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.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the latest entry in the long-running Animal Crossing franchise and the first to release on Nintendo Switch. It's the first 'mainline' game since 2012's New Leaf for Nintendo 3DS and the wait has been agonising for many. With such a long gap (and an entire console generation) between games, expectations for New Horizons were high — but the game has successfully eclipsed these with a range of quality of life and changes that freshen up the classic gameplay formula.
Plus, it all plays out in the cutest way possible.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons Gameplay
In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players arrive on a deserted island and are tasked with fishing, bug-catching, crafting and foraging to build out life on the island and make a home for the villager friends. While the game adopts many of the core features of past Animal Crossing games, there are some key differences this time around.
Traditionally, players are brought to a gentrified town with multiple shops and amenities where they're able to sell goods of all kinds. In New Horizons players must work for this privilege and establish their town from the roots up.
The whole process feels much more personal and gives players ownership over their island. It's highly involving and takes place over several weeks. The delayed gratification means that you feel like you've earned the services available to you and built your island off your own back.
It also means that you'll have a reason to go back to the game every day. In addition to the usual daily activities of picking fruit, catching things and fossil finding, players can also take on daily activities that unlock more of the game's functionality. On day one, you'll be tasked with paying off your debt and collecting enough bugs to invite Blathers, the museum curator, to your island. On day two, you'll be tasked with opening the island's museum. On day three, you'll be asked to help open a shop.
These activities make opening up Animal Crossing everyday a true joy, and provide a purpose that was often lacking in past games.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
BACK OF THE BOX QUOTE
You'll die... of cuteness!
TYPE OF GAME
This is the wholesome and pure game we need right now.
That I'm writing this review instead of playing it.
March 20, 2020
Around 30 hours played over five days.
With each activity you undertake, you'll earn a new currency called Nook Miles which is used to purchase rare goods and tickets to foreign Mystery Islands. Nook Miles can be earned every day, and provide further motivation for players to continue their Animal Crossing adventure.
All of this action plays out in a disgustingly cute chibi style with bright and vibrant colours that pop even if you're playing it in handheld mode. When players are happy, they can emote with flowers that spring from their head. When they catch a fish, their fellow villagers will clap for their achievement. Every building opening can be celebrated with a special island-wide ceremony. It's purely, simply delightful.
Quality of Life Changes
New players likely won't be aware of just how much New Horizons has changed when compared to 2012's New Leaf, but there's a whole lot of improvements here that really elevate Animal Crossing's traditional gameplay.
First, let's get one debatable change out of the way — in New Horizons, tools have a durability system similar to Breath of the Wild. If you use them too much, they'll break and you'll have to make new ones. It's frustrating on the one hand, but it does allow players to flex their crafting skills and makes you think twice about using your tools. I'm still deciding how I feel about this change.
But now, onto the improvements.
As mentioned, there's a new progression system that makes gameplay continuously rewarding and gives players a reason to log in every day. Everything you do in New Horizons feels purposeful. You collect iron nuggets for the purpose of building a shop. You donate bugs to expand the museum. Even shaking trees can earn you valuable Nook Miles and allow you to grow your island. It's a fantastic change.
The new crafting system is also great. New Horizons introduces players to a new gameplay system where they can customise and build their own furniture rather than waiting for it to become available at Nook's Cranny. This furniture can then be used to decorate players' islands, enabling the highest level of customisation for Animal Crossing yet.
— Leah Williams (@legenette) March 24, 2020
This is a chill out area that I created on my island to hang out with mates. As you can see, I'm friendless in that image, but later in the evening I was joining by a party of two for some very chill vibing.
It was a welcome relief from the current stress of the world.
The Value of Friendship
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game best enjoyed with friends. A streamlined Wi-Fi system means that you can connect with anyone on your Nintendo Switch friends list and visit their islands. Here, you can chat, share fruit, collect bugs or fish together. With many of us currently stuck in isolation, the game couldn't have come at a better time.
For hours, my friends and I visited each others' islands, mucking around in chat and swatting at each other with nets and axes. While we can't currently see each other in real life, it really is great to be able to run around together in-game and compete for fishing dominance.
The Animal Crossing franchise is all about taking your time, and with an abundance now available to many of us, the game really has come at an opportune time.
New Horizons presents an ideal world, where chores are as fun as fishing and crafting. A world where your friends are just moments away, and everything in life is pure and wholesome. In contrast, our own world is rather frightening right now.
Animal Crossing is the perfect escape for these strange times.
With robust new features and streamlined gameplay, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the most innovative and clever Animal Crossing game yet. New players won't take long to adjust to the unique flow of the franchise and returning players are sure to be delighted by all the gameplay improvements.
This is it. Your new life starts here.
A huge part of the fun in Animal Crossing is hunting down the perfect items to furnish your home. But things have taken an unsettling turn in New Horizons as several players have started to find creepy items in the trees around their islands.
Trees in Animal Crossing: New Horizons hold many secrets. Shake them and you can gain coins, branches, bugs or even furniture. But they also hold nasty little surprises, and sometimes you'll shake loose a dangerous wasp nest. The good news is you can catch these wasps before they do any harm.