Review: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

All about the island life.

Console: Nintendo Switch

When Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched, I wasn't all that keen on picking it up as some of you might remember. I played Animal Crossing: Wild World on the Nintendo DS way back when. While I enjoyed it, I intended to NOT buy New Horizons for reasons you can read in that original post. Peer-pressure can be very hard to avoid, however. After a month of seeing the internet aflame with Animal Crossing, I caved and downloaded the game from the EShop. I then played for about three weeks before putting it down. The game became too much of a chore. The pressure to keep playing as to not miss out on any events or see beloved villagers disappear sucked all the fun out of it. It was left alone on my Nintendo Switch, probably doomed to stay untouched forever, until one of my friends stepped in.

He enjoyed the gaming content and during a conversation we had, he asked if I took requests. He had seen other people talk about New Horizons, seen how they had logged in hundreds of hours into it but was uncertain if the game was something for him; could I review it? Well, I could hardly deny request now could I? So, I downloaded all of the updates that had come and started playing the game again so I could write this piece. What are my thoughts on the game now that I've given it another, more thorough, go? Is it worth the investment if you haven't picked the game up yet because your uncertain it's a type of game for you? How has the slew of updates affected the game?

Let's dive in.

In Animal Crossing: New Horizons you are the proud buy of the Nook Inc. Island Getaway package. What does this mean? Well, it means that you together with two different animal villager and the tanuki's (racoon outside of Japan) Tom Nook, Timmy & Tommy are flown to a deserted island. There you are given a tent, some basic equipment like the Nook Phone and are fist tasked to pay off your loan after which Tom Nook shares his dream with you to make the island a true paradise.

That's basically all she wrote when it comes to the story. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a life-simulation game, one that operates on real-time. The game hands you a set of tools, things to do in it, but leaves it completely up to you what to do with them. What you do day to day is all up to you. Being able to do everything that the game has to offer will take some time though, you won't be given access to these tools overnight. For the first few days of playing, there's not a lot of you to do yet. Staples like the Museum, Shop and Clothing Store are nowhere to be seen and you have only two other villagers living alongside you. It makes for a slower and different start compared to earlier Animal Crossing games. I find that this isn't something bad necessarily. It's all very calming and relaxing and it makes the contrast to later in the game when your island is sprawling with life. If you find the first few days slow and a bit boring, you'll be happy to know that it won't last long and the game will start opening up to you soon.

What can you do exactly in the game you might ask? Well, there are a variety of things for you to do like fishing, bug catching & digging for fossils. After the updates that have come out since launch, you can now also swim in the ocean and grow/harvest pumpkins. The biggest new thing that this game brings to the franchise, and what you'll be doing a lot of, is crafting. Instead of just buying your tools like the fishing rod or the shovel you'll make them yourself on a workbench. If you have gathered enough materials, like wood from trees or ores from stones, and have the correct DIY recipe you can craft a wide variety of items yourself. From the aforementioned tools to furniture and much more. A lot of your time will be spent gathering materials If not for that spiffy bed you want to make your house feel that much more real, then you do it so you can re-craft one of your broken tools.

This crafting system is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gives off a great sense of satisfaction that you created itself and gives you something to work towards. On the other, it's a lot of busywork and very grindy. If you want to craft, you need a lot of resources and there are no shortcuts when gathering them. If you want to gather enough wood, for example, you will have to hit a tree three separate times for all the wood to fall down, pick it all of the wood up individually and move on to the next tree.

To get enough resources like this will take you a while, especially when your axe breaks halfway through. The game has an item durability mechanics and it's one of the games big nuisances. That you have to craft the items themselves for the first time isn't the problem, but that these items just keep breaking without any warning signs or ways to repair them in-between is. Even the golden variety of items, the rarest and most valuable variety, do eventually break. It's just very, very annoying and adds to the amount of busywork that you have to do in the game. If you don't have a problem with (these types of) busywork then it's not something that will bother you but if you do take issue with it then it's something you seriously need to consider before purchasing the game.

Having a lovely evening in the front of my house!

An upside to this heavy amount of busywork you have to do in the game is that it's always never without reward. Beyond the items, you'll eventually be able to craft furniture and other items as well. Other than seeing your museum become fuller and fuller there is a more immediate reward in the forms of Nook Miles. One of the apps on your NookPhone, the Nook Mileage program offers you the titular miles for completing a wide variety of objectives. From larger goals like filling out a certain section in your Museum to considerably smaller ones like talking to 3 villagers that day. Once you unlock the improved Nook Miles+ program after paying off your debt you even get access to an ever-rotating set of goals meaning that there's always something you can do to earn more Miles.

