All posts by Roxanne Baker

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About Roxanne Baker

As AE’s Marketing Magician, I’m involved in multiple areas – social media, analytics, sales and more! I’m an artist, gamer, and avid podcast listener so outside of work I'm often found painting my favourite characters while binging a new pod.

This month, the AE team is continuing to bring you our Pop Culture Picks from our home offices. We’re focusing on the things that support our physical and mental health while practicing social distancing. Keep scrolling to find out what’s helping us through these challenging times – we hope they can help you too!

Annabel’s Pick

Annabel's Pop Culture Pick - Me Time
Annabel Youens, CMO & Co-Founder

Me Time

In Short: Find something just for you, that fills up your engine.

When I started writing this month’s Pop Culture Pick, of course I was going to write about the new season of The Great British Sewing Bee. This is not the first time I’ve posted about my adoring fascination and love of series.  But this year I find the Bee is filling a different need.

Many of us are still in lock-down, binge watching anything our wee hearts desire. I have bored myself scrolling through Netflix and Amazon Prime numerous times. With The Great British Sewing Bee I have to wait until Wednesday to watch the next episode of season six. I’m reminded of the “olden days” of Must See TV when I’d get my brother to tape an episode of 90201 if I was out with my friends.

Initially I resisted having to wait a whole week for a sewing fix, but I find I really enjoy looking forward to Wednesday night. It’s my quiet time to myself with Joe, Patrick and Esme, along with a block of chocolate and a cup of tea. It’s soothing to have a ritual that’s not tied up with work, my daughter, exercise or household tasks. It’s something just for me.

So that’s my pick this month for you. Go and find that thing that’s yours, and yours alone.

Jeff’s Pick

Jeff's Pop Culture Pick - The Long Dark
Jeff Mitchell, CTO & Co-Founder

The Long Dark

TL;DR: The Long Dark is a game about isolation and survival set in the stunning Canadian wilderness.

The Long Dark sits in the category of first-person survival games (not a genre I actually play very often), but I bought it a few years ago during early access because I liked the initial glimpses I saw of its art direction and due it it being a made by a local Indie studio, Hinterland Games, currently based in Vancouver. I tinkered with it a bit at the time, but didn’t go too far into the game as I got distracted with other things and it was still pretty early in the game development.

For some reason during this period of self-isolation I decided to revisit a game about surviving while very isolated in the rugged and brutal Canadian wilderness.  While the game shares many of the aspects of survival games such as exploration, collecting resources and crafting, it does not have a horde of zombies, mutants or other forms of post-apocalyptic marauders to deal with.

Rather, your main nemesis in The Long Dark is the wilderness and weather. For this reason I actually find the game very relaxing. Often all you hear are the sounds of birds, wind rustling through the trees or the distant and lonely (I hope!) howl of a wolf. The Long Dark apocalypse was a quiet one, a geomagnetic event that shut down electronics but left nature untouched.

The landscapes are beautiful, and done in an art style reminiscent of famous Canadian landscape artists. This really drives the exploration aspect of the game for me as I am always stumbling out of the woods half frozen and hungry, only to find myself pausing to take in a scene (and screenshot) of a beautiful frozen lake with majestic snow covered mountains in the background. Perhaps I should just lie down here and admire the view…

But my temperature is dropping fast and is that a cave I spy on the other side? I can make a fire, warm up… must… keep… moving.

You will find some traces of civilization – a snow covered highway, an abandoned road side gas station and perhaps a cabin to escape the blizzard from with precious old clothing and canned food inside. But you will also have to learn to craft clothing, medicine and tools.

The game has three main modes currently: a story mode (which is great), your classic open world survival mode (with various levels of difficulty), and a challenge mode (basically mini stories with specific objectives).

If you are already tired of isolation, then this game may not be right for you at the moment but I do recommend checking this out if you ever felt like escaping into one of those beautifully painted Canadian landscapes.

