Everybody Is Wrong About Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Everybody Is Wrong About Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Image: Nintendo
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It’s telling how good the weeding is in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

In the Animal Crossing games of old, people would tell you how they grew terrified of reloading their save after weeks or months had passed. Weeds would have overtaken everything.

I wish, with every ounce of my heart and soul, that weeding was the only thing that worried me about New Horizons. Because weeding is one of the few tasks in the game that actually work with an acceptable level of efficiency.

You hit one button. The weed immediately appears in your inventory. You can stack 99 weeds per inventory slot. You don’t have to go through three pun-filled dialogue options just to pick one. Weeds even sell for a respectable price.

Weeds in Animal Crossing are the only part of the formula that works the way it should. It’s so good I save some of the weeds for my wife, so that in the tiny amount of time that she spends on our shared island, she can also take part in the one part of the game that shines.

animal crossing new horizons everybody is wrong

We’re one week into Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ release now, and somehow the game has received near-universal acclaim with a Metacritic score of 91. Even this website, where everybody is entitled to their own opinion – which is precisely what reviews are – somehow pronounced that Animal Crossing: New Horizons was “Simply Perfect”. Not only that, New Horizons was pitted as the unwitting beneficiary of a grim yet fortuitous coincidence: that many people right now would very much like to unplug from the current state of the world, escaping into a welcoming, candy coloured fantasy land full of happiness, positivity and optimism.

More so than usual, even.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Is Simply Perfect

Animal Crossing: New Horizons arrived to a world in turmoil. Countries around the globe are in lockdown. The death toll from COVID-19 rises. Thousands have lost jobs. Many others are working from home in isolation. But on Crooked Island, the world is absolute bliss.

Read more

I won’t deny that a new Animal Crossing game is what some people need in their lives right now because doing so would be wrong.

Some absolutely need Animal Crossing in their lives right now. The world is a suddenly unfamiliar place, and having small rays of sunshine to depend on, like Tom Nook’s cheerful morning addresses and the squeaky little noises Timmy and Tommy make, could just be the glue that holds somebody’s day together. Is it perfect though? Not even close.

For every little flourish and vignette in New Horizons which delights the soul, just as much time, if not many multiples more, is spent in repetitive dialogue trees, watching the same prompts and statements fly by over and over again.

New Horizons initially forces you to donate items to the museum one by one. First suffering through some introductory text, then stating yes I would like to donate an item, yes it is this item, no I don’t want a story about it. Then depending on how many you have to donate, the process must be repeated again and again.

The same goes for fossils too, which must be donated and assessed via their own separate dialogue trees, using the same headache inducing beats and canned text.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

In a recently released demon slaying Dark Souls clone, you can break down or sell hundreds of assorted weapons and armour pieces in mere seconds, converting well sorted and hard earned garbage into either useful currency or crafting materials. In Stardew Valley if you want to process a geode you just put it on the block and go WHAMMO. It feels great and works like a charm. Not to mention the showers of heavenly resources which appear when you do something simple like chop down a tree, or the simplicity of mashing a button to craft multiple copies of an item. It feels good and it works.

In New Horizons, nothing you do feels very good at all. Everything is gummed up by dialogue boxes and repetition, with so little pay-off for your hard work.

Throw in some very limited inventory space. Terrible tutorial advice about breaking precious rocks instead of using them to their full potential. A lack of storage containers forcing you to retread the same dialogue trees again and again just to clear up enough inventory to catch another fish, and New Horizons comes right out of the gate as a seriously painful game to “play”.

How can a game without fun even come to exist? Nobody is expecting Devil May Cry levels of white knuckle thrills from the Animal Crossing series, for sure. It is however important to question where the game even begins to progress from tedious chores into fun territory?

Is it ten hours in? Twenty? I’m not there yet, after one week of playing every day. Exhausting every rock, every tree, every day. Hitting every mind-numbing milestone. Grinding those Nook Miles down task after task.

If the fun is in the building, and the crafting, and the refashioning of a mostly empty island to become a home for you and all of your animal pals, then why is every step so much more tedious than it needs to be?

Why are there five prompts and an unskippable animation for practically every crafting action?

