Pocket Camp kinda upstages Animal Crossing: New Horizons now

Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon
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Animal Crossing: New Horizons undoubtedly took over the world in early 2020, but lately, a different iteration of the life simulator has been lighting up my social media feeds. Mobile spinoff Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp has, in tandem, blown up right alongside the Nintendo Switch game — and that added visibility has helped highlight the many ways in which New Horizons arguably falls short.

Perhaps this is an unfair comparison, given that Pocket Camp has had over two years to establish itself and expand. Let us remember that, when it came out, many people felt bummed about the grindy Animal Crossing experience Pocket Camp provided, and the way it seemed built for microtransactions.

Players who are still enjoying Pocket Camp tell Polygon these aspects haven’t entirely changed in 2020. But this is also somewhat balanced by the fact that the mobile game is bringing its A-game to the table.

Furniture sets and decorations are cute in ways that make me, as a New Horizons player who is supposedly getting a “premium” experience, intensely jealous. This envy is partially fueled by the knowledge that Pocket Camp makes more of an effort to integrate these items into its world. New Horizons, by contrast, feels like a more static experience.

“You can put teacups and a whole theme park [in New Horizons] but like, it will never ... make an impact in the villagers,” says content creator (and my personal pal) luulubuu.

Pocket Camp made that the objects had specific animations and purposes,” she continued, noting that one of her favorite sequences sees villagers dancing along to Gyroids — characters which are barely present in New Horizons.

New Horizons has some great animations, too. I love watching my villagers do zoomies or seeing them pull out a phone to take a picture. Every so often, you’ll also spot villagers using an item you’ve laid around, which is always a delight. But not only are these New Horizons interactions sparse, they feel slight when we compare them to a normal scene out of Pocket Camp, as you’ll see in the videos below. Pocket Camp has unique animations and interactions for nearly everything you can place on the map.

“When you start New Horizons, you have a 80-item storage limit that you can gradually expand to 1,600 items,” says Laura Hudson, editor and former colleague, “though it will likely take dozens of hours and millions of bells to do so.” Pocket Camp, by comparison, starts you off with bigger storage and then expands that up to 3,000 spaces.

The large repertoire of items are designed specifically to entice you to spend money, which would normally sound shady, except Pocket Camp designers make the sets feel worth it.

“Novelty is expected and new content is frequent,” Hudson, who recently spent a few dollars in Pocket Camp for a design studio loft, tells Polygon.

“I don’t resent this at all, I don’t mind paying a subscription or dropping a few bucks on a one-off purchase for things that constantly revitalize the game,” she continues.

Where New Horizons slowly doles out new features and items, Pocket Camp gives you more freedom to make exactly what you want, when you want it — because you probably bought a set with something in mind, rather than relying on the gods of chance.

Pocket Camp makes decorating your campsite or cabin feel like a playground where you’re limited more by your imagination than anything else,” Hudson says.

The thing to note is that, unlike New Horizons, you’re not living in these scenes. You set these scenarios specifically for your villagers’ enjoyment, and when they do exactly that, it makes for evocative screenshots and GIFs. Technically speaking, you can “do” more in New Horizons, especially with the introduction of features like terraforming.

Then again, as someone who has now put in hundreds of hours into New Horizons, my aim is the same — to make spaces that are cool enough to make someone wish they could be there, too. I’m often decorating with my villagers in mind, only to be disappointed by their general disinterest in what surrounds them.

Pocket Camp is, broadly speaking, in a great place right now,” says Philippa Warr, a player who has been enjoying the mobile game since launch. Warr tells Polygon that the campground game has “exquisite” food items, including a matcha treat where the foam looks like Isabelle’s head. Pocket Camp also lets you do more with the items it provides, too — you can, for instance, lay down a rug outside, a small detail that is sorely missing in New Horizons.

All of this is true, but Warr notes that not only has Pocket Camp had time to bloom, New Horizons’ popularity may have spurred players to race through its content faster than Nintendo intended. Some New Horizons players tell Polygon that they’ve been playing the life sim less often, going from daily marathons to now only checking in once a day for about 30 minutes, if that. Some fans are skipping days altogether. Recent events, like the museum stamp rally, haven’t been good enough to keep the New Horizons flame going.

