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Animal Crossing fans are racing in mazes to win Raymond

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A contest for the most coveted villager

An Animal Crossing villager looks at a Raymond portrait. Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via YouTube/Crunchy Island

Everyone wants Raymond, so when Animal Crossing duo Crunchy Island happened to get the infamous gray cat to move into their island, they thought to themselves, what would Nathan Fielder do? Give away Raymond in the most elaborate and absurd way possible, of course.

The duo that has spent over 400 hours constructing a maze in Animal Crossing: New Horizons cites comedy show Nathan For You as an inspiration for the ploy. In the show, fictional character Nathan Fielder “helps” real people by constructing deranged business plans, like only granting a rebate after a customer scales a mountain and solves a series of riddles.

The couple decided to make Raymond available to anyone who visited their game, on one condition: They had to complete an island-wide maze. Simply solving the maze wouldn’t be enough, though. It would also be a competition, meaning that maze runners had to finish the obstacle course faster than everyone else to claim their prize. At the end, Raymond would await in his house, boxed up and ready to go. All players would have to do is speak to him, and he’d agree to move over to their island instead.

Mazes, it should be said, aren’t a new concept within the Animal Crossing community — but in Crunchy Island’s experience, many of these player-made minigames felt too easy. Often, you could just look at your map to figure out where to go. Their puzzle, they decided, would be different.

Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via YouTube/Crunchy Island

Crunchy Island developed a grid system lined with a number of screens that would construct a maze on two levels: one on the ground, and another raised on a platform. This detail alone was tons of work — in the first iteration of the maze, there were 400 gold panels lining the whole thing. Since you can only order a handful of panels from the catalog every day, the creators had to enlist some help. Soon, Crunchy Island was paying a small crew Nook Miles to build dozens of panels for the initial maze.

The first race was held in early May, with a few streamers all invited to duke it out for the coveted islander. No items were allowed, but some tools and resources could be acquired over the course of the game. Think of it as a large-scale and much harder version of New Horizons’ May Day event, where fans were tasked with reaching Rover with no initial inventory. Reaching Raymond would require constructing both a shovel and a ladder to get to the final destination. To spice things up, Crunchy Island also buried a number of prizes and random items around the island, so contestants would never be sure if they had found the next piece of the puzzle until they checked first-hand.

It took contestants over an hour to finish the first maze, though the overall victor was YouTuber AbdallahSmash. Since then, Crunchy Island has held a number of new races for other popular villagers, like Audie. The whole thing has become has become a spectacle for livestreamers, who are calling the maze “the most exciting thing in Animal Crossing right now.” If nothing else, Crunchy Island mazes might be the closest thing the community has to an esport. To wit, the Audie race earlier this year was a nail-biting affair where two streamers got on the final stretch of the race at the same time.

“The most challenging part is always testing these races to make sure they’re fair, possible to beat, but otherwise obnoxiously difficult to reach the finish,” Crunchy Island told Polygon in an email. Usually, the testing period takes up to 30 hours per maze. And despite testing for contingencies and outlier situations, the duo can’t always predict how people will solve the maze once they’re in it. In one unexpected moment during a previous race, for example, a competitor figured out that they could go into a villager’s house to push them off their own crafting table, enabling them to use it earlier than intended. This workaround has since been patched, but when it happened, it was a small moment of crisis.

Crunchy Island also can’t help that viewers will sometimes try and get involved, either by suggesting solutions as the race unfolds, or by watching multiple livestreams to “spy” for their favorite contestant. Even so, the mazes still take a while to finish.

The event has grown to such a scale that nowadays, Crunchy Island can rely on a community of viewers who help them out with getting resources for the next maze. On Tuesday afternoon, the duo are premiering a new version of the maze, along with a new race for Raymond, where Animal Crossing content creators will compete to take the feline home. The participants include players who have won previous races, such as AbdallahSmash, Nintentalk, Chase Crossing, and RyanFTW; viewers can tune in to their respective Twitch and YouTube channels to watch them race against the clock. The festivities begin at 2 p.m. EST on Tuesday.

Or, if viewers are feeling lucky, they can try and win a Raymond, too. Crunchy Island will soon debut a Dream Suite version of the maze, so that anybody with a Nintendo Online account can try it out. The first person to send Crunchy Island a photo of their character in front of Raymond’s house will win the cat (or 400 Nook Mile Tickets, if they’d prefer). A beta version of the Dream Suite maze can be played right now via the address DA-0419-8432-4999. Crunchy Island expects thousands of entrants, but only one winner.

Good luck!