Photo: Nintendo

Nintendo's Animal Crossing: New Horizons, released in the U.S. last week, has quickly emerged as a runaway hit pastime for a population trapped in their homes.

The big picture: Success in the video game industry often requires not only a great story and gameplay, but perfect timing. Nintendo's cartoonish simulation game, which allows players to create their own island getaways, appears to have pulled off all three.

Driving the news: New Horizons sold close to 2 million physical copies in just the first three days in Japan after a smash debut in the U.K. It's already a hit in the U.S. as well, where it retails for $60 as either a physical game card or download.

How it works:

  • Players create and shape their characters and islands, and can then garden, fish, decorate, hunt for bugs and fossils and get to know their surroundings. What happens on the island is also influenced by the real-world time and season.
  • Once players finish building their retreat, they can share it, and other players can visit.
  • Unlike in past Nintendo games, players don't have to choose a gender, and can apply any clothes and style to any character. "Society is shifting to valuing a lot of people's different identities," producer Aya Kyogoku told the Washington Post. "We basically wanted to create a game where users didn't really have to think about gender or if they wanted to think about gender, they're also able to."

Of note: New Horizons, the fifth title in the main series, only runs on the Nintendo Switch.

  • The game — as well as the shelter-at-home rules that have left so many people with time on their hands — has sent sales of the Switch soaring, with the console out of stock in many places.

What people are doing in Animal Crossing:

My thought bubble: This may not be the game for all time, but it is the game for right now — a mirror image of the summer of 2016, when Pokemon Go got everyone out of their houses to hunt creatures. Now, we're all cooped up, imagining we're free to roam our own desert isles.

Go deeper: This video gives a really good feel for the game and how it works.

Meanwhile: The new Animal Crossing isn't the only game with a big debut amid the pandemic. Doom Eternal, the latest title in the Doom franchise, which aims at hardcore shooter players, has also had a huge launch.

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