Animal Crossing New Horizons is a Life Sim game developed and published by Nintendo. It released on March 20, 2020 as a Nintendo Switch exclusive. It costs $60.
Every day after school, I fired up the GameCube and played Animal Crossing, and I was bent on collecting everything — every critter, every fossil, every K.K. Slider song, and every NES game (yes, you could actually play NES games on the original Animal Crossing). As an adult, I fire up the Switch and play New Horizons for a new power fantasy: becoming a homeowner.
Just kidding, it’s still for the collecting.
Seeing as Animal Crossing is a game that can’t ever be “beaten” or “finished,” it’s tricky to review the game. I guess I will just describe my initial impressions and thoughts on the main mechanics and call it a “review.”
First off, let me say it’s almost always a treat to see a franchise finally jump to HD. I imagine it’s what parents feel like when their kids leaves on their first day of school, or go to their first school dance. Animal Crossing has never looked so good. I often walk along the beach and just watch the water wash up on the shore and the wind rustle the leaves. But the character animations are even better. The way Hornsby observes the flowers, book in hand, is too adorable. The animations to all the household items charm me every time. The bugs and fish look so realistic now, a big step up from what we got to on the GameCube and 3DS.
Speaking of those, as a collector I am so happy with the Critterpedia. It is exactly the thing I wanted. It has detailed illustrations and important info on when and where to catch critters. The devs literally read my mind when making this.
On top of that, I was floored when I went into the new museum for the first time. Each exhibit is massive, spanning several rooms with many special features. It feels like an actual museum I would visit in real life, and for someone like me, that’s extremely important. I felt excited to collect everything all over again and donate to this beautiful piece of my community.
Let’s talk about crafting. At first I thought it was a strange addition, like making Animal Crossing a bit too much like Minecraft, but now that I’ve had some time for it to sink in, I think it fits well. It’s helpful to de-centralize everything revolving around Bells. Gathering materials easily fits into the normal Animal Crossing routine, and having DIY recipes gives me more things to collect!
I also really like the other big addition: Nook Miles. You can earn Nook Miles by completing activities, which vary from speaking to villagers, to selling fruit, to dropping a present into a river. There’s also Nook Miles Plus, which cycle through basic tasks. This means that there’s always some small goal for you to work towards. If you have your own goals, you can work on those, but if you’re not sure what to do, you can always default to getting more Nook Miles. I love it.
My favorite way to spend Nook Miles is to buy a ticket to a randomly generated island and loot the place. Sometimes the island you arrive on is fairly bland, but other times you get unique islands — such as an island loaded with a bamboo forest, or the island filled with Emperor Butterflies, which you can nab for 2,000 Bells each.
In many ways, I like how New Horizons has you start from basically nothing and build the community up from scratch. You can design your island community from the start, but you still build your power up slowly. We put all the shops and centers in a “downtown” area, and scattering all the villagers across the southern part of the island, leaving the central area for my wife and I, and the northern area mostly untouched for catching fish and bugs. Someday we’re planning on putting in a Japanese garden somewhere up there once we have enough materials and tools.
However, there are some parts of this progression that don’t make sense to me. I understand slowly increasing my inventory, but I don’t understand gating other aspects behind this — for example, why wait to have hourly music until more than a week into the game? The hourly music was something I was looking forward to, but for the first week all I heard was the same acoustic guitar riff. It was nice for the first few days, but I honestly thought it was going to be the only song I would hear, and I was quite disappointed. Until it magically becomes available?
I also have mixed feelings about the multiplayer options. It is fun to play together with my wife, and as limited as the Player 2 can be, we can easily switch leaders if need be and keep working on the same goals. Online multiplayer, however, continues to disappointment me. It’s fun to visit another person’s island, and vice versa, and there are no technical hitches, thankfully. But we can’t simultaneously have couch and multiplayer co-op, and you can’t have an island together with someone online. The best game I’ve found that gets multiplayer right is Stardew Valley, an indie game made by one man. So I don’t think there are any excuses for AAA studios. I’m satisfied enough with it though.
I’m completely in love with the quality of life improvements and the ability to make detailed designs of our own. The house designer function is a huuuuge time-saver. It’s about time they implemented something like that And I love being able to freely control the camera around the house. I’ve already customized several pieces of the furniture in my house, and I’ve even designed a few custom shirts and hats. The Animal Crossing community is where the truly inspiring stuff happens, though. There are genuine artists out there that have made everything from Link cosplays to artistic murals. I’m so impressed with what the community has come up with, and I know it’s only going to get better.
I will probably come back in six months and do a follow-up review, but for now, I’m very happy with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s one of the best games on the Switch, and I’m looking forward to checking into this game daily for a nice, relaxing escape in these tumultuous times.