Title: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Genre: Life Simulation
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Official Site: Animal Crossing: New Horizons official site
Release Date: 20th March 2020
Where to buy: Nintendo eShop
The last week or so of my life has been a little… different recently. I wake up at 9 am (I’m usually notorious for waking up no earlier than 12 pm) and pick my outfit for the day. I head outside to check out the local store and sell any wares I have in my possession. I’ll make a conversation with my neighbors, before settling down on the beach for a spot of fishing. And it’s all from the comfort of my own bedroom.
If you told me a few weeks ago that my life would soon be dedicated to paying off a loan to a virtual raccoon, I definitely would’ve believed you. However, I don’t think I truly anticipated just how enamored I would become with the world of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s an addictive experience that has quickly become heavily ingrained into my daily routine.
Animal Crossing has always had this funny way of clutching you in its fuzzy, relaxing grasp and refusing to let go for months on end. But Animal Crossing: New Horizons may just be the best entry in the series yet.
A Beautiful Island Getaway
Animal Crossing: New Horizons maintains many of the features present in previous games, but presents them in a far more structured manner. Previous games have you arriving at a pre-established town with villagers who’ve assumingly lived there for some time. In New Horizons, however, the game strips everything back to the absolute basics. You arrive on a deserted island accompanied by two other villagers, all beginning your journey together. There are no shops, no town hall, no museum.
It’s a blank canvas, begging to be painted on. The game slowly hands you the colors, one by one, to begin creating a picture filled with life. Animal Crossing has always been a game centered around the art of patience. It’s even more vital in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, as you start with nothing and slowly build your way up. The game does an amazing job of giving you something to look forward to each day. While it might initially feel frustrating only having access to a third of your island and no shops, it becomes incredibly satisfying seeing your island and its residents develop.
The island landscape is stunning. Though Animal Crossing has never been famous for its graphics, in New Horizons, they’re absolutely gorgeous. Trees shake with the wind, shadows change with the height of the sun, and the water glistens in the glaring sunshine. It’s all these small details that come together and make Animal Crossing: New Horizons feel full of life.
I’ve found myself marveling at the smallest of graphical details in this game. On one particular night, I found myself staring at the sky. It was a gorgeous mixture of purple and blue, with the stars clearly in view. While I was admiring the nighttime landscape, a shooting star fell across the sky. Then another, and another. I had heard my villagers talk about the possibility of a meteor shower, but for some reason, I hadn’t expected one to happen.
An Island Full of Life
Your fellow villagers (or islanders, in New Horizons’ case) have always been one of the biggest draws of the Animal Crossing series. Every animal looks better than ever in New Horizons, with all of their personality types being written to perfection. Genji, my jock-type rabbit, will regularly check on me to see how my workouts are going (I usually lie and tell him they’re going great while I stuff my face with junk food.) Peppy-type Wendy will often share her dreams of stardom with me, while lazy villager Punchy enjoys telling stories of the bugs that live in his house.
Personality types have always been a staple in Animal Crossing, but they feel more fully-realized in New Horizons. Every line of dialogue is fun, snappy, and a joy to read. While you might not get a lot out of villagers in your first few days with the game, as your relationships with them develop, their interactions become more in-depth. They may spot you and run over with a request or gift, or plod about the island deep in thought.
Conversations between fellow villagers are also a pleasure to experience. Certain personality types will bounce off one another in humorous exchanges, while other personalities may clash and cause tension. It was an incredible realization to discover that not only was I developing relationships with my villagers, but so too were they developing relationships with one another.
Your fellow neighbors quickly become your lifeline for many things. They’ll give you ‘reactions’ – a serious of short emotes your character can perform. You can also often receive DIY recipes from them – a feature new to Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Crafting Up a Storm
I’ll admit, I was initially pretty skeptical about the new crafting mechanic. Fortunately, the feature has been integrated so well; it’s hard to forget it wasn’t present in previous titles. A wealth of furniture, tools, and home accessories can be crafted using DIY recipes. They’re relatively easy to come by, dropping from balloons, being handed to you by villagers as well as being sold in Nook’s Cranny.
They’re a great way of being able to furnish your house in the early days when you only have a handful of furniture items available for sale on your island. Later in the game, most DIY furniture can also be customized, adding even more variety to furniture items. I found myself regularly hunting down DIY recipes, desperate for new things to decorate my house and island with.
Unfortunately, I found duplicate recipes became annoyingly common less than a week into my playthrough. With over 200 documented DIY recipes currently available, it seems a shame that I was sometimes going two or three days at a time without anything new to craft.
A Lesson In Patience
While crafting is a great addition to the series, it’s slowly become a source of aggravation. Crafting anything in bulk is incredibly tedious. For example, there’s an item in the game that you can craft to make fish bait. Once you’ve maxed out your inventory, you’ll find yourself with 30-40 of the things to craft with at a time. It quickly becomes a lesson in patience as you have to mash the A button over…and over…and over again. It’s a frustrating feature that dampens the quality-of-life of the game.