Why do I have to craft six wooden pieces of garbage before another animal can move in down the street? Nintendo must surely know how many trees you have to whack to get that much wood.

Why doesn’t the game show the boundaries of where I can and cannot place things?

Why do I have to orient my happy little dude along an invisible grid again, open my inventory again, navigate to the item again, click on it again, click place again, and fucking pray to the gods that this time that damned fence post can just sit nicely next to my house so that the world is a little less of a barren wasteland of disappointing shit?

Trees, gardens and fences shouldn’t be a pain point, we’re trying to build a town here!

The only possible explanation (aside from malicious intent) is engagement. At some point Nintendo stopped caring about how much fun people were having, and instead started only caring about how much time people were investing.

If there’s one thing Animal Crossing: New Horizons does without fail, it’s take up time. But the payoff for all interminable dialogue boxes, awkward decoration and the tens of hours it takes to progress just isn’t enough. Consider yourself warned.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons: The Kotaku Review

I’ve decided to take a vacation. Well, less of a vacation and more of a … sojourn, I guess you could call it. A close friend of mine, Tom Nook, has started a new business offering relocations to a deserted island. There are discounts for those who can help with some early foraging. I have no idea how he found this place, but I’m willing to overlook that if he can help me get away from it all for a little while.

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This guest op-ed was written by Craig Daveson, the COO of MediaConnect, organisers of the Australian IT Journalism Awards. Daveson also writes a daily technology media column for Influencing.com. And for the record, we think the game’s pretty good.


  • Anyone that makes a reductive statement such as Nioh 2 is a Dark Souls clone, really should not be writing for a video-game website.

    • I’s not a direct clone but it lives in the immediate family. In terms of core gameplay loop they are the same:
      – You trudge through an area, fight difficult enemies where even the weakest ones can tear you to shreds in an instant
      – You collect a resource used to level up and lose it on death unless you get to your corpse
      – You have waypoints that serve as respawn points
      – Everything respawns after you “use” one of said waypoints
      – Areas culminate in a larger than life boss battle in an arena gated off from the rest of the zone.
      – Combat is limited to heavy and light attacks with weapon strength and elemental advantages being the main strategies for doing more damage
      – You pick up items from small light indicators.
      There might be distinct differences but there’s also a lot of core design that’s shared between the two.

      • The core gameplay isn’t like dark souls outside of bonfires. Never seen a game with highlighted loot and levels before dark souls though, you have me there.

  • Hate to be that guy, but you can donate multiple items to the museum at once, and you can have multiple fossils assessed by Blathers at once. If you do it that way, he doesn’t tell you a story about each bug/fish/fossil.

    Also, there’s pretty generous storage for stuff in your house.

    • Huh, I thought he addressed this as being an unlocked feature later but can’t find it again going back.

      That features sucks though in that you miss out on his whole explanation of each item. Without that I feel like there’s hardly any point going to the museum any more, but at the same time I don’t want to take ten times as long to go through the rest of the dialogue doing them all individually.

  • Craig, buddy, not everyone has to like Animal Crossing. That’s perfectly fine. But that’s a lot of gripes there that, if you had delved a little deeper, you would have found solutions to. Just saying.

    • If by ‘delve deeper’ you mean, ‘intuit naturally without effort’ you’re probably right!
      Sounds a lot like the complaints of someone looking for something to complain about, and/or speedrun a game that is fundamentally – both mechanically and philosophically – opposed to racing through.

  • I agree with most of this. While I mostly enjoy the game, its riddled with issues that makes me wonder whether games studios employ user experience designers. Some of the fixes are just so obvious.

  • Spot on. I want to have fun with the game but Nintendo have made it so hard to do that. Everything requires multiple steps, none of which are fun. The puns which were wince-inducing the first time are now just a massive annoyance. I keep hoping something will change, but I think it’s time to sell this one on.

  • At first I was wondering how the weeding is the good part, being one of the more annoying aspects for me. Dude has some points though:

    Why doesn’t the game show the boundaries of where I can and cannot place things?

