Five Xbox games like Animal Crossing — plus one that sort of isn't

By Heidi Nicholas,
Did you know that Animal Crossing: New Horizons released last week? Did something about the internet's being overrun with images of adorable islanders living adorable deserted-island lives tip you off? Do you keep opening Twitter to see snapshots of Tom Nook gleefully racking up Bell debts, or players ready to fight to the death over loyalty to their island neighbours? New Horizons, the latest instalment in the Animal Crossing franchise, is proving to be as popular as expected. At this time in particular, people seem happy to have a game which asks you to do nothing but relax and forget your troubles through sheer escapism. If you haven't got a Switch and are feeling completely left out, or if you've already been playing Animal Crossing and are now in a frenzy for other games with a similar wholesome feeling; look no further: we've created a list of a few Xbox games which, by one quality or another, belong to that same adorable niche.

Stardew Valley

stardew valley 1

Say "cute and cosy" three times and you'll summon Stardew Valley. To be fair, you can't go into this one expecting the same biased affection as your Animal Crossing neighbours will give you. They'll applaud you for anything, whereas Stardew Valley residents won't hesitate to tell you that your gift of hard-earned and homegrown produce is trash. Stardew Valley has farming elements that Animal Crossing doesn't, but one thing each game does share is that sense of community: you can just as easily spend the whole day just forming relationships with the various townspeople, running errands for them, and building friendships. If they like you, they'll write to you and send you gifts. You'll attend events with them and watch the community grow together. Like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley has the option for co-op and multiplayer. It also has that same sense of escapism. You can spend your time however you like — what happens in the game is entirely up to you. You can get totally lost in it, and since you can progress the days and seasons as fast as you'd like — whereas Animal Crossing runs on real time — you might find yourself looking up and seeing that hours have passed while you've just been chilling in Stardew Valley.

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles

yonder review

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is another game which blends the adventure and management aspects. It seems especially perfect for this list, since when Mark reviewed it, he called it a "happy medium" between Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley. It also seems pretty fitting for a list of games which revolve around wholesomeness and escapism; your main mission seems to be to improve the lives of everyone living in Gemea. Like Animal Crossing, it has some seasonal events, and like Stardew Valley, it has a broader range of activities to do: you'll be joining guilds, crafting, cooking, brewing, and farming, as well as helping the community. It has that irresistible premise of starting out with nothing and building your way up, coupled with what looks to be an entirely safe and relaxing game world — especially since there's no combat. You're just there to enjoy the world and help others to do the same. If this sounds like one you'd be interested in, be sure to check Mark's official site review.

My Time at Portia

My Time at Portia

My Time at Portia mixes management and role-playing elements. As with Stardew Valley, Animal Crossing, and Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, you're starting a new life. These games are always littered with convenient and generous relatives ready to leave you properties in a new town far away; in My Time at Portia, it's a workshop left to you by your Pa. There's gathering, mining, and farming to be done, and the crafting system itself is taken further — you join an official Guild, completing tasks and commissions to build your reputation within it. Community is again a bit part of the game: your workshop is plonked right next to a big town, and there's a friendship system to follow to build relationships with its resident NPCs. My Time at Portia feels full of possibility: there's always something to do, but the game doesn't necessarily signpost it for you. It's entirely up to you where to go and what to do. As such, this is definitely one which you'll lose a lot of time to — and, bonus, it's in Xbox Game Pass.

Farm Together

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As you might have guessed, Farm Together is, first and foremost, a farming sim. You'll have the management of a small plot, building it up over time into a major farm with crops, trees, and animals. As with Animal Crossing, time passes in the game even when you're not playing. Whereas in Animal Crossing that might mean you miss a neighbour's birthday party and feel guilty about it forever, in Farm Together, it's intended to make sure there's always something to do. Like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which lets you visit islands belonging to your friends or to strangers, Farm Together does exactly what it says on the tin: it lets you open you open the farm to the public, so that you can farm together. If you're looking for a game where you and your friends can pass time tending to livestock and crops, this is one for you.

Viva Piñata

Viva Piñata

Viva Piñata is another simulation game. This time, you're in charge of a garden on Piñata Island. Restoring and improving this garden will attract various species of Piñata; at first a black and white outline, and then in all their neon glory. The majority of your time will be spent in taking care of your garden, beautifying it with flowers, vegetables, and ponds, to tempt Piñatas into taking up residence, and protecting it from the Ruffians. By all accounts, it's a colourful, absorbing, and entirely addictive game about Piñatas and plants; however, unlike Animal Crossing, it's probably not a good idea to get too attached to your residents: Pinatas have a food chain, and you might have to let your residents get eaten if you want different animals to move in.

Honourable mention: Graveyard Keeper

Graveyard Keeper

Ok, so at first glance, Graveyard Keeper seems like an odd fit for this list. But hear me out: this game has a lot of the same elements as the other titles on here — it just approaches these elements from entirely different angles. It has management, community, farming, and fishing, but within a more sinister world, darker humour, and with more ghoulish aspects. Basically, if you're looking for a game to get lost in, but want something a little less twee, this would be a good one for you. You are in charge of a cemetery. You've got to keep it tidy and manage burials. But as time passes, Graveyard Keeper will prod you repeatedly, just to see exactly how long it takes you to shed any moral quandaries. It gleefully describes itself as a game of capitalism, and the first dilemmas it pitches in its description cover cannibalism, poisoning, and more: "Do you really want to spend money on that proper hotdog meat for the festival when you have so many resources lying around?". You'll be overseen throughout all this by a sarcastic talking skull, with occasional input from a communist donkey. If you were looking for a game with the same comforting management systems but completely different in tone, this was probably it.

That's just a few suggestions for some Xbox titles which might, in one way or another, fit that niche Animal Crossing Venn diagram of cuteness and escapism — with Graveyard Keeper thrown in as a random curveball — and should go some way towards meeting that Animal Crossing craving. What do you think? Have you got any suggestions for more Animal Crossing substitutes? Let us know in the comments!
Heidi Nicholas
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Hey, I'm Heidi! I've just finished studying a Masters in English Literature, but I've been obsessed with gaming since long before then. I began on the PS2 with Spyro, before graduating to the Xbox 360 and disappearing into Skyrim. I'm now a loyal RPG fan, but I still like to explore other genres — when I'm not playing Assassin's Creed Odyssey, or being lured back into Red Dead Redemption 2 or The Witcher 3!