[Review] Animal Crossing: New Horizons — Nintendo Switch

Written by Anna Karasik
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Release Date: 3/20/2020
  • Price: £49.99 / $59.99
  • Review code provided by Nintendo

Introducing: Animal Crossing New Horizons Review

It’s a dream come true: a chance to leave everything behind and get away to a deserted island. The premise is actually not far off from the original Animal Crossing game on the GameCube, in which you roll in on a train with just the clothes on your back and not a Bell to your name. After you inevitably end up in debt to a raccoon, though, you’ll quickly realize what sets this new title apart: an unprecedented amount of creative freedom, and the ability to invite all of your friends over to play. 

Not so deserted, anymore!

You’ve signed up for Nook Inc.’s Getaway Package – congratulations! After choosing your hemisphere and picking from three island layout options, you’ll choose where to set up your tent. I had my eye on a part of the map that was currently inaccessible to me due to a pesky river, so I settled as close as I could for the time being. It turns out you’re not alone here, after all – two animals got suckered into the Getaway Package, too – and you can help them choose where to put their tents, if you’d like. It’s the first small hint at customizability options to come. 

If you do pick the tent plots, you can “visualize” what it’ll look like to ensure you like the spot – but there’s not a simple placement marker as you move around; I’m sad to see that Animal Crossing still lacks this basic quality-of-life need, especially while digging holes with the shovel. It’s past time to have the ability to toggle and see which square you’re about to interact with.

Walking around my island for the first time, I was blown away by how “natural” this cute, cartoony world felt: the water sparkles as it trickles by, the trees rustle visibly and audibly in the breeze, and bees lazily dip from flower to flower. I’d find myself leaving the game on while I worked, enjoying the way the soothing sounds of nature mixed with the laid-back tunes, which change up every hour. 

When everyone is settled with their tents, Nook introduces foraging with a simple fetch quest, which culminates in an adorable opening ceremony sequence. During the festivities, you can finally name your island, and settle in for the night. After this, the game is in real-time. That is, as per usual for Animal Crossing, the game follows your console’s in-game clock. 

The player is left to their own devices after this short introduction. However, most of the island will be inaccessible and unchangeable without “progressing.” This progression takes a long time. There is no quest menu, no time limit, and no hint at how to acquire the vaulting pole and ladder that you need just to explore; it takes a minimum of four real-time days to get these items if you fulfill the requirements. Even then, it’ll be a minimum of seven days until you can open Resident Services to build bridges and slopes, and another few days from there to be able to fully customize the island. It all moves so slowly, that sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re progressing. That’s why, although this game is enjoyable and appropriate for younger children, it may be difficult for little ones to figure out progression on their own at the start. Heck, even adults will be tempted to Google a thing or two. 

Just call me Martha Stewart

Crafting makes its debut in the Animal Crossing world with “DIY,” where your character can create and customize items using what they find around the island. From accessories to wallpapers and furniture, you can start making yourself at home from the get-go if you smack enough trees and rocks. Speaking of chopping trees, tools are all hand-crafted, too, and they’ll break over time. It’s a pain, but it’s also a tradeoff. The act of crafting is a simple matter of selecting the recipe from a workbench. However, with no bulk-crafting option, it becomes a tedious task. Even with the ability to speed up the cute crafting animation by mashing the ‘A’ button, crafting nine fish baits in a row isn’t exactly riveting.  

Each character learns DIY recipes by acquiring them randomly throughout the game: they can come from fellow islanders, washed-up bottles, or floating presents that you’ll have to shoot down with a slingshot! Each item requires a certain number of materials to make. Many items can also be customized. This can range from changing a bookshelf’s color, to changing the photo spread you see in a magazine. Some objects can also have your custom designs added to them – and when that option is available, the possibilities truly become endless. 

Now, tack on the fact that you can put furniture outside – anywhere on your island. I went all-in, creating a private island within my island for myself (after I was later able to relocate my home.) Visiting friends loved the picnic area on my West coast, the outdoor diner near my airport, and the “Final Boss” on my East coast – an evil Sphinx! The potential for board games, roleplay, and good old-fashioned goofing is all there thanks to the breadth of furniture options and the ability to customize everything. It’s fun to look online or visit other islands to get inspiration for your own island decor. 

Live life, earn miles

Your Getaway Package also comes with a NookPhone (accessible with a tap of the ZL button) which is preloaded with apps like a camera and your passport. Eventually it’ll contain more, including a helpful Critterpedia, a list of your online friends, and the Island Designer app, where you can create custom terrain. Of course, getaways and smartphones don’t come cheap – but as a first-time customer courtesy, Nook offers to let you either pay your debt off in “Nook Miles” or Bells. Indeed – now we have two currencies to manage. 