But even so, Pocket Camp deserves props for what it does right. Laura Hudson notes, for example, that while New Horizons players spend a lot of time butting up against its random villager mechanics, Pocket Camp gives you more control over who stays at your campsite.

“In Pocket Camp, you have to level them up a little before you can summon them to stay with you, but ultimately you can curate a homestead of the very best and cutest buddies, whereas in New Horizons it’s just the luck of the draw who shows up,” she says.

Pocket Camp also allows players to pay for a subscription that, in addition to giving you loot and automating parts of the game for you, also helps you curate the game’s population. The ongoing fee — which is cheaper than an Amiibo, especially those that are in-demand — “lets me select my favorite villager (it’s Chevre) to follow me around and help me gather resources which creates more of a sense of personal relationship as opposite to ‘neighbor I might like or might hate,’” Hudson says.

With time, it’s likely that New Horizons will grow to match more of what Pocket Camp offers. Already, the upcoming wedding event promises a new set of nuptial-themed decorations that will let fans set up amorous scenes. There will likely be other events that haven’t been announced yet, in addition to the expected seasonal changes.

“I wouldn’t want the games to have identical item libraries,” Warr clarifies. But perhaps, she muses, the games will inspire each other to be more ambitious. “New Horizons has been good for Pocket Camp because I definitely feel like Pocket Camp has upped its item game to try to keep players interested.”

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

  • $60

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is “a much-needed escape from everything,” according to our review.

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I started playing Pocket Camp again and have to agree. Getting the rarer stuff feels a lot "better" for me in Pocket Camp because that stuff usually has cute animations, or animations at all, attached to them.

Having cute animations and rare stuff doesn’t take away from how limited Pocket Camp is as a game, and how unfun it is for most people to play. There’s a reason why the game was slipping through the cracks and barely anyone talked about it before New Horizons was released.

Good thing people who want to can play both and enjoy either for what it is.

The only one saying they can’t is you, so…

That’s an interesting take. You’ll have to show me your working out there.

My original comment certainly acknowledged their existence as two entities which could be played together or apart but both offer their thing. So yea.

They can try, but in Pocket Camp you have to pay for most things or grind for days for a chance to afford it with the in-game currency. People who play Pocket Camp glamorize it way too much and it’s disappointing to people who download the game to see what all the fuss is all about only to find out it sucks.

When I was thinking about getting ACNL last year as my first AC, I tried pocket camp first. It convinced me that AC could be cool because the animals were fun, and I enjoyed it for a few hours until it went all mobile game on me and offered to let me pay to not wait for stuff. I bought new leaf and never looked back. A real AC game, like most real video games, is trying to entertain you. A mobile game like pocket camp, on the other hand, is trying to make you impatient so you spend money. There’s a fundamental conflict of interest between the developer and the gamer, which explains why such mobile games are not fun.

On the other hand, I don’t get to actually walk around in pocket camp. I’m not "in there", which to me is the big draw of the game and distinguishes it from The Sims.

Yeah. People joke that Animal Crossing in general doesn’t have a lot to do in terms of actual gameplay, but New Horizons is like the world’s most complicated Rube Goldberg machine in terms of gameplay complexity compared to Pocket Camp. Clicker games have more interactivity.

I have the same issue with Pocket Camp that I have with almost every mobile game I have played. After a week I am bored and then I never go back to it. New Horizons on the other hand I have played almost every day since launch and so far it is still fun.

Pocket Camp is not an experience I enjoy. New Horizons is. Other people may feel differently. It’s unfortunate people feel the need to weigh the two against each other, as they are really not the same type of games at all.

Most people aren’t. It’s just Polygon grasping at straws for an article. It’s like being angry that Mario Kart Tour has lots of car driving but Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t so it’s not as good of a game.

