How the Art Style of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing Series Helped Make it a Successful Franchise

Official Art for Animal Crossing: New Leaf

The Animal Crossing series is a Nintendo franchise that allows a social, interactive, and creative play style. Originally released in 2001 in Japan for the Nintendo 64 as Animal Forest, the series has flourished and grown with every game that has been released. The franchise was created by Katsuya Eguchi and Hisashi Nogami and mainly designed by Koji Takahashi (Lane). The series features the player as a human living in a world with anthropomorphic animal neighbors. The games are based on real-time interaction and simulation, allowing the player to play in their own way during their own time.

Screenshot from Animal Crossing: New Leaf

The player’s villager has typically had the same art style since the N64/Gamecube version. The villager has a very large head, big eyes, a small body with thin limbs and round balls for hands. Even today in the Nintendo Switch release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the character has remained the same, though they sport a taller body, a change that began with the 3Ds title Animal Crossing: New Leaf. There are different eyes and hairstyles to choose from, as well as different skin colors, mouths, and noses as added in the Switch version. But throughout every game, the character has been modeled with spherical hands – and it works! The villager is often switching between many tools and items and it does not feel or look awkward since their hands are in an eternal static pose. I personally feel if the villager had fingers, it would look a little weird since everything else is created in a rounder and smoother fashion. So the 20 year-old design choice to have spheres for hands was a good move.

From Left to Right: Goldie, Punchy, Sprocket, and Drago

In every Animal Crossing game, the player has always had animals for neighbors. There are 35 species types with a total of 393 animal villagers (Spear). Each animal villager has their own unique design, ranging from looking like your average cat to robot frogs to mythical creatures. Some animal villagers, depending on who you ask, are deemed as “ugly villagers” — which of course, is a matter of opinion. Typically these “ugly villagers” just do not cater to the player’s aesthetic, but everyone’s aesthetic is different. If the game had all “cute” and “perfect” animal villagers, there would be no diversity between each players’ worlds. The amount of effort it has taken the creators over the years to perfect villager designs as well as doing their best to make them all unique looking in their own way is extraordinary. Whether they have a basic, generic, animal design like Goldie or Punchy, or if they have almost other-worldly designs like Sprocket and Drago, each one represents the amount of detail that has gone into the Animal Crossing franchise as a whole.

Goose and I hanging out in his house – features green, wooden furniture set

One of the main features of every Animal Crossing game is being able to decorate your own space. From being limited to only decorating your house in the first three main games, to being able to decorate your town in New Leaf with public works projects and in New Horizons with outdoor furniture placement, there has always been a wide amount of options to decorate your space and make it unique to your tastes. There are a ton of different types of furniture items that have been added overtime, but what makes it so much fun to decorate with them is that most pieces are simple enough to be used in many different builds. There is also a wide variety of customization options for many of the furniture pieces, allowing the player to find what caters to their preferences. There is usually darker, lighter, and more natural colors for many of the pieces, allowing most furniture pieces to work with any aesthetic. Since being able to add furniture on the player’s island, there have been many incredible builds using the simplest of items, like using bookcases as walls to make the player’s house appear larger than what it is, allowing the player’s imagination to go into maximum overdrive.

Screenshot from Animal Crossing: City Folk, making custom designs

Possibly the most creative the series has always allowed the player to get is with custom designs. Custom designs allow players to make pixelated artworks that they can use as wallpaper, clothing, paths, or as a means of customizing furniture. Depending on what the design is, it has the potential to add a very realistic style to the game, to a simple, kid-like style to one’s game. The addition of being able to share one’s custom designs online created a plethora of options to players who may feel that they are not “artistically gifted,” making the use of these designs accessible to everyone, despite the level of their artistic abilities.

As the franchise continues to grow, so do the amount of animal villagers, items, and creative options for the players to interact with. Because of the simplified and appealing art style, the franchise has brought in new players and drawn veteran players back to each installment of the series, making it one of Nintendo’s most successful franchises. Other than the use of interactive play and the ability to pace yourself, the art style seems to be what draws many of the players in, as well as the options to screenshot your plays and share them with friends and family on social media. Because of this, it drives players to want to create new builds and patterns and experiment with new styles, pushing the series to its absolute, fullest extent.

Sources:

https://www.nintendolife.com/news/2020/12/feature_the_minds_behind_animal_crossing_new_horizons

https://www.imore.com/animal-crossing-new-horizons-how-many-villagers-are-there-and-how-many-can-i-have-my-island

Published by Elizabeth Hawkins

Fine Arts and ECM Major Creative Writing Minor Artist, Friend, Gamer, Island Wanderer, Shark Enthusiast. Protect Our Oceans.

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