In the Nook Miles app, you’ll earn points by just living your island life. Some rack up like achievements, such as “Trashed Tools,” which rewards you for the amount of tools you’ve broken. Meanwhile, Nook Miles+ goals can be achieved in smaller increments by, say, getting fossils assessed at the museum, or catching a certain fish. Nook Miles+ allows players to continue racking up Miles throughout their daily play, even after their beginner achievements plateau. Nook Miles can only be spent at the ABD (Automatic Bell Dispenser,) which also serves as the 24-hour bank, mortgage payment, and shopping catalog. 

She works hard for the money

Indeed, Nook Miles and Bells go hand in hand. As you earn miles by catching creatures and racking up resources, you’ll sell the unwanted items at Nook’s Cranny. Timmy and Tommy return to the role of shopkeepers, selling you furniture that you can’t craft on your own. This becomes the main cycle of the game: log on, gather supplies and creatures, sell the excess – make both Bells and Nook Miles in the process. Some call it tedious, others call it meditative.

If you find that your island isn’t rife with enough resources, bugs, and fish for your liking, you can spend 2,000 Nook Miles on a ticket to a Nook Miles island. There, you’ll be at a randomly-generated miniature isle. No worries about trampling flowers or chopping down trees – you’ll never come here again, so ravage away. Some Nook Miles islands have rare and valuable items, such as hybrid flowers, bamboo trees, and even tarantulas. Listen, the infamous Tarantula Island may be a living nightmare, but think of the Bells! 

Decor and clothing bore a big hole into my own Animal Crossing budget, as I’m a bit of a virtual hoarder, but the real money-sink is in your home and your island. Paying off your mortgages to Tom Nook will not only increase the space in your home – but also your storage capacity. For virtual-me, a big closet is a must. However, once you unlock resident services, you’ll be splitting your hard-earned Bells between your home and your island’s infrastructure. You can build bridges over rivers and inclines up cliffs. The options are pretty, but expensive – and you can only build one per day, no matter how quickly it’s paid off. 

The great news is that since these are “public” projects, friends who visit your island via online multiplayer can contribute to the fund. I was overjoyed when a friend with a hefty wallet surprised me by paying off one of my bridges on my island!

I get by with a little help from my friends

Speaking of visiting companions, it’s time to talk about the multiplayer. Locally, four people can romp around on your island at once. Online, up to eight people can hang out on an island at a time. I’ll get my only issue out of the way: any time a new player visits or leaves your island, play is completely halted while they “land” or “take off.” Although everything else about the online experience is enjoyable and seamless, it just goes to show that Nintendo has a lot of catching up to do on the multiplayer front. 

Once you’ve opened your island to visitors or stepped foot on a friend’s land – it’s a free-for-all! Only the people designated as your Best Friends can “wreck” stuff – dig, chop, etc. However, anyone who comes over can buy from your shop, take stuff off the ground, or shake fruit from your trees. It’s fun to check out others’ stores to see what’s in stock, or visit them while they have a special guest on their island, like Celeste – the space-loving sister of museum curator Blathers, who gives you some out-of-this-world DIY recipes. 

It’s hard not to smile when your friends are all chasing each other around with axes, or playing hide-and-seek. Also – who doesn’t love being a bit of a showoff? Visiting friends can explore your town’s museum, where you can donate one of each kind of fish, bug, and fossil to build a robust collection. I’m proud to report that visitors love my furniture setup, both outdoors and inside my humble abode. Making everything just so is a snap thanks to the home designer feature, which helps you refine the placement of items indoors.

Chatting with visitors via the Switch keyboard is obviously a hassle, but anyone with a smartphone can log onto the official Nintendo Switch Online app to use their phone’s keyboard instead. It’s handy, it works like a charm, and my only gripe here is that you can’t see the full chat history on your real phone – only on your in-game NookPhone. 

In my experience so far, people in this community are kind and generous. Through the mail feature, players can easily send each other gifts in an instant! It’s a great way to thank someone for hosting you on their island, or surprise them with something that’ll go perfectly in their… bathroom area. Listen, this game even has a squat toilet and a bidet item. We can all have fancy dream bathrooms.

Happy at home

In the current global climate, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has proven to be the panacea for people who are rightfully afraid, anxious, and desperately in need of social interaction. The flip-side is that this game gives us an inch, and we may feel like we want a mile – finally able to customize our town by making bridges and slopes, for example, but having to wait an actual day to see everything come to fruition. To many, the forced waiting is a negative, as it gatekeeps players who are ready to move on. Others see this as a not-so-gentle reminder to just sit back and smell the roses. After all, Animal Crossing is best enjoyed like healthy exercise: by partaking a little bit every day, you will see gradual progress. While there isn’t any plot or pressure, and some quality-of-life issues persist, there are endless opportunities to feel rewarded – especially when you’re making memories with friends. 

Pros

  • Tons of options & customizability 
  • Well-executed online multiplayer
  • Dynamic music and art

Cons

  • Quality-of-life issues
  • Long wait to progress, build

Verdict

This laid-back experience lets players’ creativity run wild as they customize their own island, making for fun online interactions. Grinding for money becomes a pleasure while enjoying breathtaking scenery and relaxing acoustics.

5/5

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