Nintendo finally gave Animal Crossing fans what they wanted at E3 this year: a release date and title for the next entry in the fantastic village simulation series. A Nintendo Switch isn’t free though, and its price tag can be hard to justify if you’re only planning on getting New Horizon in March. Sometimes we can’t live our best lives.
But fortunately for PC players (as much as can be; Animal Crossing is a blessing), there are plenty of games on PC that replicate what Animal Crossing does fairly well. If you’re looking for a little balm for an AC-less summer, look no further; we’ve listed six of the best alternatives on our platform below.
This list focuses on games that are available at the very second your eyes scan this text, so upcoming options like Ooblets are omitted (though we’ll mention it here as it looks great – it has dance battles). So pick up a shovel for fossil hunting, a net for bug catching, and a creative attitude for interior decorating: Animal Crossing provides a unique approach to relaxation and these PC games do a damn fine job following in its footsteps.
We’re kicking off with a bit of a history lesson. Here’s the series that started this whole genre, though it’s not quite what it was.
Harvest Moon: Light of Hope
The original rural life simulator game was 1996’s Harvest Moon, created by Yasuhiro Wada of Marvelous Interactive. Sadly, the series hasn’t been the same since Marvelous split from its publisher Natsume, meaning that the new Harvest Moon games haven’t been developed by the same studio. Marvelous is now making another simulation series, dubbed Story of Seasons, and it’s getting a new entry on PC this autumn.
Despite all this drama, you can still check out Natsume’s most recent effort in the series that still bears the original name. Many would say it has been surpassed, but Harvest Moon: Light of Hope still packs a lot of nostalgia.
Well, obviously. How could we neglect to mention this? In perhaps the best-known love letter to Harvest Moon – and thus to Animal Crossing – on the PC right now, you inherit your grandfather’s farm, and abandon the corporate rat race for a life of honest work and a chance at love. Renovate your farm, raise animals, get acclimated to small town living, and find that special someone.
Eric ‘ConcernedApe’ Barone’s masterpiece of farming and relationship building, Stardew Valley, took Yasuhiro Wada’s creation, expanded on every feature, and put the rural sim back on the map when it launched in 2016. Since then new single-player and multiplayer content – not to mention a flourishing modding community – has only enriched its quaint simulation of unhurried rural life.
My Time at Portia
My Time at Portia is a fun amalgam of Rune Factory, Stardew Valley, and Animal Crossing. It’s got in-depth relationship mechanics with mini games, marriage, and dungeon-crawling combat tucked alongside a city building simulator. And yet despite all the content it’s packing, Portia still feels relaxing to play.
You can farm, fish, befriend villagers, and dig for materials just like Animal Crossing, but the building takes centre-stage. The story starts with your father running off to be a hoodlum, abandoning his farm and its workshop to your care. You’ll restore them to working order and undertake commissions for the good citizens of Portia, the local town. As you do so you’ll restore the town to glory, become one of its model citizens, and perhaps even meet someone to settle down with.
While Staxel‘s visuals feel more like Minecraft, with their sharp edges and blocky aesthetic, it’s very much a relaxing experience in the vein of Animal Crossing. The core gameplay loop focuses on expanding the village so that more characters can move in, though once again, you’re given a neglected farm to restore. Boasting a voxel-based sandbox world, you can alter your surroundings as you like. You’ll interact with NPCs, gather resources, build, and explore, while listening to a nifty little soundtrack.
Staxel came out of Early Access earlier this year, so it’s had plenty of community-driven updates at this stage as developer Plukit pursues its vision. Version 1.0 quests, new locations to explore, and a whole lot of cabbage.
Garden Paws is an Animal Crossing imitator in which you are the animal. Not a wild animal, per se, but a very cute one which also happens to have inherited a grandparent’s farm. Playable critters include foxes, rabbits, badgers and even a dragon – all painfully adorable. The loop in Garden Paws is a bit simpler than some others on this list: in order to expand the nearby village, you’ll need to open up a shop, explore the world to collect various wares, and then earn money to reinvest into the local community.
Created by Bitten Toast Games, Garden Paws was a kickstarter title that raised almost three times its goal (nearly $60,000 out of a $20,000). It launched late last year on Steam.
If you’re looking for perhaps the most direct homage to Nintendo’s series, Castaway Paradise takes many of the systems of its inspiration and simplifies them. Villagers, exploration, changing cosmetics, and even bug collecting – they all happen just like they would in Wild World or New Leaf. Amusingly enough it now looks like Nintendo is looking to developer Stolen Couch Games for inspiration, with Animal Crossing: New Horizons – due in 2020 – ‘borrowing’ Castaway Pardise’s setting of a desert island. This is a good game to play with the young ‘uns.
Developed by Stolen Couch Games, Castaway Paradise originally came to PC in 2015, then got a 2018 release on consoles. It’s also available on mobile platforms.