Despite being the 5th (6th if you include the Japanese-exclusive 'Dobutsu no Mori' for N64) game in the mainline Animal Crossing series, New Horizons director Aya Kyogoku considers the recent Switch release to be the start of the third generation for the franchise.
In an interview with Spanish news outlet La Vanguardia, Kyogoku touched on the subject, revealing her thoughts on how she looks at new generations for Animal Crossing titles.
“Looking back on the series, for the mainline titles specifically, I consider Animal Crossing: New Horizons to be the beginning of the third generation of the series.
The first Animal Crossing had no online play features – it was created under the premise that players could communicate in an asynchronous manner without an internet connection.
Online functions were added in Animal Crossing: City Folk and it was possible to play together even with people living in different places.
In New Horizons, due to the fact that you start by not having a normal town, there are a lot of changes even if you play alone. We also added a mode called ‘Party Play’ where you can play with people living on the same island simultaneously instead of doing it asynchronously like before.
The fact that Animal Crossing is a game about communication has been constant through the franchise’s history, but the options relating to how you communicate are changing in a flexible way alongside the times and technology.”