I was late to the party on Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This is nothing new for me. I typically get to new titles months (if not years) after everyone else, preferring to let others break new ground so I may walk it more smoothly. So I found myself a month and a half late to island living.
It rapidly became apparent I couldn’t build a better island than my wife, or our friends… or my coworkers. They’ve been playing from day one. Given this game’s obsessive need to gate even the tiniest increments of progress, I would have to wait my turn to build something, y’know…good. Also, good is hard in Animal Crossing. So screw that noise. So I adopted a different tack: instead of building the most impressive island, I would build an upsettingly weird one.
I’m honestly not sure whether or not I succeeded.
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First up: the name. I went with BigChungus, because I am apparently 14 years old. That settled, it was time to start collecting an assortment of bizarre villagers. On my first island-hopping adventure, I encountered Sherb. When he asked to come live in my iand, I — being young and naive — assented. This decision would haunt my every waking moment.
I am convinced, down to the very core of my being, that Sherb is a serial murderer. Those blue eyes hide something sinister, something unholy. In between his nonsequiturs about catching a fish so he could taste it, and the bugs under his floorboards talking to him, Sherb had a profoundly upsetting tendency to sneak up on me when I wasn’t looking. Once, I would swear I caught him staring directly into the camera and deep into my very human soul. I’m honestly expecting to wake up at 3 a.m. with Sherb standing at the foot of my real life bed. I will have only myself to blame for it. Fortunately, I could at least warn visitors to BigChungus that they were taking their fate into their hands.
But Sherb wouldn’t be the only new addition to my island. Eventually, it was time for my first campsite visitor. Here, at least, the game threw me a break; I entered my campsite to find a giant chicken wearing a kimono and drinking orange soda, saying “10/10 Kens would recommend this island!” Damn right they would, Ken. Keep shining, you weird, weeb chicken diamond.
Further island-hopping villager hunting netted me Drago (an “alligator” who is basically just Trogdor the Burninator), Rory (a lion who continually shouts “CAPITAL!” like a rejected Fawlty Towers guest character), and Zucker, who is a fried octopus ball with a stick coming out of his head. If you think I wasn’t immediately taking THAT home with me, you have clearly missed the whole point of this endeavor.
More importantly, though, one of my villager hunting excursions settled a different, thornier question. See, from the beginning, I had been extremely torn on Audie — one of my first three move-in villagers — along with Nan (who is boring), and Sherb (who has many skeletons chained up in his basement). Audie is unquestionably adorable, and honestly kind of cool, but weird? It didn’t seem so. How could she possibly become a permanent resident of BigChungus if she was anything approaching sane?
Then she spent my entire time island tour era — a period of roughly three hours across over 20 islands — standing out on my dock in the pouring rain relentlessly getting swole doing bicep curls. Question asked and answered.
Next it was time for my flag, the proud standard of BigChungus. I realized early on that making anything bizarre without the presence of Nic Cage is like making a sandwich without bread. Sure, it’s technically possible under the right conditions, but really, what are you even doing? Come on, man. So he was always going to be a part of this, QR codes willing. But I had a very specific idea of how I wanted to involve him. Would the internet let me down?
No. No, it would not.
I should mention: my friend Malia has been terrified — terrified — of Nic Cage as long as I’ve known her. Being that I am an unrepentant monster, I once bought her a sequined pillow with his screen-printed face on it. So of course the first thing I did was invite her over without warning her about the celebrity she’d be bumping into.
Then I built her a personal play area.
Having declared BigChungus to be the Independent Principality of Cage (and tormented one of my dearest friends), it was time to get to actual island design. From the beginning, I knew what the theme of BigChungus should be: toilets. I don’t know how I knew this; it just felt right, like how birds always seem to be able to find true north. I built a shrine right next to my Resident Services Building. My villagers, uh…made extensive use of it.
This wasn’t enough, though. I clearly needed far more toilets. I needed a whole bountiful crop. Fortunately, the toilets did blossom well this year.
Next up were my dock, for which QR codes were again my constant companion…
…and my museum, which I decided needed the world’s most terrifying terracotta army to guard the archaeological wonders (and sea bass) which were certain to attract the better class of tomb raiders…
…and of course every good village needs a wrestling ring where villagers can battle to the death. This one was apparently left over from Reese and Cyrus’s wedding reception…
…and I had some interior decorating ideas. Well, I had one interior decorating idea, but I had it a whole bunch.
During the time I’d spent throwing these together, though, a new problem arose from an unexpected source: Frita. One of my first two villagers, Frita had been my rock from moment one on BigChungus. My weird, hot dog outfit/hamburger head/inexplicably french fry-like wool kind of rock. But suddenly Frita decided she was too good for her hot dog outfit, instead wearing some lacy lilac blouse thing.
This could not stand.
Fortunately, Nintendo installed a failsafe for this very scenario. Correctly assuming their players would like to cosplay as the world’s worst Karen from the Homeowner’s Association, the studio lets you complain about a villager’s outfit (sadly “I would like to complain about Sherb’s entire existence” was not within the realm of possibility, so the system is clearly flawed, but the principle is sound). And oh boy did I register a complaint about Frita’s outfit. Then I registered another one an hour later when she changed shirts again. Then again twice the next day. And three more times the day after that. I’m still waging a rearguard action against this thrice-cursed blouse every damned day, but I will be dead in the cold cold ground before I surrender the fight.
But I also started to suspect that no matter how hard I try, I cannot out-weird this game’s own core instincts. Sure, I could line the path to the museum with terrifying porcelain dolls, or sow a bountiful crop of toilets to the envy (?) of all my friends, or fill one entire room of my house from floor to ceiling with Billy Big Mouth Bass. But that’s nothing compared to what the demented minds behind this game cooked up without any assistance on my part.
I mean, look at Rory’s house. What the fuck is this absolute bananagasm?! This looks like an Ambien dream threw up! Why are there banyan trees? Lions don’t live near those! Why is the floor sandy? A port-o-potty in the corner for why?! How in the name of Tom Nook’s secret sex dungeon are any of us supposed to compete with that?
And that’s far from the only example. Anyone who has ever heard the unearthly, keening shriek of the bamboo doll as it rises beatifically from its wooden prison knows this was not a game designed by people with an iron grip on sanity. This is a game made by weird people, for weird people.
And you know what? I think that’s okay. I’m sure my island won’t be the weirdest one in existence. I’m sure there’s someone out there who has done things with peach surprise boxes that would absolutely make my head spin. Maybe that’s okay, too. Maybe the quest for weirdness in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is more about the journey than the destination.
Or maybe I can make like more 50 Nic Cage simple panels and line my entire beach with them. The quest continues.