It might be hard to believe, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons celebrates its first anniversary this week. Ahead of the game’s launch last March, producer Hisashi Nogami told The Verge that he hoped players would be able to “use this as an escape.” And in a year filled with challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, New Horizons’ colorful island and charming animal friends proved to be exactly that, offering a much-needed respite from the difficulties of the real world.
The game wasn’t only fun on day one, though. Nintendo has continually added new content and events to the game, and the community gave birth to a number of fun, hilarious, and even political moments throughout the year. For many players, New Horizons became more of a place than a game.
The updates and the game’s popularity have made it a huge success, selling more than 30 million copies since launch. Those unprecedented numbers make it the second highest-selling game on the Switch, trailing only Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and dwarf the most recent main entry, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which sold just over 12 million copies on the 3DS.
We’ve chronicled some of the highlights from New Horizons’ first year in this timeline. (If you missed any of the in-game events, you might want to time travel back to experience them so that you don’t have to wait for the calendar to roll over again.)
March 20th, 2020: Launch day
Animal Crossing: New Horizons launches worldwide. It immediately proved to be a huge hit, selling 1.88 million copies in Japan in its first three days.
April 1st through 12th, 2020: Bunny Day
For more than a week in early April, players could find special Bunny Day eggs they could use to craft egg-themed items. (Though Nintendo had to adjust the spawn rates for eggs with a patch due to player complaints.) A terrifying bunny, Zipper, also appeared on the first and last days of the event.
Soon after launch: Hong Kong activists protest in New Horizons
Image: Studio Incendo
Activists protesting the Hong Kong government didn’t just gather in person — they also protested in New Horizons, as chronicled by Wired UK. In one demonstration, for example, a group of players hit their nets on a picture of Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong.
Throughout April: players design in-game streetwear, while esports teams make jerseys
Soon after the game’s launch, players started to use Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ design tools to recreate their favorite streetwear brands in the game, like Supreme and Louis Vuitton. And esports teams, like Gen.g, shared designs of their jerseys for players to use, while 100 Thieves added its entire apparel collection to the game.
Also throughout April (and beyond): New Horizons’ turnips bring the internet together
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Like past Animal Crossing games, New Horizons has a stalk market, allowing you to buy turnips at one price Sunday morning to try and sell them at a higher price during the week. People across the internet banded together in the hunt for an elusive island with a high selling price, with dedicated Slack channels (I was part of two at Vox Media), Reddit forums, and Discord servers.
April 13th, 2020: The Monterey Bay Aquarium hosts a fossil tour in the New Horizons museum
Image: Monterey Bay Aquarium on Twitch
With museums and other educational institutions closed due to the pandemic, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s social media team came up with a clever way to keep teaching people about the natural world: they invited educator Emily Graslie from the Fields Museum to talk about the fossils on display in Blathers’ museum live on Twitch. Monterey Bay Aquarium explored the natural world through New Horizons many times throughout the year.
April 23rd, 2020: Leif, Jolly Redd, and more are added to the game
The game’s first big update brought back two popular Animal Crossing characters: Leif, who sells gardening items like shrubs and flowers, and Jolly Redd, the art dealer. The update also added a number of seasonal events, including Nature Day, the May Day Tour, International Museum Day, and Wedding Season.
April 23rd, 2020: Nintendo slashes Bank of Nook interest rates
Players logging into New Horizons after downloading the first big update also got an unwelcome surprise: there was a letter from the Bank of Nook, which can hold onto extra bells for you, informing them that interest rates had been reduced on savings accounts. While a lot of publications wrote about the new fiscal policy, the Financial Times’ completely deadpan writeup, with the fantastic headline “Virtual rate cut forces Nintendo gamers into riskier assets,” remains one of the best-ever articles about the game.
April 23rd, 2020: Elijah Wood visits Twitter user to sell turnips
Image: @directedbyrian on Twitter
In happier Animal Crossing financial news, on April 23rd a Twitter user named Jessa posted that turnips on her island were selling for an incredible 599 bells each. Soon after actor Elijah Wood messaged her so he could stop by, sell some turnips, and hang out for a bit. “[I]t was so much fun,” Jessa told The Verge of Elijah Wood’s visit. “[H]e was so nice and wholesome.”
April 26th, 2020: Gary Whitta releases the first episode of talk show Animal Talking
Image: Gary Whitta’s YouTube channel
Gary Whitta, known as a writer on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and at one point the editor-in-chief of PC Gamer, launched the first episode of his virtual late-night-style talk show hosted in New Horizons called Animal Talking, featuring actor and former IGN host Naomi Kyle. Animal Talking would go on to become a huge success, with episodes featuring Felicia Day, T-Pain, Elijah Wood, Xbox boss Phil Spencer, Sting, and even Selena Gomez.
