We’ve reached single digits of days remaining until Animal Crossing: New Horizons is released to the world on March 20th! The digital download version will be the fastest way to get started, but exactly when can you begin playing?
The answer to that will depend on where you live, or rather which Nintendo eShop you purchase your copy from, as Nintendo does not release games simultaneously worldwide. And yes, that means you could play Animal Crossing: New Horizons a number of hours earlier depending on the eShop region!
Generally speaking, you can start playing your Animal Crossing: New Horizons digital copy from the Nintendo eShop unlocked at 12:00AM on March 20th, 2020 in your country. However, there is a major exception to this rule for North America in particular.
Note that unlocking the pre-load requires an internet connection to download a very small update enabling the game to be encrypted and playable.
North America (United States / Canada / Mexico)
In North America, Animal Crossing: New Horizons will launch for you at a different time depending on where you are located! Here’s a quick cheat sheet below…
- Atlantic Time: 1:00AM ADT (March 20th)
- Eastern Time: 12:00AM EDT (March 20th)
- Central Time: 11:00PM CDT (March 19th)
- Mountain Time: 10:00PM CDT (March 19th)
- Pacific Time: 9:00PM PDT (March 19th)
- Hawaii Time: 6:00PM HST (March 19th)
This is the standard pre-order unlock procedure for major first-party games by Nintendo of America and can be expected to continue for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The following statement from the NoA website confirms this:
When you pre-purchase a game, a non-playable version of the game will be pre-loaded to your system at the time of your order. You’ll be able to start playing it after downloading a small update, beginning at 12:00 AM ET on the game’s release date.
Europe (United Kingdom & More)
In Europe, Animal Crossing: New Horizons should launch in each country’s individual local time at 12:00 AM / Midnight as far as we know. So this means you could get it a few hours earlier depending on exactly which country you live in.
We verified this from the wording currently available on Nintendo UK, Nintendo France, Nintendo Italy, and other European Nintendo outlets’ official websites for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. For example, the United Kingdom site here states the following:
If you pre-order, you can preload ahead of release and the game’s data will be downloaded to your Nintendo Switch automatically. Then, at midnight on March 20th 2020, the game will unlock so you can jump in without delay!
Even if you only purchase Animal Crossing: New Horizons from the UK eShop, you can expect to play about five hours earlier than the North America eShop release.
Japan / Australia
The other main regions that remain are the Japanese and Australia Nintendo eShops. We expect the game to release at midnight in Japan, but Australia is a little more confusing due to have a multitude of different time zones similar to the United States and Canada.
According to the Nintendo Australia official website for Animal Crossing: New Horizons though, the game will be available at midnight, with the same wording as the Nintendo Europe websites:
If you pre-order, you can preload ahead of release and the game’s data will be downloaded to your Nintendo Switch automatically. Then, at midnight on 20th March 2020, the game will unlock so you can jump in without delay!
A specific timezone isn’t stated though, so we’re left to guess. Assuming that Australia’s most eastern time zone is used similarly to the United States though, then the game should be available starting at 12:00AM / Midnight AEDT.
When is the earliest you can play Animal Crossing: New Horizons?
Based on the analysis of release times we’ve gathered above and accounting for time zones, we estimate that the earliest you could play Animal Crossing: New Horizons is by purchasing a copy from the Australia Nintendo eShop and hoping for the release to arrive at Midnight AEDT AKA 6AM PDT on March 19th. Weirdly, this would be two hours earlier than the Japanese release, which is kind of strange.
So we’re not 100% confident in the Australian time, but we can say for sure that the Japanese release will occur at Midnight JST AKA 8AM PDT on March 19th. This would allow you to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons approximately 13 hours earlier than the North America release time.
It’s worth noting that the Japanese Nintendo eShop says an English language option is supported for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, so you could do this to play the game about half a day early if you are so inclined. However, there may be other limitations to the Japanese copy that we are not aware of.
A potentially safer option that still allows you to play earlier would be a copy from the United Kingdom eShop, where the game should be available at Midnight GMT AKA 5PM PDT, or about 4 hours ahead of the North American release. Whether it’s worth that effort simply to play a few hours in advance is a different question though — probably not!
That’s just about everything! I hope this article gave you a little more insight into how the digital Nintendo eShop release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons will work and when you can finally begin your deserted island adventure.
If you spot any obvious errors, please let us know as all of the times can get quite confusing. We’re pretty confident in everything here though except for the Australian wildcard. If you live there and are very familiar with the usual procedures, please don’t hesitate to get in touch and help clarify the situation for us!
Animal Crossing: New Horizons launches worldwide on March 20th! Pre-order the game here, the official guide here, and check our release date countdown here. Stay tuned to Animal Crossing World for more news as we approach the release!