The Wild World of Animal Crossing Speedrunning

For most of us, Animal Crossing represents a much-needed escape from our fast-paced day to day lives. In Nintendo’s idyllic series, we can take a relaxing stroll through a digital neighbourhood, spend socializing with our animal neighborhods, or go fishing to fill our town’s aquarium with exotic specimens. All of this is especially salient with New Horizons, a game that released just as many localities around the United States were declaring lockdowns and shelter in place orders in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

But a small group of players has chosen to reject the intended Animal Crossing experience, opting instead to race through the game as fast as possible. That’s right, people speedrun Animal Crossing.  But how did a low-key lifestyle simulator develop such a passionate speedrunning community? And what even constitutes finishing a game that has traditionally had no definitive ending? 

Animal Crossing

By Nook or by Crook

American speedrunner BrianMP16 is largely credited with founding the Animal Crossing speedrunning community. In 2011, he came up with the idea of Animal Crossing bingo, a speedrun event where players would race to complete five objectives on a card, either in a row, a column, or diagonally. These activities could be anything from collecting items, catching a certain fish, or getting a high score in an NES game. But the idea didn’t really take off until 2013, when the first Animal Crossing speedrunslive race took place, with players competing to fill out their cards as quickly as possible. From there, the speedrunning community grew considerably.

“I got interested in speedrunning Animal Crossing after speedrunning Ocarina of Time for a few years,” explains BrianMP16, who recently became Animal Crossing’s first billionaire. “Animal Crossing has always been my favorite game and for me, speedrunning is all about extending the life of a video game by providing a player with interesting, new perspectives.”

Another speedrunner, Cool_Nick, was a late arrival to Animal Crossing speedrunning, only getting involved roughly three and a half years ago. A fan of the original game on the Gamecube, he decided to try his hand after his interest was piqued by its abstract qualities.

“Most speedruns have an “any%” category where the goal is to beat the game as fast as possible,” he tells me, “but with Animal Crossing, there really is no ‘end,’ so we have to make up our own ways of ‘beating’ the game.”

Money, Money, Money

Like other games, each Animal Crossing title has a number of different speedrun categories. These include scavenger hunts, clearing all debts, and acquiring golden items. But while the basic concept is always the same — go fast, get items, get money — the techniques can vary greatly depending on the particular title in question.

“The biggest breakthrough [in the original] Animal Crossing speedrun would be to make money quickly through duplicating items,” BrianMp16 says. He’s referring to a “a sub-pixel-perfect glitch” in Animal Crossing, which allows players to duplicate autumn medals and sell them to clear their debts. “I found that in 2007,” he notes.” “Another recent breakthrough in the All Debts category is a complete route overhaul to duplicate 5 autumn medals [to sell] instead of 3.”

Other tricks to speed things up in the original also include cancelling the game music. BrianMP16 founded this technique, integrating a 7F byte dialog command which cancels the music within the town with a custom code, shaving more time off the run. 

In Wild World and other games in the series, things work much differently. The former sees players using a unique glitch called “Letter-Header” to duplicate bells into their inventory in the Town Hall’s post office. Meanwhile, in City Folk, speedrunners change the Wii menu’s clock to accumulate interest on their bank accounts through time travel shenanigans, and in New Leaf they must fulfill a checklist of requirements before digging up a number of glitched moneybags.

“My personal favorite game in the series is the GameCube title,” explains Cool_Nick. “Most of my runs in this series are for this game, because it is shorter than the other games, and has some cool tricks with it as well.” Out of all the various categories, his favorites are Golden Rod and All Debts.

Animal Crossing

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A Spot of Luck

The biggest challenge when it comes to running Animal Crossing games, though, is the reliance on plain luck — “good RNG (random number generation),” as speedrunners put it. Once the appropriate techniques are mastered, getting the best time can come down to having the right town configuration or timely fish appearance.

Animal Crossing speedruns are heavily based on RNG even down to the starting town layout you get,” BrianMP16 notes. “Having Nook’s in acre A-2 and the Post Office in acre A-4 or vice-versa is the ideal circumstance, but that only occurs roughly 1 in 7 times. Even after getting a good Nook’s and Post Office acre, you also need good villager house placement around town to complete the initial Tom Nook chores quickly. Many speedruns are reset due to a bad town layout for every category.”

“If you’re not up to losing a run that you’ve spent over an hour on because one fish won’t appear, this game isn’t for you,” Cool_Nick adds. “Categories like Golden Net or Rod are entirely RNG dependent, because you have to get certain bugs and fish to show up. There are like 6 fish that have a 1% chance of ever showing up.” He recalls one instance of this happening on a Golden Net run, where he might have finished below the 1-hour mark but couldn’t get any bees to show up.

As it currently stands, the world record for the first Animal Crossing’s All Debts category is 34 minutes and 38 seconds, held by Coldeggman — BrianMP16’s biggest competitor. BrianMP16, meanwhile, holds the Animal Crossing Golden Net run title, with a time of 39 minutes and 6 seconds. Another American speedrunner, Zoekay, is currently the record holders for the Golden Rod category, with a time of 57 minutes and 39 seconds. 

Animal Crossing

New Horizons, New Challenges

With Animal Crossing: New Horizons now here, the speedrunning community is still uncertain about its potential as a competitive game. One issue is that the game’s cloud save restrictions mean that players will have to either sacrifice their own save file to attempt a run or else buy another Switch to have a dedicated speedrun save.

“I don’t plan on running New Horizons,” says Cool_Nick. “We don’t know how viable of a speed-game it will be, considering it seems like they’ve phased out speedrunning. Without cloud saves, if you don’t want to primarily run this game, you’re also going to need to spend another $360 for another Switch and game to run with. We have a leader board up already, but aren’t sure if anyone will run this or not.”

“I intend on casually playing New Horizons for a while but I will eventually speedrun it once I am ready to replay the game,” BrianMP16 tells me. “I anticipate New Horizons speedruns will be very interesting with crafting and attaining Nook Miles. There will be a lot of variety with these mechanics and I am excited to see how they can be applied to speedrunning.”

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