    Why do I have to orient my happy little dude along an invisible grid again, open my inventory again, navigate to the item again, click on it again, click place again, and fucking pray to the gods that this time that damned fence post can just sit nicely next to my house so that the world is a little less of a barren wasteland of disappointing shit? Haven’t done fences yet myself but just thinking of the whole rigmarole of trying to place tents/shops/museums and how long it takes to get the preview up… it is painful.

  • On the one hand, many of the particulars regarding how you engage with the game are… kind of true. There are a lot of dialogue boxes, there is a lot of repetition, you do have a lot of flourishes between actions, etc. But I think you’re missing the entire point of the game. The fact that you think you’re grinding through meaningless tiers of progression just proves unequivocally that the game is not for you.

    You’re missing the joy and fun in what’s on offer.

    I won’t nitpick the fact that the assessing/donating process can be easily streamlined down to a ten second process with up to 40 fossils donated simultaneously or the fact that your inventory is actually quite sizeable and your house storage is massive or any of the other points which all have modest counterpoints. The fact of the matter is the game was designed to be taken in stride. Sure, you could have a crafting system where you set your character to make 200 items and you set your Switch down and watch some Netflix or make a sandwich (which is something I’ve frequently done in other games) but that really isn’t what Animal Crossing is about.

    You hit the nail on the head. It IS about engagement, though not in the way you seem to imagine. Every action in the game is supposed to matter. Every crafting is an event. Every NPC conversation is meant to feel like it’s more than just a means for you to check your digital checklist. It’s meant to feel like a world to live in. The goal isn’t to rush or to grind. It’s to experience. And clearly experiencing the world, the game and the characters holds no value to you. You just care about efficient progression and nothing else. Quite frankly, this just means you should find something else to play.

    As a point of fact, the fun for me (and for most people, it seems) started the moment the game launched. From the second I had my character and I was moving around the island, it was already a blast. Every moment, every action. And honestly, it’s fine you don’t enjoy that. But there’s a distinct difference between something being bad and everyone being “wrong” as you say, versus you disliking something even if it’s well made. This isn’t a “it’s not you, it’s me” situation. It’s definitely you.

  • Pro tip: if everyone thinks something is okay and 1 person thinks it’s bad, I don’t think it’s the majority that’s wrong, pal.

    AC is not a game you can sit down with and burn through it in a single afternoon. It’s meant to be very slowly played over the course of at least a year. Why is this guy even bothering with it when he clearly knows nothing about it, nor does he enjoy it? Just to rain on everyone’s parade? Classy.

    • A game can be slow paced and relaxing without being a fucking painful mess

      Look at stardew valley, its filled with all sorts of quality of life improvements over the harvest moon games, yet still retains that relaxing peaceful atmosphere

      There is no excuse for animal crossing to play this badly and be this much of a pain to play

  • The f*ck is this article? Seriously? Why aren’t you addressing all the real problems of the game like one island PER CONSOLE, or the fact that the second player is just a GLORIFIED VISITOR. “Picking up weed has never been so easy” damn Kotaku, how much money has Nintendo payed you for this smoke screen.

  • Craig has never touched a Animal Crossing game in his life it seems.

    It’s not the Sims, it’s not an RPG, it’s a purposefully slow game that you play once a day for about 2-3 hours to kill time, it’s a game where time literally moves based on the real world clock.

    As for the mechanics themselves they’re just part of the Animal Crossing formula, every game plays like this from the original on the GC to this one, sure there’s some improvements but this is the chosen style of the series.

  • 100% accurate review of animal crossing
    No sarcasm, everything is such a chore, its as if someone looked at the quality of life changes in other games and went in THE EXACT OPPOSITE DIRECTION

    Animal crossing plays no better than it did on the gamecube, and there is no excuse for a series this old to still be so clunky and slow

    Even monster hunter the infamously clunky series came out with monster hunter world that swept every annoying thing about the series down the drain and made it a wonderful smooth experience, and even before then every new game would refine the formula and make it a little easier to get through the clunkier systems

    Animal crossing has done none of that, literally the only thing theyve done to make the game less of a chore is remove mister resetti lecturing you about quitting without saving

  • My lord…. just shut up dude.

    Just because you’re bad at the game doesn’t mean the game itself is bad.

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