Pocket Camp is the equivalent of an aquarium game. I used to play one that was Marvel’s Avengers Academy, which was like.. Pocket Camp but Marvel characters at a Harry Potter-like school. It can be fun to watch them use the various facilities you design and stuff you make, with their unique little animations, but that’s what it is. It’s not a social life simulator/community builder/island designing/craft-o-rama/almost farming game.

I agree. Pocket Camp is extremely painful to play for me but I enjoy doing stuff in New Horizons. It’s fun, it’s fulfilling and it feels worth the money i spent. I bought a bunch of other switch games to play but I rarely touch them compared to New Horizons.

"You can put teacups and a whole theme park [in New Horizons] but like, it will never … make an impact in the villagers," says content creator (and my personal pal) luulubuu.

As much as I enjoy New Horizons, there is a definite problem with the world feeling kind of cold and static. The Villagers are just sort of… there, like props (it doesn’t help that a bunch of your villagers can have the exact same lines at the same time). The game would be greatly enhanced with more villager interactions.

Yeah and because of that the customization of the island seem kind of pointless
Like I’ve made a cute spot with tables and coffee mugs that’s supposed to look like a café… and nobody ever sits there
I also have an empty boxing ring

An entire corner of my island is playground, boardwalk, beach (meaning chairs, beach balls, sandcastles, the like) with fishing pier and the villagers don’t even walk around there, let alone interact with things. In fact, the more I personalize the island, the more the villagers congregate in the places with the least amount of items.

Yet my villagers keep fishing in the tiny ponds I’ve made next to the museum which aren’t supposed to be a place to fish

My villagers visit my cafe, they sit in my diner, they lay down on the picnic blankets I’ve payed out. I find that they interact with the items I’ve places all the time. But it could be a matter of layout and use of pathways to ensure they visit those locations.

Yeah it probably depends on the layout
But even then, they might come at the cafe but I don’t think they’d drink any coffee from the mugs
I also have a well but nobody ever uses it
A big fountain but nobody ever care about it, etc.
The interactions of the villagers with whatever you put on your island are kind of limited to seating on stuff, although I think I’ve seen villagers watering my plants too. It doesn’t make ACNH a bad game (or a lesser game compared to Pocket Camp…) but it’s a little frustrating.

I really don’t understand why villagers don’t have more interactions with the furniture around, especially the more "big ticket" islands. Especially since they do have interactions with the same type of stuff in Pocket Camp already. Seems like it still wouldn’t have been that hard to use that stuff in both games.

Agreed. Heck, NPCs in Skyrim and Dragon Quest Builders have more environmental interactions. You’d think it would have been a bigger priority in a game literally about building a village.

And still i can’t get into Pocket camp. I would love my villagers to interact,more, with the things i put outside. Also plz let us ride bikes Plz plz

"Pocket Camp made that the objects had specific animations and purposes,"

That’s because it’s an aquarium game where you just watch the cute characters do cute, silly animations at your very tiny campsite with no real gameplay. It can be a nice little mindless game to give 10% of your attention to while you’re watching TV, working, making dinner, using the restroom, etc. But acting like it’s a legitimate game that you can really sit down and dive into for hours is kind of a joke.

It’s the kind of experience you check once or twice a day for a few minutes, click your little craft button and then wait 24 hours for the next thing to happen.

I, too, have begun to shy away from New Horizons. What’s the point? I’ve done all the things I care to (without time traveling) and don’t really see much in the way of a reward. I agree with the OP that the animations are sparse in New Horizons and I’m surprised that – given just how long and how many iterations of this game there have been – that there wasn’t more innovation.

The lack of Gyroids is definitely felt and I wish there was a bigger catalogue.

Nook Mile Islands have lost their appeal especially since they nerfed the chances of getting a special island. Personally I thought it was good the way it was before. It made it worth checking to see if you could get one. But now I don’t even bother. All it ever is is Island with Bamboo Island and even rarer occurrence but at least you see it every now and again. But anything else? Forget about it.

Between collecting most of the fossils, bugs and fish and breeding most of the hybrid flowers I feel done with the game. It was a decent romp for a while but there simply isn’t enough there to keep my interest.

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