Check out some of my “snaps”: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

Jason’s Pick

Jason's Pop Culture Pick - Seal Team
Jason Scriven, Head of Enterprise Sales

Seal Team

In Short: This hour long series on traditional network TV tells the story of fictional Seal Team Bravo and their leader Jason Hayes, played by David Boreanaz.  It stands out for tackling PTSD, faith, loss, family without being too jingoistic as some other American military shows.

The first season of this series was good, but not great, with solid back stories established for the Seals while they “spun up” for missions around the world.  In seasons two and three, more personal struggles were revealed as character changes in their home lives bled into their missions.  In his past series, Buffy, Angel, and Bones, David Boreanaz has not received much credit for his acting, despite being in a leading role for 23 straight years on TV.  As Bravo One on Seal Team, his character suffers personal and professional losses while contemplating his own mortality and the end of the only career he has ever know.

Mike’s Pick

Mike's Pop Culture Pick - FF7 Remaster
Mike Penhall, Senior Developer

Final Fantasy 7 Remake (PS4)

TL;DR: An exceptional remake of an exceptional game. Recommended for both fans of the original and beginners alike.

As the name suggests, Final Fantasy 7 Remake (FF7R) is a fully remade and remastered version of the beloved PS1 JRPG of the same name. As a concept FF7R is kind of unique — most remakes or remasters are a straight retelling with tidied up graphics. FF7R rebuilds the game from the ground up — what Hollywood might call a reboot, but with a 23 year gap between cycles – and expands, improves and builds upon the original story along with vastly improved graphics and audio.

So that’s the background. In many ways FF7R was destined to suffer from the same double edged sword of opinion that Star Wars The Force Awakens did: no matter how good the actual result, the end product could never possibly live up to the weighty expectations of its fanbase.

The good news is that in almost every aspect the game manages to meet these expectations. Voice acting (the original was text based) is very well matched to the characters, and well performed. The magic and leveling system is retained but improved upon, making it familiar but updated to meet modern standards. The levels are vastly expanded – the game covers only the first disc of the original story-wise, so this is a necessity. For the most part, the levels are improved upon (e.g. climbing the Sector 7 wall and Shinra Tower) although occasionally they overstay their welcome (e.g. the Train Graveyard). The combat, which switches from turn based in the original to action based in the remake, is among the best I’ve encountered in any RPG. Overall the updates are so well done that they feel effortless — it’s easy to overlook how much pressure the devs must have been under to get things right.

Jenn’s Pick

Jenn's Pop Culture Pick - Exit, The Game
Jennifer Paul, Intermediate Developer

Exit, The Game

TL;DR: If you’re stuck inside with a spouse or roommate then this is a great game to creatively pass the time and get you thinking outside the box. 

This game is a board game that gained fame from how you play – you have to work with and destroy the pieces as you go, so you can only play it once! Each Exit game has a different theme which is weird and fun. The game comes with a booklet to work through, a deck of Riddle Cards, a deck of Answer Cards, a bunch of Clue Cards, and a couple other odds-and-ends. You start with the story at the beginning of the booklet, which tells you to grab the first riddle. Then you’re off!

The Clue Cards are only for when you get stuck, so try your best. The Answer Cards are funny – some are just big red X’s. If you don’t solve the Riddle properly then you’re bound to pick up one of these X cards and you’ll have to think outside the box a bit more. Some riddles are so creative and different that they just had me in stitches! There are some fun twists that’ll leave you feeling impressed at the sheer ingenuity of it.

“Exit: The Game” has a ton of games to choose from ranging from Level 1-5. I’d say I’m pretty good at puzzles and logic in general – that’s my job as a software developer and also I’m a big fan of events like Puzzled Pint (check it out sometime – if you like beer and games you will love this). That being said, these games are not easy. Trust me on this, you want level 2 or 3.

The Exit games also come with an optional app which I highly recommend downloading when you play. It gives you a timer and also has a unique background music soundtrack for each game. The specific game we played was “Haunted Roller Coaster” so you can only imagine the soundtrack to go along with that. Mood music for sure. 👻

I’ve seen Exit: The Game being sold at lots of hobby and game stores, so get out there and support your local stores by buying a take-home game or two!

