Power on. A flood of euphoria and blissful reminiscence, dating back to third grade, hit me, comforting the soul in ways previously forgotten. This is Animal Crossing, a virtual world with a pull unlike any other. 

It’s a game series so zen-inducing that it’s often difficult to return to reality after indulging. With a cute and light-hearted aesthetic that feels too perfect, in-game troubles melt away as quickly as they appear.

What’s all the hype about? If you know, you know. If you don’t, stop everything (except for reading this article; finish this, first) and hit your Nintendo Switch’s eShop to download the closest thing to nirvana this world has to offer.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the fifth and latest installment in the Animal Crossing series, takes your villager to the faraway, deserted island of [insert island name of your choosing] via Dodo Airlines with business-raccoon Tom Nook, two younger raccoons named Timmy and Tommy (relation to Tom is unclear), and two randomly generated companions. 

My companions happened to be a nature-basking hen named Plucky and a workout-obsessed penguin named Iggly. Both have been formidable island-mates who trusted me enough from first glance to choose the location of their tents on the island. What a power trip.

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Like previous installments, bug-catching, fossil-digging and fishing remain the primary leisure and money-making activities. While you can sell your catches, it is encouraged to donate new species to the island museum; duplicate findings can be flipped for Bells, the local currency, earning more depending on the rarity of the animal.

As his name suggests, Blathers the owl is the eclectic chatterbox who is in charge of curating the museum. If you’re in the mood, he’ll give background on the animal you bring him to assess. Even if you choose the “I’m fine” option, he’ll still give you a mouthful; press B or R to fast-forward through his ramblings.

One of the most gratifying and calming aspects of the game is the freedom it grants the player. Pacing, choice of activity and amount of time sunk into the game are all up to you.

Whether you spend five minutes or five hours indulging, there are perks to logging daily playtime. You earn bonus Nook Miles for each consecutive day you use the ATM-like service in Nook’s tent-turned-shop, which is run by that business-savvy family of raccoons.

Aside from the expected graphic and animation improvements since the last release, the most prominent game update roots New Horizons firmly in 2020 and beyond. 

NookPhone, the most revolutionary update yet, is a portal filled with apps that track your Nook Miles, holds recipes to craft tools and chat seamlessly with friends nationwide (or six feet away, in these precautionary times).

Traveling and connecting with friends is now more exotic than ever. What was once a cab ride with a bizarre turtle taxi driver named Kapp’n is now a quick island-hopping flight on a seaplane organized by a dodo bird named Orville. 

Today, two friends and I visited our third friend’s home base in St. Corona, an aptly and oh-so-tastefully-named island. The perks of inter-island travel are the ability to acquire exotic fruits and essential resources that may be sparse on your own island.

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Each island has a native fruit tree; I have apples, one of my friends has pears and the other has cherries. Through a vast trade network, I now also have peaches and coconuts. It really does pay to travel.

Already the fastest-selling single Nintendo Switch game in the United Kingdom, Animal Crossing: New Horizons appeals to an incredibly diverse age demographic, ranging from grade school kids on their first go-round to 20-somethings who’ve played through every installment and crave that heartwarming sense of nostalgia.

As a whole, the Animal Crossing series is a spa day. It’s about you doing things for you on your own time in the most stress-relieving way imaginable. Without missing a beat, New Horizons brings that same comfortable aura that Animal Crossing brought to the world nearly 20 years ago with its debut on Nintendo 64 and GameCube.

If relaxation doesn’t get old, neither will Animal Crossing. Cheers to old friends and New Horizons.

Rating: 4 Shells