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The best PC games that are like Animal Crossing

(Image credit: Nintendo)

For many, Animal Crossing: New Horizons couldn't have come at a better time. Released on the Nintendo Switch last week, this serene little life sim is like a vacation: A retreat from the outside world to a virtual island to explore, make friends with cute anthropomorphic animals, and craft a little dream cottage. It's a game full of warm, good-natured fun, and it is, tragically, not available on PC.

It's a shame that there's no game on PC exactly like Animal Crossing in the way it blends chores, decorating, and socializing. Still, you don't have to suffer FOMO from seeing everyone share their cute island getaways online. Here's some great Animal Crossing alternatives to check out on PC.

Stardew Valley 

Released: February 26, 2016 | Steam

Stardew Valley is faster-paced than Animal Crossing and you'll quickly fall into a daily routine that you'll seldom break from, but the two games both romanticize simple labor and set you in a welcoming community of neighbors. There's a big emphasis on cultivating your land and turning it into a highly profitable farm and less of a focus on decorating, and, unlike Animal Crossing, you can only change the look of your farm instead of the neighboring village. 

Stardew is arguably less relaxing than Animal Crossing—days melt by in minutes rather than in real time, so you'll feel some pressure to use that time effectively as you race around town, doing chores, exploring the mines for minerals, or dropping off gifts for your beau. But the whole experience fosters a sense of accumulation, zen, and ownership over what you've made. I love the distinct feel of each season, and there's always a new festival on your calendar to look forward to, bringing the village and its residents to life in cute ways.

A Short Hike 

Released: July 30, 2019 | Steam

Whereas Animal Crossing sets you loose on a deserted island, A Short Hike is a sublime indie game about exploring a lush, mountainside provincial park. You have total freedom to explore the way you want to, either sticking to the marked trails or scaling cliffs to find secret treasures or hidden views—and because you're a bird you can always soar back down to safety. Wherever you venture, you'll find other animal hikers to chat with, along with places to fish and relax and just soak in the autumn ambiance.

If you've ever done a casual hike through the mountains, it's wonderful how perfectly A Short Hike captures that experience, and it mirrors the simple pleasure of Animal Crossing in both its upbeat mood and do-what-you-want spirit. Sure, you're not building a home or shaking peaches out of a tree to sell to a hyper-capitalist raccoon, but A Short Hike is relaxing.

My Time at Portia 

Released: January 15, 2019 | Steam

My Time at Portia is a bit like if Stardew Valley and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker had a baby. Instead of inheriting a farm, you inherit your father's workshop which lets you build all sorts of contraptions to help the residents of Portia in their daily lives. Eventually that means cultivating crops, but My Time at Portia is much more of a traditional RPG. You'll fight monsters, craft weapons and equipment, and take on quests for the townsfolk while also decorating your workshop and house, managing livestock, or participating in village festivals.

My Time at Portia juggles a lot of different inspirations that don't always mesh well together, but it also oozes charm. If you're the kind of person who wishes Animal Crossing had a bit more action—or just some RPG-style depth—My Time at Portia is a great alternative.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 

Released: December 10, 2019 | Steam

One of the best new features about Animal Crossing: New Horizons is its crafting system. You can now harvest resources from a variety of sources and use them to make furniture, build housing for island newcomers, or sell for a tidy profit. It's a lot like Dragon Quest Builders 2, a Minecraft-inspired spin-off of Square Enix's classic Dragon Quest RPGs that finally made its way to PC a few months ago.

Unlike Animal Crossing, Dragon Quest Builders 2 emphasizes combat and exploration—but neither is especially demanding or punishing. Enemies will periodically attack and destroy parts of your village, though, which might be too stressful if you're looking to just relax and build. Despite that, both games have a lot in common because you'll spend hours humming and hawing over every little aspect of your village and how best to use those foraged materials to benefit other characters. Each games' Japanese origins bleed through in their cartoonish sensibilities, making them really good companions to one another. Sure, your villagers might not be adorable animals (not all of them, anyway), but the dialogue is surprisingly witty and encourages you to always take the time to say hello.

Garden Paws 

Released: December 18, 2018 | Steam

If you absolutely must have cute animals in your Animal Crossing alternative, then look no further than Garden Paws, a farming simulator like Stardew Valley where you play as adorable critters like a fox, bear, or skunk. Like a lot of games on this list, Garden Paws is all about managing a little farm and using the profits to customize your home, but there's some unique features that help distinguish it from the rest.

For example, I love that there's a shopkeeping minigame where you can sell items you find to other residents each day or pay an assistant to run the store while you do more important things. The game is also structured around traditional MMO-style quests, with new areas, upgrades, and buildings rewarding for helping villagers. All of this can be completed at your leisure without fear of missing out if too many days pass or you want to focus on some other activity.

Doom Eternal 

Released: March 20, 2020 | Steam

Ignoring the fact that Doomguy and Isabelle are best friends, Animal Crossing and Doom Eternal are a match made in heaven. Like Animal Crossing, Doom Eternal is all about exploring exotic locales filled with colorful characters and collecting things to put on display at home—in this case it's a floating space cathedral powered by demonic energy. It might not be as cute as my beachfront cottage, but I really dig the antique architecture. And though they might seem a little standoffish at first, the creatures you meet in Doom really seem to open up and bear their souls if you push the right buttons. Before long, I knew exactly how to make them spill all sorts of juicy treats.

What really binds these two games together, though, is how they manage to find joy in the little things. There might not be any fossils to unearth and put in a museum, but it's just as satisfying to discover that I can shatter a Whiplash's forearm and ram the jagged spike of bone into its brain through its own screaming mouth. I didn't chop any trees down, but I did chop the legs off of a Mecha Zombie and then kick it into a pit of lava. And plucking a ripe peach from a tree is really no different than pulling the juicy, green eye right out of a Cacodemon's eye socket. Those differences might seem significant on the outside, but they both succeed in filling me with warm, happy feelings few other games manage to evoke.

Steven enjoys nothing more than a long grind, which is precisely why his specialty is on investigative feature reporting on China's PC games scene, weird stories that upset his parents, and MMOs. He's Canadian but can't ice skate. Embarrassing.