Grant’s Pick

Grant's Pop Culture Pick - Better Call Saul, Season 5
Grant Spychka, Head of Customer Success

Better Call Saul, Season 5

TL;DR – Better Call Saul is a relatively slow-burn crime drama with Bob Odenkirk as a sketchy lawyer with a good heart but poor execution. Season 5 is one of the best yet, helping bridge the gap between this show and Breaking Bad more than any other season, with some of the best performances from the entire cast in the series.

I’ve been a fan of Vince Gilligan’s work since the Breaking Bad days, but have become an even bigger fan as the Better Call Saul series has evolved. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, Better Call Saul follows the life of notorious lawyer Jimmy McGill from the Breaking Bad universe, before Walter White and Jesse Pinkman hit the scene. While this PCP is about Season 5 in particular, what I love about the show is how well it portrays the complex emotions surrounding a troubled man trying to make a name for himself while struggling to get out of his successful brother’s shadow. It has the gritty and tense drama paired with dark humor that you’d expect from Vince Gilligan, but with a much more relatable human aspect than Breaking Bad (in my opinion).

Now, for what makes Season 5 special (spoiler alert, kind of I guess – but come on, it’s the name of the show)? Honestly, it’s that we finally get to see Jimmy become Saul Goodman. We’ve been WAITING for 4 seasons for him to become the infamous dirtbag lawyer, but the time has finally come! We see him transform from a man trying to make his mark in the world of law, to a man staking a claim in the seedy underbelly of the legal system. More than that, however, is that Rhea Seehorn absolutely steals the show in her role as Kim Wexler. She is the center of everything. She is more than just the title character’s partner and I’d argue that her storyline could stand on its own, given how well Seehorn brings Kim to life. Her performance is captivating and it’s amazing to watch her balance the devil and angel on her shoulders. I won’t say more about it because I don’t want to spoil anything, but seriously put this in your queue.

Roxanne’s Pick

Roxanne's Pop Culture Pick - Vacationland
Roxanne Baker, Marketing Magician

Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches

In short: Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches is a lovely read (or listen!) by the actor, writer, and podcast host John Hodgman.

John Hodgman is one of my favorite people that I don’t know. My first introduction to him was the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials that aired around the mid-2000s in which he played the very uncool (but, let’s be honest, kind of relatable) PC character. In the last couple of years, I became a fan through his podcast Judge John Hodgman where John, alongside his “baliff” Jesse Thorn adjudicate disputes between couples, family members and friends. John Hodgman is witty, wise, and most aptly, incredibly judgmental.

Though I knew John Hodgman had written a few books (5, to be precise), I hadn’t gotten around to reading any of them. However, now that I have some more free-time on my hands, I hit up my local library’s online audiobook catalogue to see what I could find. I landed on John Hodgman’s penultimate book, narrated by the man himself: Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches.

Vacationland is a collection of stories from John Hodgmans’s life, with a focus on him and his family’s many vacations to their summer homes in the state of Maine. From the anxieties around lying to the employees at the dump about which town he lives in, to the evolutionary purpose of the mustache, John explores the realities and eccentricities of his transition into middle age and his acceptance of becoming a “Weird Dad”.

Did you catch the plural in “homes” up there? John Hodgman has two summer homes. The privilege he has a well-off, straight, white male is one of many serious topics that John explores in this book alongside his comedic wanderings. Not only is Vacationland hilarious, it is poignant, though-provoking and deeply heartfelt.

 

 

As Covid-19 changes every aspect of our lives, from how we work to how we spend our free time, there’s a unique opportunity for game developers and studios to adapt their marketing strategy and fill a new hunger in the market. The cancellation of key gaming events and conferences has changed the industry, and the success of games like Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons points the way forward during these troubling times. Let’s take a look at what makes New Horizons so special.

A Feat in Games Marketing: New Horizons’ Record Breaking Launch

In Japan alone, New Horizons set a Nintendo Switch launch record by selling 1.88 million copies in the first 3 days after its release on March 20th, 2020 — as Japanese citizens were being asked to follow more and more quarantine restrictions.  After just 10 days, New Horizons exceeded 2.6 million sales in the region. This doesn’t even include digital sales. Woah, that’s a big launch!

