Xbox needs their own version of an Animal Crossing-style exclusive

Heidi Nicholas - March 28th 2020

If the recent release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons proves anything, it’s that people will always have a lot of love for such happy, wholesome games. Now, more than ever, that escapism is proving ideal, but the enticement of those games never really fades away. It’s the same with Pokemon; each new instalment is met with just as much enthusiasm as the last. The premise is usually pretty similar, but that feel-good enjoyment is always just as strong.

Nintendo’s clearly got the winning hand with those types of games, but PlayStation have a history in that happy/family game niche with, for example, their Little Big Planet series. We mentioned before about the advantage Xbox have already earned themselves with the Xbox Series X through their clear messaging and effective branding, but that they needed to build on this with some strong game reveals. If Xbox were to produce an exclusive in the same vein as Animal Crossing, they would again be building on that advantage by making strides in a genre which will always prove popular, and which is currently lacking, both on Xbox and PlayStation.

Sea of Thieves was close to that sort of tone, and proved an extremely popular Xbox exclusive, but doesn’t quite match that style of game. The Animal Crossing and Pokemon titles alike have multiplayer options, but a big part of the attraction is simple fun in a single player world. You can have friends drop in on Animal Crossing and Pokemon, but it’s ultimately your adventure; the single-player capabilities offer just as much, if not far more, then multiplayer. Sea of Thieves isn’t quite as evenly split; multiple people are needed to sail a ship effectively, for starters, and that can be quite a deterrence to gamers who prefer a single-player experience. Plus, while Sea of Thieves appeals to a broad range of ages, its content and gameplay isn’t as easily accessible to all as these Nintendo exclusives. In the feedback for New Horizons, there have been examples of parents talking about sharing the game with younger children, which can't be done even with Stardew Valley — despite its status as one of the most charming games out there — whereas the idea of collecting Pokemon, or fishing, talking with neighbours and living an adorable life in New Horizons, is one that all ages can understand and enjoy.

Nor is Sea of Thieves as easy to drop in and out of as Animal Crossing or Pokemon; there’s a simplicity in those games which means it’s just as engaging to play each day as it is to pick up after a month — and even after that long of a break, you still know exactly what you need to do. While the internet is currently obsessed with Tom Nook and Co, it’s clear there are some players wishing that a similar experience existed on Xbox. There’s a void of anything to match that addictive, simple, escapist experience. Playing something like New Horizons only increases the desire to play something similar; something to turn to while waiting for things to progress in Animal Crossing, or vice versa. Players racing through the newest Pokemon and Animal Crossing will put down their Switches from time to time, but there’s nothing in the same vein on Xbox to stop them picking that Switch back up again, if it's that style of game they're after.

As we don’t yet know much of Microsoft’s plans for the next-gen lineup, it’s hard to imagine what that sort of happy/family Xbox exclusive might look like. Everwild, which was unveiled at last year’s X019 event, looks extremely promising. Yet we know next to nothing about this title, except for what an Xbox Wire post mentioned: that it’s “an experience that allows for new ways to play in a natural and magical world… something truly original and incredibly special that aims to be more than just a new IP.” Everwild is being developed by a new team at Rare, which exists alongside their Sea of Thieves team; so while it will most likely prove an incredible game, it may still miss that magically wholesome mark of a single-player game.

It’s clear Xbox are gearing up for their strongest generation of console yet. They haven’t shared too many details, but that lack of information on next-gen games only implies that they’ve got a lot planned to tell us. There’s so many directions they could take to match the tone of a Pokemon or an Animal Crossing; they could even look at acquiring something like the MMO RPG TemTem, although that could just be more of the same. They could also have Rare revive or reboot Viva Pinata, which is perhaps the closest thing Xbox has ever had to an Animal Crossing and Pokemon style exclusive - though it never lit a fire under players in quite the same way.

It seems more likely, with all the power and planning going into the Xbox Series X, that Microsoft has more than enough resources to come out with their own first-class exclusive in that family-friendly, pick-up-and-play space that so many people want to sit in when times are tough. Pokemon and Animal Crossing have decades of history and multiple instalments behind their respective franchises, but with all that potential going into Xbox Series X, and with that lack of anything to really match Nintendo’s exclusives on Xbox or PlayStation, it’s possible that players could one day look forward to the newest edition of that major Xbox exclusive with as much enthusiasm as the new Animal Crossing.