While none of us want to be in the position of enforced lockdown in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the release of two Nintendo Switch titles could not have come at a better time.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Good Job have coincided with the country going into isolation. And they are both brilliant boredom busters for a bit of much-needed escapism. After all if you can’t live life to the full, a life simulation like the new Animal Crossing and a game where you carry out a host of different job roles is the next best thing.
New Horizons is the fifth installment in the hit Animal Crossing series and as in previous games it is a life simulation played in real-time. There is a vast array of customisation options available as you take your character to a deserted island after purchasing a deserted island package from Tom Nook, a tanuki character who is a staple of the series.
ACNH is completely open-ended as you are free to explore to your hearts content – something none of us can do in real life at the moment.
As you progress you develop the island into a community of anthropomorphic animals and you can collect different items to use as decorations within the game. Like the 2017 spin-off title Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, ACNH introduces a crafting system that allows the player to convert materials into tools and furniture, which can be used to decorate the game’s interior and exterior spaces.
Nook Miles, a new in-game currency earned by completing various tasks, can be used to purchase premium items. Players are able to invite animals to live on their island, and have the option to choose or influence where the animal constructs their home. The game’s weather also adjusts to the seasons of the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, depending on the player’s real-world location. This is a first for the Animal Crossing series as is the addition of windy weather.
The daily tasks loop and Nook Miles system add a new layer of satisfaction for players and it all feels natural, none of it forced.
ACNH has been met with widespread critical acclaim. And it is easy to see why.
The customisation and decor alterations are the game’s crowning achievement while the villagers you encounter are dripping in charm in typical Nintendo fashion.
Some felt Animal Crossing would find it tough to make the crossing to Switch. They said the same about Zelda, Super Mario and even (although I’m still not sure why) Pokemon.
They were wrong then and they are wrong now. It is back bigger, better and more polished than ever.
But the best thing about ACNH is the constant treats and surprises, something which set Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey apart too.
And I’m only just scratching the surface because custom islands from the gaming community, special events and changes in season beckon. There is a bit of grind actually unlocking your island in full. But once you do, the world is literally your oyster.
It feels like Nintendo have done us all a solid by launching Animal Crossing New Horizons when it has. We all hope coronavirus can be tackled sooner rather than later. But this is certainly going to help take away the boredom blues for gamers.
Get back to on the job, from your couch
For those who are unable to work the current situation is no laughing matter. But new puzzle game Good Job will scratch the work itch for anyone missing it already.
I started playing Good Job last week and lost myself in this charming, clever and super original puzzler for a good few days.
You are a stick man starting out at the bottom of the career ladder of a big company in a nine storey office block and rise through the ranks in your quest to become the new CEO of your dad’s firm.
You can play solo or co-op with a friend to climb the corporate ladder to take over the family business by tackling bizarre office problems – from delivering packages to mopping up goo, gathering staff for a conference or fixing the projector and Wifi.
As you travel up the office building floor by floor, you must solve unique problems facing each department. From driving the forklift to transport packages in Logistics, watering the plants in Recreation or hanging up art in in the Executive floor.
Each floor has four levels which all have their own puzzles to solve in whatever way you suits you best. There is an added element of fun as you are rewarded for causing as much destruction as possible as you work your way up the ladder. After all you don’t have to worry about getting sacked, your old man’s the boss.
Good Job is one of the best, most original and satisfying puzzle games I have played in years. And it will only set you back £17.99 on the Nintendo store.
So they are two new must-haves to get you through lockdown.
Avoid resurgent Brain Training to save your sanity
But here’s one you should – perhaps somewhat surprisingly – avoid. Many might think Nintendo’s famous Brain Training would be ideal for this situation. Keeping your mind sharp sounds like a sensible use of your time in isolation.
While the decade-old film Contagion has enjoyed a renaissance as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, so too has Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training since lockdown.
But trust me if you are keeping yourself away from the disease in isolation, you will soon find yourself sick of Dr. Kawashima and his maddening activities.
There are a few quirky additions to the activity roster.
Video game fans and even those who aren’t frequent gamers will all remember Nintendo’s famous Brain Training games.
Brain Age, also known as Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training, is a series of video games developed and published by Nintendo, based on the work of Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima.
But for those who are perhaps not as familiar, Brain Training presents you set of mini-games that are designed to help improve your mental processes, strength and agility. The activities were designed by Dr Kawashima with the idea of stimulating multiple parts of the brain and therefore help improve the gamer’s abilities while also combatting normal aging affects on your noggin.
Activities are generally based on two or more mental stimuli and to be completed as fast and as correctly as possible. For example, common activities include calculations – where the user is presented with a list of single-operator math operations and must utilise the system’s touch screen to write their answer to each question – and Stroop Test based on the Stroop effect, where players must say into the unit’s microphone the color of the text of a color name that appears on screen.
It is very much more of the same in the Nintendo’s new Brain Training title for the Switch, titled Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training for Nintendo Switch.
The game uses some of the new features of the Switch, including the gyroscope and infrared camera in the Joy-Con units, as part of the input into the activities, alongside other returning training activities. A Switch-compatible stylus is also available in some regions and online to support some of those activities including scribbling answers in the quick-fire maths equations section.
Brain Training was a worldwide phenomenon, selling 33 million units globally. It effectively made the Nintendo DS as people who had never had any interest in video games suddenly rushed out to get one just to have Brain Training.
The first thing to say is the new Brain Training pretty much forces you to play in handheld mode as nearly all of the activities require it.
The gaming world and landscape has changed immeasurably since Brain Training first launched over 15 years ago. So does Brain Training even still work for modern gamers?
Well the truth is, not much has changed. The main thrust is the game’s claim that it can calculate (and improve over time) your brain age.
It does this by analysing three key areas, self-control, processing speed and short-term memory. The average result is presented as your brain age and the lower that is the better. The activities are random and you also have daily brain training tests.
The Switch doesn’t have a mic like the DS so instead uses some of the other gimmicks such as infrared on the JoyCons. These can be very frustrating as they don’t always work or they work but not quickly enough thus lowering your score.
Nintendo have missed a trick here by not putting more effort into overhauling Brain Training for the new era. After all the advent of smart phones since the original means these kind of brain/puzzle games are widespread.
Brain Training is not entertaining, it is maddening. And the more I played it the more I found myself cursing the floating head lying to you about the age of your brain. It will get on your nerves and simply won’t provide the longevity of the original, or come anywhere close. Avoid for the sake of your own sanity.