Sometimes it seems like the whole world is playing Animal Crossing right now. The internet is full of snapshots of players going about their lives among their anthropomorphic neighbors. But not everyone has taken up Tom Nook’s offer of the island life with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. There’s still a dedicated community who have stuck with the almost-eight-year-old New Leaf, whether they’re still developing an old, storied village or beginning their mayoral journey for the first time.
Over on the New Leaf subreddit, players design clothes, swap and sell everything from fruit to villagers, post memes — basically everything New Horizons players are doing — all on the 2012 Nintendo 3DS game. The only difference is these players have had more time to achieve some of the series’ larger goals. For example, a user who goes by mxrgane recently shared that she had finished the fossil collection at the museum after 150 hours of digging.
Though many players in the subreddit have been playing on and off for years, mxrgane only picked it up in late 2019 after getting a 3DS as a Christmas gift. “I’ve often gotten the question as to why I chose a DS over a Switch,” she said, but explained that it was a deliberate choice. That way she could play New Leaf, despite New Horizons’ then-imminent launch.
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“New Leaf has a large place in my childhood,” she explained. Though she couldn’t play it personally (her only earlier experience in Animal Crossing is the mobile spinoff Pocket Camp), she recalls all her friends playing. “I chose [to buy] New Leaf for the sense of nostalgia I anticipated, not for the graphics or any new features.” She also knew what she would be getting. “I just wanted a pre-established game that I knew was loved and appreciated by fans,” she added.
Like so many other people, mxrgane has been playing more intently over the past few weeks due to the pandemic. During that time, she’s also seen the New Leaf community “relight.” In part, this is attributed to people reaching for cozy, familiar games, but she’s noticed ads for New Horizons have sent people back to its predecessor.
One such player is Reddit user rzamdb. “I saw these ads…and wondered if they make [Animal Crossing] for 3DS,” he said. He would’ve liked to get the more recent entry in the series, but a Switch proved prohibitively expensive. Plus, he notes “it’s sold out everywhere.”
The same goes for Reddit user Gay_Noodles. “I got New Leaf because I really wanted New Horizons, but I didn’t have a Switch and couldn’t afford [one],” she explained. “All I had was the 3DS…and I hadn’t played it on so long, but I got New Leaf because I figured I have to start somewhere and I had been wanting any version of Animal Crossing for a while.”
For the most part, players who have stuck with New Leaf are actually excited to see new faces. “The community seems amazing,” according to Gay_Noodles. “[Someone] came to my town and gave me a stack of every fruit to plant. Everyone in the community seems so great and I just love it.”
When rzamdb posted about paying off his very first (in-game) home loan this week, a couple of bad apples in the comments wondered why he was so happy to have completed a very early stage in an almost-decade old game. But for the most part more experienced players offered rzamdb congratulations, fruits he might not have, and advice on how to make Bells, the primary currency of Animal Crossing, more quickly.
Though players may be returning to New Leaf thanks to a blend of nostalgia, availability, and an unprecedented global crisis, the existence of this long-running, friendly community is what makes the game remain an appealing option.
“In my opinion, Animal Crossing, while not a multiplayer-based game, is largely improved by being within a community of other players,” mxrgane continued. “Which is partly the reason I’m so invested nowadays. Such communities allow for trading of items, interactions, and an overall feeling of true camaraderie.”
The older game’s subreddit is fairly active, with users figuring out ways to keep the game entertaining while Nintendo has moved on. Some have started over, to experience New Leaf from the beginning again, but more are going deep into breeding hybrid flowers, catching rare fish, and searching endlessly for the all-important froggy chair. There are also multiple Discord servers for players to chat with one another — including one run by mxrgane.
“We still enjoy the game just as we did prior to [New Horizons’] Switch release. Having such an established player-base also allows for many more community-based ‘help platforms’ for players to ask questions in, which tighten our sense of community even more,” she concluded. “Though some may consider New Leaf and the DS system obsolete, the fan base we have is quite inspiring to say the least,”