It’s been some time since I’ve done one of these “personal predicament” posts. Typically, these are things that I experience in my day-to-day life revolving things that interest me, that which confounds me or seem interesting enough to think upon. The “art” of critique and critical thinking is something that floods my mind often, and recently, Animal Crossing has been the primary subject. This will not be a full-on review of New Horizons (though I do have one), nor will it be a dissertation on why the original game is so much better. This will cover something I’ve felt a common occurrence in games from then and now, which has affected the way I approach and appreciate titles: speed.
No, Sonic the Hedgehog will not be mentioned here (though it could).
A few weeks into playing New Horizons daily, I got nostalgic and curious—a dangerous combination. I booted up and started a file on the original Animal Crossing for the first time since 2017, according to the save data. This was prior to the point where I felt I made a significant turn in my life by leaving my dead-end job and going back to college, transforming into the happy-feel-y boy I am today. As such, it’s hard for me to take my opinion of the game from then (not that I really recall much) all too seriously. At the same time, I have a lot of nostalgia for Animal Crossing, it being among the many Gamecube titles I owned between the early and mid-2000’s.
Going from New Horizons to the original, I realized that the latter is much faster. Not in terms of progression (much slower in that regard), but in performance, in-game movement, and a distinct lack of polish. The original moves at a frequent 60 FPS, where New Horizons is well under that; load times (sans saving the game) span between 1-3 seconds, where just booting up New Horizons can last up to nearly a minute. A faster in-game moving speed makes travel a breeze, where the latest entry feels slightly stifled by the framerate and subtle transition animations. Many of these speed differences may end up equaling out in terms of what one can do in these games, but the original at least provides immediate feedback, feeling as though the player is doing more (albeit with less).
One may argue that such differences are a result of the hardware and the amount of content the new games have in comparison to the original, and I would agree. However, I would also argue that the minimalistic approach, especially with these slice-of-life simulators, make for better tranquil entertainment. New Horizons has tons of expository dialogue, instructing the player to ensure they never get lost. Much of the opening sequence is simply talking and setting everything up, which can last as long as 10 minutes (without skipping anything). Animal Crossing is similar, only much shorter, with an added layer of importance in one’s answers to determine visual appearance. With NH doing everything it can to shove info down one’s throat, the original, by comparison, doesn’t tell you shit. Figure it out, dude!
This also plays somewhat into the “sense of adventure” mantra that shaped my early-gaming experiences and current preferences. For as freeing as the Animal Crossing series is, with the two latest entries, there’s a certain goal-oriented, hand-holding emphasis that lingers even when it doesn’t necessitate doing much. New Horizons, however, locks certain features exclusive to the game behind community-building projects, which, without time-skipping, can take up to a week to complete. What does the original lock? The shop, prior to working for Tom Nook for fifteen minutes, and sending letters to the museum, which one has to wait an in-game day for. Otherwise, everything else is a random waiting game. New neighbors, more tools, more variety of things to collect? Wait, and maybe they’ll come. That’s the essence of life, alright. You never know anything.
As a small aside, please recall that this is my personal opinion. Animal Crossing and New Horizons are different in a large number of ways, and the priorities of one don’t necessarily match the other. I’m not trying to imply one is better than the other as an overall, only in the aspects this post covers.
Circling back to speed, let’s revisit my previous “distinct lack of polish” statement. Animal Crossing does have a certain formula to its movement and structures, but it flows similarly to Mario games of old—AKA, they’re slippery. Going from 2020 to 2002 (in the US), one would swear they’re flying with their villager across their town. Dialogue bubbles pop up near-instantly, text flashes onscreen within two blinks, and the whole game’s interaction process is almost rushed. It’s like this scene from The Room. Yet, it is this constant stream of dialogue and energy that keep the experience fresh, and keep me wanting to go back to the original game (replayed umpteen number of times) as opposed to others in the series (replayed zero times). Or it could be nostalgia. That also helps.
As my mind wandered on this topic, I also found that it applies to other franchises that I hold dear, namely Pokémon and Donkey Kong (Country).
I’ve had a long and torrid affair with the current state of Pokémon, so there’s little use overexplaining that hurdle. While I did like Shield for reasons contradicting(?) my old-school mindset, the difference in speed, size, and accessibility have been noted by many far and wide since that franchise became popular. There is so. Much. Talking in the newer games, with looooooong, occasionally unskippable cutscenes destroying the pace and rhythm of one’s adventure. Bereft of long spurts of uninterrupted freedom (quick reminder that the Wild Area was awesome), it’s almost a visual novel with Poké-esque aspects. Or a Metal Gear Solid game.
The Donkey Kong Country series, as stated many times before, is one of my favorite franchises… up to a point. While I adore the original three games (my overall opinion of their quality ignored), the Returns duo of games don’t have nearly the same impact. The reason? Speed. The classic trilogy were all confined to a small space for each level, causing the action to always be in sight and in range to thwart the player. Going from beginning to end usually took up only a couple minutes, with the stage crammed with goodies, baddies, and occasional alternative means of travel. It ensured the player was always on their toes, and never a dull moment passed by. Such chaotic whimsy always compelled me.
With the newer Country games, this was no longer the case. Nintendo, logically, went bigger and “better,” with stages that could do a lot more with a larger pool of resources. Yet with the substantial increase in stage size, the pace decreases in a similar manner. What would originally take a couple minutes to complete now takes upwards of three times that. Some instances of treasure hunting requires players to go out of their way and make slow-crawls up to certain terrains, out of their way, to get everything possible. These tend to be less-than-short trips, as well, and with the scope of the stages, simply climbing up grassy surfaces, for example, accumulate seconds at an alarming rate. Vehicle stages (carts, planes, etc.) tend to match the earlier games better, but for the large majority, it just doesn’t have that same “oomph.”
And remember! Just because I’m stating personal preferences doesn’t mean either group of games are better than the other! There are things the Returns series does far better than the original trilogy. Thank you!
At some point there, I felt I may have needed to retitle this, but those conclude my thoughts on my preference when it comes to speed. Many older games I play tend to have a more chaotic, restless appeal, while the polish and expectations of new games designed for new players try and keep things level and focused. As much as I’d like to see games return to this era of design, I can understand the current trajectory. And, frankly, I would be more pissed if indie games didn’t fill the void for me. At least I have those to fall back on.
Do you ever think about speed and pace of games you play? Do you think I’m a big dummy that needs to stop talking nonsense? Tell me why!
For other opinion pieces like this one, check out the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.