Animal Crossing is outselling Nintendo's top titles
In the first few weeks since launch, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is outselling Nintendo’s top and fastest selling Switch titles: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Data from Game Data Library

While we don’t have any North American numbers yet, it’s clear that New Horizons is a phenomenon this side of the pond as well. What can game publishers and studios learn from this success?

Tapping into Nostalgia

The first Animal Crossing game was released in North America in late 2002 on the Nintendo GameCube. For many gamers who were not so enamored with the fast-paced fighting game Super Smash Bros. Melee (released the year prior), Animal Crossing provided a more casual gaming experience. No longer were players subjected to being crushed by their older brothers in Melee, but instead enjoy building our quiet little villages and not worry about being competitive.

Animal Crossing also introduced a novel game mechanic: using the GameCube’s built-in clock, the game ran in real-time. Along with its cheerful graphics and soundtrack, the real-time gameplay made Animal Crossing unique and memorable.

With the last game in the Animal Crossing main series being released in 2012, fans of the franchise have been trying to fill the hole in our hearts with farming simulators and spin-off games like Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp for mobile.

In the wake of this pandemic, I’ve missed coming home after school to plant money trees, interact with my animal neighbors and yes, even be yelled at by Mr. Resetti for turning off my game without saving (oops!).

Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides the familiarity that so many have been looking for right now. Players don’t need to learn new mechanics as the game plays similar to previous titles. They get to interact with their favorite characters and relive good memories through the nostalgic tunes of K.K. Slider. Now that the world feels so chaotic and unpredictable, the nostalgia is comforting.

Nostalgia can be a driving component in your game’s marketing strategy. Check out how AE helped a major record label to use nostalgia marketing to engage their fans.

Routines for “Normal” Living

With social distancing measures and parks being shut down, we’re no longer enjoying weekly outings with friends. We’re wanting to complete projects around the house, but are faced with the dilemma of whether or not it’s okay to order gardening tools because it’s not really essential.

In comes New Horizons, a game that provides the player with an escape to a chill, stress-free world. On my island, I don’t need to worry about the risk of going to the local garden centre — Nook’s Cranny is open and I can plant flowers if I want to. Players have a chance to feel productive in New Horizons without the stress that real-world productivity can bring.

New Horizons runs in real time. There are certain tasks (like finding fossils) that can only be done once a day. So instead of my daily walk to work in the morning, I’m running around my island to dig up fossils. Players are encouraged to do these tasks daily through in-game rewards. We can establish a regular routine, something that many of us are craving in these uncertain times.

The game also has little, if any, consequences and the players’ success is entirely self-defined. There’s no “losing” or “game over” in New Horizons, and that’s incredibly appealing in a world where we all feel like we are “losing” right now.

Virtual Social Events

In the times of social distancing, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of New Horizons’ gameplay is the ability to connect meaningfully with others through the game. While developers like Epic Games have hosted hugely successful in-game events as part of their marketing strategy, New Horizons allows for smaller, more intimate social interaction.

New Horizons allows for players to visit and interact with their friends’ islands, something that people have been taking advantage of in order to hold social events that they currently cannot have in the real world. One Reddit user even held an in-game wedding in light of having to cancel their real life wedding due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reddit user holds in-game wedding in Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Reddit user Ashmush said “My fiance planned it out with our best friends, Im [sic] graduating from med school and not getting a graduation and our wedding was cancelled.”

Direct Sharing

Since the pandemic, many of my non-gamer friends have come to the darkside of being forever indebted to Tom Nook. While Animal Crossing has always had a large fanbase, there’s been a substantial influx of new players with the release of New Horizons. Many people are even buying a Switch or Switch Lite console for the sole purpose of playing the game!

Players of Animal Crossing: New Horizons are talking to their friends and family about the game. I’ve personally been texting or messaging non-gaming family members gushing about it, and have had non-gamer friends reach out to ask for my “friend code” so that they can join me in game.

Redditor's mom sent them a text about Animal Crossing
Redditor WhiskerMeowTown’s text from their non-gamer mom.

