine, landscape the river to move around the building plot. With the Island Designer App, there is truly no limit to how much you can personalize your island and has made customization (an important concept in every entry to the series) more exciting than ever. 

Concluding Thoughts

A lot has changed in Animal Crossing over the last 19 years. Every new entry to the series adds exciting features and mechanics that keeps Animal Crossing refreshing while simultaneously retaining what keeps it comfortably familiar. The use of a real-time clock throughout all entries in the series is an excitingly unique mechanic that somehow (sorry for the pun) never gets old. In what might be the most relaxing series of video games in the world, there have been so many bugs and fish to catch, villagers to befriend and events to participate in over the last 19 years. As the series continues to evolve, I look forward to what comes next for the series in New Horizons and beyond!

Let us know what was your first introduction to Animal Crossing in the comments below!

For all things Animal Crossing, stay tuned to ACPocketNews!

0 0 vote
Article Rating
Chloe Fathers

Chloe Fathers


Chloe is a student, writer, cat lover and avid Animal Crossing fan since Wild World. Debate her on the best K.K. song in the series (Spoiler: it’s K.K. Disco).

Sign up to our newsletter

Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Danell Morey

I started playing Animal Crossing on the GameCube. It was so fun to collect all the bugs, fossils and fish. The seasonal events were a blast! I missed New Leaf as I never got a 3DS. So I’m super psyched to be playing it again on the Switch! This game is the reason I bought one. I’m truly enjoying it and can’t wait to see what each new month and season bring. Thanks for the recap!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x