Prizing patient as a virtue, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is undoubtedly slow in pace but ultimately the most rewarding in the series to date.
A lot has changed in the world of Animal Crossing since it was first released in 2001. Going from the charming but rather simple life-simulator to the behemoth saccharine fueled adventure that is its newest iteration, every step of the way it shines in pure, joyous charm. While I sat down knowing I was going enjoy Animal Crossing, I never expected just how much I was going to love it. Pack full of new features, the same loveable Tom Nook and his ever-increasing corporate greed, and a host of new customising powers; this really is the best than Animal Crossing has ever been and is the game everyone needs right now.
Straight off the bat, when booting up the game, New Horizons does things very differently. No longer is the design of your character determined by the use of vague one-word descriptions like ‘cute’ and ‘cool’. Instead, New Horizons adopts a minimal but good-enough character creation suite to carry you over the first couple of hours of the game. While you are limited to choosing only eight hairstyles and a barrage of facial features, this instant freedom allows for enough variation that you’re unlikely to accidentally end up looking identical to any of your friends or family. Keyed with the fact that you are also presented with a choice of four randomly generated islands, there’s a general sense of freedom and player-control that has often lacked at the beginning of previous games.
Once you’ve created your character and landed on your island, the world becomes your oyster (kind of). New Horizons does a good job of keeping the player busy for a good week. With Tom Nook relying on you for pretty much everything: from establishing the new museum, collecting the materials for his shop, and furnishing residents’ houses; there’s plenty to do on the island. The rate at which you discover these things, however, is left to the player’s need for progression, as much of island remains off-bounds until you’ve completed specific tasks. I spent a great deal of time accidentally discovering what I had to do, like donating five bugs/insects to Tom Nook before even Blather’s is mentioned, that it often became tempting to google what I had to do. Although true to the New Horizons’ push for wonder and discovery, I eventually managed to crack out what I had to do to unlock all the tools needed for exploring and this, in turn, fueled the rewarding aspect of New Horizons. While this has drawn some criticism for slowing the game’s progression, I quite enjoyed its leisurely pace and no rush attitude. In a game about relaxing and taking in the adorable world, it readily had me appreciating the day to day conversations with other villagers as well as the resource grinding and money hoarding that has become almost synonymous with all of the games in the series.
True to the fact that Animal Crossing has always been a rewarding experience, New Horizons takes this up a notch. With the addition of three hefty new features: resource mining, crafting, and Nook Miles; Animal Crossing’s core game-loop is changed quite dramatically to keep the player ticking away the hours. As you spend more time on your island, you’ll learn new recipes to craft furniture which you can then place in your game world. These recipes require materials which, as you’d expect, can be found on your island. Wood from trees, stone and iron from rocks, and other materials from other places mean that you’re no longer just slaving away to pay off your mortgage, but endeavouring to customise your deserted island in every way you see possibility. Even towards the end of the sizeable amount of tasks you complete for Tom Nook will eventually lead you to unlock the Island Designer app on your Nook Phone which allows you to terraform the island to however you wish. Now armed with the complete freedom to shape every aspect on the island and the task to fill it with creativity and life, New Horizons simultaneously becomes the most rewarding and enjoyable experience on the Nintendo Switch at the moment. Never has an Animal Crossing game felt so freeing, and this is a triumph in every way possible.
All this is possible within a little over a week, possibly less if you’re glued to the game 24/7, but even when you’ve unlocked all the apps and Tom Nook’s jobs stop trickling through, the game doesn’t stop appealing to you. You’ve still got a whole island to design, a year’s worth of fish and bugs to catch, fossils to dig up, and multiple mortgages that will equate to almost 6 million bells to pay. You’re going to spend a lot of time in New Horizons if you wish to complete every aspect of its gameplay, and that’s excluding what events may add in the coming years. However, you’ll know every moment spent in the charming world of New Horizons is a moment undeniably well spent. New Horizons isn’t just a masterpiece, but its the epitome of Animal Crossing and the game that may just get us through lockdown while retaining our sanity.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available to play on Nintendo Switch now!