Without our normal activities to keep us busy, for more and more people the answer to “What are you up to right now?” is becoming “I’m gaming.” Animal Crossing: New Horizons shows that these virtual conversations are a key factor in the acquisition of new players to a game’s overall success.

The Importance of Social Media in Games Marketing

Social media is ablaze with conversation about New Horizons. As reported by Forbes, Animal Crossing saw a 71% rise in overall conversation on Twitter after the release of New Horizons. The number of subscribers on the Animal Crossing subreddit also skyrocketed, rising from 330k at the end of February to over 642k by the end of March.

71% rise in Animal Crossing conversation on Twitter
Twitter gaming usage statistics. Credit: Forbes, Twitter

Not only are gamers telling their friends and family about New Horizons, they’re engaging with the game on social media. They’re tweeting memes about Tom Nook’s shady business practices. They’re making a TikTok about how much they hate the new animal that has moved into their village. These posts are getting hundreds and thousands of views, spreading the word about New Horizons and reaching people who are new to gaming.

Want to know more about the role of social media in marketing strategy? We talked about social media and Ariana Grande’s digital marketing strategy here.

Opportunities for Your Game Launch Marketing Strategy

With initiatives like #PlayApartTogether, the gaming industry is beginning to recognize the unique and important part that video games play and will continue to play in our changing world. Now, more than ever, video game publishers and developers have the opportunity to attract new players to the space.

Here’s the takeaway lessons from the launch of New Horizons that you can apply to your game marketing strategy:

  • Highlight the nostalgic aspects of your game. Players are looking for a safe, familiar space that reminds them of the good times.
  • Look for what people are lacking in their lives right now. How does your game meet needs that can otherwise not be met (e.g. productivity and routine)?
  • Provide a virtual social space and emphasize the social aspects of your game, whether those aspects are in-game on another platform such as social media.
  • Give gamers something to talk about and encourage conversation about your game.
  • Actively build a social media community around your game.
Roxanne's Animal Crossing villager waving goodbye
I’m off to enjoy the fabulous spring weather on the island of Pearadise with my friends!

Animal Crossing isn’t the only game we love. Check out our top 10 video games here!

This month, the AE team is bringing you our Pop Culture Picks from our home offices. We’re focusing on the things that support our physical and mental health while practicing social distancing. Keep scrolling to find out what’s helping us through these challenging times – we hope they can help you too!

Annabel’s Pick

Annabel's Pop Culture Pick - Fiskars Weed Puller
Annabel Youens, CMO & Co-Founder

Fiskars Weed Puller

The short: No pop culture is the right fit for now, but my shotgun weed puller is doing the trick!

Being at home and isolated in my family bubble I’ve found that media doesn’t have the same appeal it did before the pandemic. I am a huge fan of any TV show set in a dark and snow-bound country with a serial killer on the loose. But those shows aren’t what I need right now. Turns out what I do need is my brand new Fiskars Weed Puller.

A year and half ago my husband I purchased our first house in Victoria, BC. She’s a wonderful home near a local waterway built in 1942. She’s also a house that needs a lot of TLC – good bones, the home inspector said – and part of that care is focused on the garden. Our lawn is covered with dandelions and broadleaf plantains. It’s more weed than grass and while my 10 year vision is to have minimal grass and lots of native plants, right now our lawn needs help.

Last week I was on a clear-my-mind-what-the-f**k-is-going-on walk when I saw a neighbour using a long pole and pushing down with her foot to remove dandelions. We chatted for a bit and she told me how satisfying she found the process thanks to her weed puller.

Two days later I owned my very own Fiskars Weed Puller. I try to spend at least 20 minutes every day pulling up weeds. It is incredibly satisfying to push the tool into the earth and pull up the weed complete with root! I’m also getting outside. I’m breathing fresh air. I’m improving my garden. I’m clearing my mind. I’m also connecting with passersby; a number of couples have also asked about my tool.

The pièce de résistance is that dropping the weed off the tool is a shotgun action. I’ve got my own Winchester Rifle: Take car. Go to mum’s. Kill Phil, grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?