Why would you want to earn Miles aside from the usual Bells? Well, while you can't use Bells to buy anything from the shops you can exchange them for a variety of other goodies. The most valuable of those goodies is no doubt the plane tickets. You can use these tickets to grab a ride to a procedural generated abandoned island. Not only do these island serves a nice change of scenery you can gather more materials there from the island's natural resources if you've depleted those on your own island for the time being. Not only that, but these islands have a chance to contain types of resources that can't be found on your islands like other types of fruits, coconut trees or even bamboo. Lastly, these islands are one way of growing your island's population, the other being the campsite on your island. Some islands have another visitor walking about which you can recruit to your island.

Speaking about the villagers, your fellow island inhabitants have a lot more going on than meets the eye. Their primary purpose is, of course, to provide the game with more life and a sense of community. Each villager has its own character type, their own set of quirks and their own house. They've got cute animations, charming dialogue and they'll manage to worm their way into your heart before long. All basic things when it comes to the animals in Animal Crossing, but compared to the other entries in the franchise, the villagers in New Horizons have a lot more going on. The behavioural patterns of each villager, what they are up to each day, has become much more integrated.

Tom Nook and Isabelle, for example, don't just stand there empty-eyed waiting for you to interact with them but are buy typing away at their computer, re-ordering paper on their desk etc. Villagers can also be seen participating in bug catching and fishing even when there is no contest going on, they talk to each other, laugh with each other, sing and dance with each other and can even visit each other's houses. The villagers are a lot more active and that helps a lot to make the experience that much better. Oh, and they will also give you gifts and DIY recipes when you manage to befriend them so that's a plus. Lastly, your villagers can't move out anymore with your known or consent. They can't leave while you're not playing so you don't have to worry that your favourite villager won't be there anymore after a long time not playing. They'll acknowledge that you haven't been around for quite a while, but they won't hold it against you and they'll stop mentioning it quickly.

Villagers don't just stand around anymore, they might just be reading their favourite book, wearing one of your custom design shirts, when you visit them.

Getting a lot of villagers to settle on your island (max.10) is one of the biggest ways to grow your island's rank. When you have a high enough rank, the traditional buildings like the Museum, shop and clothing store will start to appear. Unlike previous games, just like with the houses, their locations aren't fixed. You decide where they are built and can, assuming you have enough Bells, relocate then anytime you want. You can also use the Residential Services building, located in the middle of your island together with a square, to build bridges and inclines, change your island's flag and much more.

When it comes to the customization, there is a lot for you to tinker with. You can change your look anytime, as long as you have access to a mirror, and this goes beyond just your clothes. Skin colour, hair, eye colour and much more. You can place items outside now which means that you can place wells, fountains or even a giant Godzilla statue, any place that you desire. You can create custom clothing patterns, from shirts to hats, using the in-game editor and can share them online with others. Add in the terraforming, being able to make paths, rivers and upper-levels, and you can customize almost anything.

Before I wrap this up let's look at the all of the co-op features. One Nintendo Switch system has óne island where up to eight players can live together. These eight players can play together using the joy-cons or pro-controllers, but only one can pick up items. Luckily, changing out which player can do this is an easy task. When on the internet, you can invite or visit another player's island and eight people can play together that way. If you want to visit another players island when they're not there, as of a few updated ago, you can use the Dream Suit to visit them. You can't interact with anything if you do this but others can't wreak havoc on your island as well so it's the perfect way to show of your creativity.

Speaking of updates, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has gained many of them in the months it has been out. Unlike previous titles, all of the events are not in the game form the start. Halloween for example only got added last month. Not only that, but new seasonal items have also been added as well as the earlier mentioned, art, swimming, pumpkins and dreams. You can argue that they basically sold costumers an incomplete package, but these updates make it so that there's always something new to do, keeps data-miners/time-travellers from ruining the surprise and is 100% free. I don't have any problems with them and I don't see any reason why you should either.

Only in October: Pumpkins!!!

Conclusion

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a wonderful and charming game. Aside from just looking and sounding beautiful (couldn't find a place to fit that in here, earlier so here you go) there's so much to the game. From the daily activities, you can do, form the charming villagers and the tons of customization in the game. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is an oyster and your its pearl, playing the game the way you like it best.

Is it worth you investing your time and money? Yes and no. The game does a lot to open itself up to all different type of players with a large amount of customization and the daily activities I just mentioned. The game is also less punishing if you can't play at least 15 minutes a day (though you won't get the best experience that way) and the online/co-op features make it a very sociable experience as well. However, there is a heavy amount of busywork here that I feel is definitely not for everyone. If you're short on time or just don't like wasting time if you don't have a large imagination that can keep you busy for a while or don't have a lot of friends you can count on the play the game with you from time to time. In those cases, I'd say your time and money is better spent elsewhere.

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