May 7th: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez visits people’s islands
Image: @AOC on Twitter
Out of the blue, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced she was going to visit people’s islands on May 7th. She briefly opened up her DMs to solicit Dodo codes, and visited some islands. On one island, she shared fruit, took pictures, and signed the bulletin board.
Update 2: first ever House call (get it? ) in the books!
It was so sweet. Island belonged to a family of three. We exchanged fruit, took pictures, and I signed a bulletin note using my touch screen.
I was floored by how fast they typed and they taught me about the app. pic.twitter.com/KJsI6Gjh9p
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 7, 2020
May 8th, 2020: the Detroit Lions reveal their season schedule in New Horizons
Image: Detroit Lions on YouTube
The NFL’s Detroit Lions revealed their 2020 season schedule in a hilarious video that used elements from New Horizons to announce each week of the season. In one vignette, the main character buried a stuffed bear, for example, while the one for bye week featured the player turning off the lights and flopping into bed. You should just watch the whole thing.
July 3rd, 2020: Swimming introduced
The first summer update added swimming, which lets you dive into the ocean to scrounge for new wildlife.
July 30th, 2020: Dreaming, fireworks, and cloud saves
The second summer update introduced dreaming, which lets you visit someone else’s island without them being present. The update also added weekly fireworks shows that took place in August and an island backup service for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers.
The update also added an official way to remove the game’s HUD while using the camera app, which allows people to make cleaner photos and even viral videos. Players had previously relied on a glitch to hide the HUD, but Nintendo patched that out with the first summer update, resulting in fan outcry.
September 1st, 2020: Joe Biden’s presidential campaign launches official Animal Crossing: New Horizons yard signs
Image: Joe Biden’s presidential campaign
The Biden-Harris campaign released four different designs that players could download to their game to show their support for the campaign.
September 3rd, 2020: Sylvan Esso releases music video shot entirely in New Horizons
Image: Sylvan Esso
Musician Sylvan Esso released a music video for her song “Ferris Wheel” shot entirely in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s really good!
September 30th, 2020: Fall-themed update adds new items and abilities to prepare for Halloween
New Horizons’ fall update added the ability to grow pumpkins, DIY Halloween projects, and new customization options to help players prepare for Halloween.
October 16th, 2020: Joe Biden’s presidential campaign launches a Biden-themed island ahead of the election
A little over a month after introducing virtual lawn signs, the Joe Biden campaign created an entire Biden- and Kamala Harris-themed island, called Biden HQ, that you could visit in a dream. One part was a virtual field office, with separate offices for Biden and Harris, while another part of the island was transformed into a polling location, complete with voting booths.
October 31st, 2020: Halloween event
The game’s Halloween event on October 31st featured Jack, an island guest with a pumpkin for a head. You could give him and your fellow island residents candy to help celebrate the sugar-filled holiday.
November 19th, 2020: New holiday events and a save data transfer feature
New Horizons got a jam-packed winter update on November 19th, adding the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve events, new character reactions and hairstyles, a home storage upgrade, and a way to transfer your save data to another Nintendo Switch.
November 20th, 2020: Nintendo asks brands to keep politics out of Animal Crossing
Nintendo published “usage guidelines” specifying how brands and businesses can use Animal Crossing: New Horizons as a marketing tool, which included asking organizations to “please also refrain from bringing politics into the Game.” Nintendo also asked people to “not leverage the Game as a marketing platform that directs people to activities or campaigns outside the game.”
November 26th, 2020: Turkey Day
Turkey Day brought the arrival of Franklin, a turkey who is a chef. If you bring him the right ingredients to help him make certain dishes, he’d give you Turkey Day-themed items in return.
December 24th, 2020: Toy Day
Jingle the black-nosed reindeer showed up on Toy Day, New Horizons’ version of Christmas, and he gave out special Toy Day-themed items if you talked to him and helped him deliver gifts. From December 1st through 25th, you could also buy toys from Nook’s Cranny and holiday-themed clothes from the Able sisters.
January 28th, 2021: New update ahead of Festivale
A new update added items ahead of the carnival-themed Festivale event, Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day, and the Big Game (aka the Super Bowl).
February 15th, 2021: Festivale event
Pavé the dancing bird arrived at the island’s plaza for the Festivale event. You could catch colorful feathers floating in the air and trade them with Pavé for Festivale furniture. (He’d also dance for you.)
March 1st, 2021: Mario-themed items available for purchase
Thanks to an update released on February 25th, you could buy Mario-themed items starting March 1st, including outfits, furniture, a menacing Thwomp, and even functional warp pipes, which players are already using in clever ways. The February update also added items for Pi Day (March 14th), Shamrock Day (March 17th), and more.
March 26th, 2021: Sanrio-themed villagers and items will be available via amiibo cards
Nintendo has partnered with Sanrio, the makers of everything Hello Kitty, on an amiibo card pack that will let you add Sanrio-themed items and villagers to your island. The pack will be available exclusively at Target on March 26th.