In October 2021, Nintendo announced they would be releasing the final major free content update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH). This news and the subsequent hype brought in an influx of new players – including me!
In spring 2020, I didn’t own a Switch. As such, I completely missed the madness that surrounded ACNH’s original release. As time went on and I finally got the console, I didn’t feel too drawn in by the game as most of my friends who were in on the original hype had long since abandoned their islands.
In spite of not knowing many players, however, I was not safe from the excitement surrounding update 2.0! It seemed every Tweet, TikTok and YouTube recommended video revolved around it, and having recently finished Breath of the Wild, and looking for a new game, I thought “What they hey? I’ll give it a go.” And my islander journey began…!
I was off to a clunky start and quickly felt a bit lost. I don’t have much experience with simulation games so wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to focus on. I was in need of some guidance, and bummed that I’d missed the excitement surrounding the game’s original release, so I started searching for something to help me online.
… Which led me to Haken!
Haken: An Animal Crossing Podcast is a weekly podcast that talks all things Animal Crossing. It’s been going since 2017 (over two years before the release of ACNH!) and the hosts are enthusiastic fans of the overall series.
There’s no need to go back to the very beginning of the podcast however; I started listening from Episode 123, entitled “Our First Weekend with Animal Crossing New Horizons”. This way, I felt like I was experiencing the game with others for the first time, together – especially as I tend to listen to the podcast whilst I’m playing ACNH myself. It’s been a great way to keep myself motivated and excited to play when I don’t have many friends who do.
(Of course, given the nature of ACNH’s update system, some of the content I’ve listened to has been out of date – for example, listening to them mourn the absence of gyroids, which have now been introduced in update 2.0. This however hasn’t impacted my enjoyment of the podcast.)
Of course, you don’t have to start listening at the same place I did – Episode 206 is entitled “How to Prepare for New Horizons 2.0 Update” so this could be a good starting point for some listeners. Or, as each title is related to the episode’s content, you could simply scroll until you find one that especially intrigues you. Alternatively, as ACNH is a unique game where holidays come and go and seasons change, you may prefer starting at the most recent episode, as you’ll be listening to them discuss what’s happening on ACNH now.
The great thing about this podcast is that in spite of the three hosts – Chuy, Sergio and Nina – being veteran players, they are well aware that their audience has varying degrees of Animal Crossing knowledge. As such, they’re generous when sharing nifty tips and tricks, and when they mention functions from previous games, they take care to properly explain them, so you never feel lost in the conversation.
Much like the game itself, the podcast has a focus on community. For starters, the artwork changes every month, each time drawn by a different artist (the backlog of which can be found on Chuy’s Instagram feed). Each episode also includes a section called “Haken’s Islander Corner”: every month, Chuy asks his Patreon followers a question, and then the hosts discuss the responses and give their own views. Finally, each episode ends with an invitation to join the official Haken Discord chat. All this gives a warm feeling of online community.
My experience on the Discord chat has also been good – I’m not a big Discord user and it’s the first server I’ve joined, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Fortunately, there are a couple explanatory pages to help you get started and when I’ve asked questions in the #general chat, the responses I’ve received have been kind and helpful.
When it comes to the hosts themselves, they create a warm and cozy atmosphere which fits the podcast’s subject matter. It’s no wonder that when you scroll through the reviews, words like “delightful”, “cozy”, “charming”, “calming” and “mellow” come up again and again.
This is especially positive as ACNH has a bit of a reputation for the grind, and has been criticised for inadvertently stirring up insecurity and jealousy in the community due to players’ differing levels of island “completeness” (this was something that had initially turned me off of the game). During the game’s peak, as more and more elaborate designs were shared over social media, many users were left feeling like their own islands were inadequate – this feeling was so widespread that Polygon even wrote about it. Take also this extract from a Destructoid article, where the author talks about their experience with the game when it first came out:
Part of the problem is that I go online and see the most incredible things that other people have created. Whether it’s a cozy-looking bookshop, or a full recreation of Hogwarts, or just the most stylish, Pinterest-worthy five-star island I’ve ever seen, I find it all so intimidating. I want more than anything to look at these builds, admire them, and take inspiration for my own island, but instead all I feel is this overwhelming jealousy that I couldn’t do that myself.Warner, N. (2021). I’m jealous of your Animal Crossing Island. Destructoid. Available at: https://www.destructoid.com/im-jealous-of-your-animal-crossing-island/.
Alongside seeing 5 star islands tweeted about online, the game has a “Dream Suite” that allows you to visit players’ 5 star islands. Seeing these islands can, on the one hand, inspire, but on the other hand, can leave you feeling self-conscious.
Haken was airing when all this insecurity was at its height, and the hosts actively discourage players from being too competitive, for the sake of players preserving their own enjoyment. I have heard them in multiple episodes reassure their listeners that each player has their own play style, that some people have more free time than others that they can invest in the game (and so it’s natural that these players have managed to progress further, faster), and that you shouldn’t get too caught up in comparing your island to anyone else’s. Being late to the game myself, I’ve found this advice comforting and allowed me to experience happier gameplay.
Chuy, Sergio and Nina are very positive voices of reason in the community and, in my experience, help keep you grounded. Their enthusiasm for the game and its predecessors is infectious, and even when they criticise game features, they do so with kindness and respect, and take the time to discuss their arguments in full.
So – if you’re like me and missed out on the original ACNH craze of spring 2020 and want to ignite some of that magic – this is the podcast for you!