Tool durability is another thing I have truly come to loathe. It’s never been my favorite mechanic in a video game, and many Breath of the Wild fans will lament the implication of this feature. While you can upgrade your flimsy tools fairly early on, the standard versions also break irritatingly fast.
The speed at which tools disintegrate is a shame, as it seems almost wasteful to utilize the new customization system with them. As much as I desperately want to prance around with a yellow-rimmed net, I find myself not bothering.
This is further amplified by a lack of indication of just how close tools are to breaking. There’s no visual difference between a brand new tool and one that’s a single-use away from vanishing into thin air. It becomes a guessing game of how long a tool has left. Should I take another shovel on my island tour or chance it? It’s small quality-of-life features like these that can make the day-to-day goings of Animal Crossing a frustrating experience.
A World That Can be a Little Emptier
Another thing I have come to sorely miss in this game is some of the series’ most beloved characters. Though the return of Isabelle has been well-received by fans, some staple characters are sadly absent. Some have been retired in favor of new faces, such as turnip seller Joan passing the reigns to her grand-daughter Daisy Mae, or C.J. taking over the fishing duties of his father, Chip. Certain characters have also made a return after being absent, such as Celeste returning from Animal Crossing: City Folk for all your astrological needs.
However, some notable absences will greatly sadden long-time fans. There’s currently no sign of Brewster, the reserved pigeon who runs The Roost, a coffee shop. Certain quality-of-life features introduced in the game has also meant many special characters no longer have a place in the series. Post Office pelicans Pelly, Phyllis, and Pete, are no longer present, along with shampoo stylist Harriet. While it’s understandable their presence is no longer needed, it makes Animal Crossing: New Horizons feel a little emptier.
Nintendo is slowly introducing past characters with event updates, however, such as Leif returning for an Earth Day event. So we can only hope that they will bring back some of these beloved characters in the future.
Fun with Friends
Something that has truly added to my experience, however, is the multiplayer functionality. In true Nintendo style, it’s a little clunky. If you’ve got several friends visiting, be prepared to spend upwards of 10 to 15 minutes staring at loading screens while they turn up one-by-one. But once you’re all together, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is wonderful to play with your buddies.
It’s easy to exchange recipes, furniture, and bells with each other. Once you’ve visited your friends at least once, you can also add them as a Best Friend, enabling you to use destructive tools on their island. One of my favorite features with multiplayer has become the ability to send mail to each other. You can use the catalog to gift your friend’s items, or the airport to send letters.
It’s an easy way to trade with each other or surprise your friends with gifts you think they might like. Just yesterday, I playfully gifted my squid-loving, octopus-hating friend a poster of Marina. He swiftly responded with a letter declaring war against my island (all was well the next day when my tailor was selling funky mustaches.)
Beyond mail-sending and prank-gifting, however, there’s very little to do with multiplayer. While New Leaf had fun minigames, such as catching the most fish or slingshotting balloons, there’s nothing of the sort here. It’s a great shame considering how easy it is to play with friends.
A Truly Joyful Experience
That isn’t to say that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is an unenjoyable experience. At its core, New Horizons is a wonderful affair. I’ve found myself integrating the game into my daily routine, eagerly anticipating what would happen each day. It’s a slow grind, but one I’ve truly come to appreciate as the days go by.
When I booted up my game today, clothing store Able Sisters was finally open for business. It’s something I’ve been anticipating since my first day with the game, and the satisfaction I felt during the building’s opening ceremony made it feel like it was worth the wait. It’s worth noting I haven’t been with the game long enough to unlock terraforming yet, a feature that allows you to add or remove cliffs and rivers. The path creation tool is also currently unavailable to me. When I do receive these features, I’ll add a quick update as to how I think they perform.
Overall Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been an utter joy to experience. The extra freedom with developing your island how you please, coupled with the more structured format in the early days, balances out the overall game well. It’s motivated me to wake up each morning and spend a few hours with New Horizons, though I find I always end up telling myself ‘just five more minutes’ – and before I know it, it’s time for bed.
Verdict: Animal Crossing: New Horizons excels in many aspects. Many features present in previous games have been polished to perfection, and the more structured nature makes it a great entry point for newcomers. However, small grievances hinder the day-to-day experience. Crafting can be a slog, tool durability is a pain, and some beloved characters are sorely missing. But make no mistake, in many aspects, this is the best Animal Crossing game to date.
- Stunning graphics
- Crafting is a fun new addition
- The structured format is newcomer-friendly
- Exterior decorating is great
- No bulk crafting option
- Beloved characters are absent
- Tool durability is frustrating
- Multiplayer gameplay is lacking