Jeff’s Pick

Jeff's Pop Culture Pick - Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Jeff Mitchell, CTO & Co-Founder

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

TL;DR: Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an engaging game with gorgeous visuals.

I’m a big fan of platformers or “Metroidvania” style games. They were my favorites as a kid, and I’ve continued to play them my whole life. In fact, one of the things I really like about game stores like Steam, etc. is that you can find so many lovingly made, retro style platformers developed by indie studios all over the world.

A good Metroidvania game combines a great story with exciting and challenging combat that takes place within the confines of tricky level design. It requires the player to perfectly jump, swing, slide, etc. to navigate and reach a destination or “boss”. Usually the games include initially inaccessible areas on the maps that you can go back to later once you acquire some new talent (e.g. a wall bash or double jump).

From my perspective, the great thing about this style of games is that they are usually easy to start and stop. Navigating the levels essentially requires solving puzzles and then executing a series actions near perfectly. If you die, you can try again pretty quickly. If you get stuck, you can turn the game off and come back later, starting from where you left off.

So with that context, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is probably one of the best I have played. This game continues the storyline of the first game, Ori and The Blind Forest (which I also loved). It is really an engaging story and they know how to bring the feels.

The visuals are absolutely gorgeous. Even though this is basically a 2D sidescroller, you really feel the depth of the environments due to the layering of foreground and backgrounds.

I feel combat is better in this version than the first and the developers have provided quite a bit of flexibility in playstyle by giving players the ability to equip different combinations of skills. Each of these skills can be improved and so players can focus on the attacks and navigation abilities they prefer. In some case a special ability is needed to progress, but there is usually more than one way to tackle these obstacles.

There is a decent amount of choice in exploring the world since you can choose the order of which paths to follow, rather than a purely linear progression. This also helps with the frustration factor as you can quickly warp out of an area and try somewhere else.

If you like these types of games like I do, then I highly recommend. If you haven’t played many of these types of games then this could be a great intro. My only suggestion is to start with Ori and the Blind Forest so that you can experience the full story.

Jason’s Pick

Jason's Pop Culture Pick - Adult Wednesday Addams
Jason Scriven, Head of Enterprise Sales

Adult Wednesday Addams

In Short:  Melissa Hunter writes and stars in 5 min episodes as the grown-up version of the death-obsessed little girl from the Addams Family TV shows/movie.

How this little series made it to YouTube without being pulled by the Addams Family licensees, I have no idea. But it’s brilliant. Follow along as Wednesday applies for a job, goes on a date, walks the dog, or deals with cat-callers on the street. It is a simple idea, take a well known character as a child and observe them as an adult – and in this case through Wednesday’s macabre lens that involves blood, death, and sleeping in a crypt. 

 

Jenn’s Pick

Jenn's Pop Culture Pick - Her bicycle
Jennifer Paul, Intermediate Developer

My Bicycle

TL;DR: Taking my bike out for a spin every morning before working from home has been a lifesaver during this time of self-isolation.

Last August I decided to buy a bicycle and start biking to work. It’s really been great getting in some daily exercise, and although there have been some challenges (so many flat tires, and extremely dark and rainy winter) my route is beautiful and I don’t have to take the bus every day anymore. My route takes me down the Lochside trail past Swan Lake, and then down the famous Galloping Goose trail, over the Selkirk Trestle, and to the scenic Victoria harbour.

Now that Canada is pretty much in lock-down mode with the COVID-19 pandemic, the “new normal” is to work from home. My first week of working from home took some getting used to in terms of carving out my personal “office corner” and trying to keep a routine. After about 5 days though I turned into a stiff blob from not moving much, so I decided to treat the mornings like I’m still going in to the office. I wake up early, make a coffee in my Hydro Flask, and I bike my usual route downtown. Then I’ve been having my coffee in an empty plaza overlooking the harbour and the Blue Bridge, and then going back home!

In the pre-self-isolation days this tiny routine may have been a silly thing to mention. I think the pandemic has opened everyone’s eyes to the little things in life that we are grateful for every day, and because of that I wanted to share my pick of my beloved bicycle. I am grateful for the chance to work from home, grateful for having a home at all, grateful for being “cooped up” with my other half and not being alone, grateful for my bicycle which starts my day off right, and grateful for my beautiful city and the great weather.

 

Grant’s Pick

Grant's Pop Culture Pick - Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Grant Spychka, Head of Customer Success

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

TL;DR – Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch is the perfect way to spend your days self-isolating, with adorable characters, a bit of humour, a rewarding gameplay loop, and a relaxed atmosphere with beautiful music.

I’ll be honest, this is my first time ever playing a proper version of Animal Crossing (other than the mobile Pocket Camp game). But when I saw all my friends and video game critics raving about New Horizons, I knew I wanted in (hooray peer pressure!). In fact, I bought a Nintendo Switch mainly for this game alone (and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild). What strikes me about Animal Crossing: New Horizons is its simplicity. Like I said it’s my first go at the franchise but I immediately knew what I was getting into. The character models are cute – nothing fancy, but functional and fits the aesthetic. The music is relaxing and immediately got me feeling a bit zen. And the visuals overall are great! Again, nothing special since the Switch isn’t exactly a powerhouse console, but it’s charming and easy to look at.

But the thing that REALLY got me hooked was the gameplay. For reference, I’ve recently being playing a ton of Destiny 2 and Division 2 – you know, games where your character constantly dies and you have people online yelling in your ears. Needless to say, it’s all a bit stressful during these weird times we find ourselves in. Enter Animal Crossing. The game where, at worst, you faint from getting stung by bees or bitten by a tarantula, only to wake up at your front door ready to go off on another adventure. The goal of the game is to terraform a deserted island that you’ve been dropped onto with a few new pals, with more to join you as things develop. You collect materials found in nature, craft tools like fishing rods, bug catching nets, axes, etc. Then you do it all over again! You can honestly do whatever you want. Got a green thumb? Plant a garden and some trees! Keen on home decoration? Better Homes and Gardens, here you come (at a price, resident capitalist Tom Nook will keep you up to your nose in debt if you’re interested in home ownership)! Up for a little runway modelling? Treat yourself to a fancy Starfleet outfit (looking at you, Roxanne). The world is your oyster.

And one of the best parts is that the game syncs with your real-life timezone. The days advance as your day advances. A lot of the capabilities in the game are limited to what you get done in a day, but there’s also no rush. You can jump in for 10 minutes every morning, or for a few hours here and there. It doesn’t discriminate or punish you. It just wants you to have fun. And honestly, with the way things are right now, if we have to isolate ourselves on our own little islands then why not make it a more enjoyable experience? Plus, with the ability to have your real-life friends who own the game visit your island, I can’t think of a better exercise to put the social in social-distancing!

 

Roxanne’s Pick

Roxanne's Pop Culture Pick - Wonderful! podcast
Roxanne Baker, Marketing Magician

Wonderful!

In Short: Wonderful! Is a podcast about good things and the things that make them good.

When I’m craving a little shot of positivity and goodness, I make a cup of tea, curl up on my papasan chair and put on the podcast Wonderful! Hosted by husband and wife Griffin and Rachel McElroy, Wonderful! journeys through all that is good, lovely, and well, wonderful in the world.

Each episode begins with Griffin and Rachel’s “small wonders”, like open-window weather (episode 80: Jarpin’) or the Zamboni driver who filled in as goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes (episode 123: Nasty Jupiter). They then share their “big wonders”, delving deeper into what makes that particular thing so wonderful to them.

I absolutely love Griffin’s absurd sense of humour, and Rachel’s dulcet tones (especially when she recites one of her favourite poems during the recurring Rachel’s Poetry Corner segment). The chemistry between the two is a treat to listen to – this podcast just oozes love and happiness.

Don’t know where to start? Try episode 93: The Ghost Ship McDonald where Rachel details the rich history of the McBarge, a floating McDonald’s restaurant built for Expo ’86 in Vancouver or episode 71: Baby Like It Sweet where Griffin deep-dives into video game preservation.