I can’t remember exactly how Animal Crossing came into my life, other than it being Animal Crossing: Wild World, but I’ll be forever glad it did. A singular game that you can sink endless time into with quirky animals and debt, what more do you need? Escapism is more crucial than ever in our stressful world and Animal Crossing provided that to me, 365 days of the year. Fast forward seven years (and three since I stopped playing the 3DS’s New Leaf) and I, along with the rest of the world, have been waiting, maybe not so patiently, for Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Getting to your island for your new life has never been smoother. All of your choices are clearly laid out for you in menus and simple questions, meaning you won’t end up with a horrible looking character (unless that’s what you desire). Being Aussie, I decided to choose the southern hemisphere, which is a new option in this game, so that the seasons in-game would match what I see every year. The first glimpse of your island (I called mine Kohaku) shows you pretty quickly what native fruit you have and who your two new villager companions will be, so if they are problematic you can reset the game pretty easily so your start is just right. The first half an hour or so of the game is a tutorial at a fixed rate of time (not reflecting real world time as usual) that introduces you to all of your furry residents, and the basics of island life.
My tent life, say hi to my pet Snapping Turtle, Sammy
The progression in New Horizons, while initially slower than in past titles (as you start completely from scratch as opposed to a functional town), is streamlined in many ways compared to past games. The Resident Services building is open 24 hours and therefore the starting shop is as well, making it easier to pay off your early loans and make decent progress. You get Nook Miles (a new secondary currency) for so many activities that it’s not a bore to accrue or unlock things. By talking to everyone and doing a lot of fishing and bug catching I managed to pay off my getaway package, my first home loan and have Blathers the museum creator showing up by the end of Day One. Animal Crossing has never been a game you smash out, which won’t suit everyone, but there is something to be said in taking the time to complete something day by day and being excited about starting a new day. Unlike past games in the series there is also more direction given in progression as you’ll be guided to unlock certain tools and shops. The game leads you through this progression well and doesn’t throw you in the deep end in terms of not knowing where to start or letting you get lost in the magnitude of possibilities. Sit back and enjoy the ride is all I’ll say.
As soon as you step out on your island, you’ll notice that the game is stunning. Absolutely breathtaking. So much effort has been put into even the smallest things. There is normal mapping and other texturing on all of the animals, as well as your villager’s hair and clothing, making them look fuzzy and realistic. The physics on clothing and hair is also vastly improved. The water looks amazing with fish making ripples as they move, and you can actually see raindrops when a storm rolls in. The wind rolling through the trees can be a gentle rustling breeze or a wild gale, with both the ambient sounds and rustling leaves being a pleasant new addition to the series. All of these details really help to bolster the game’s already calming aesthetic. The fish and bugs have had a major overhaul and look (almost too) alive. Even as a series veteran, catching familiar critters from past games is such a new joy, poring over all of the detail from the shininess of a fish with visible scales to the intricate exoskeleton of a beetle. Although when it comes to the tarantula and scorpion they verge on utterly creepy. The game performs perfectly both docked and in handheld mode with no frame drops.
Fishing and bug catching is still awesome, just check out the amazing looking critters
The music and sound direction in this game are also superb. While you do have to listen to remixes of the same tune until you upgrade resident services, thankfully it’s a nice tune, and I found I mostly tuned this out as I was focused on listening for the distinct woosh of balloon presents, critters or the wind in the trees. All of the new hourly music is peaceful yet fun, with even more instruments than before. By using Foley to do the sound effects the realism you experience during your island escape is next level. It brings your island to life with the patter of sand and rustling of wind through leaves. Even the classic ‘you got stung/failed tune’ has been remixed and is fun and playful.
So many small changes have been made and they mean so much. You can display fish and bugs on top of each other, items auto stack, money goes straight in your wallet, and you can choose where your house, villagers’ houses and other buildings go. Two of the biggest small things for me were balloon presents returning to random items as opposed to the balloon series which made the slingshot redundant once you collected the series. The other is Blathers being able to talk endlessly again, and completely optionally if you don’t like it. Perfect for everyone. I could go on forever about all the little things in this game that make me smile.
A big part of the game is playing and collecting with your friends, such as hosting fish or bug catching parties, or just scoping out each other’s islands. I played a lot online with my local and overseas friends and had no problems online. There are occasional slows if your connection is not the best (being in Australia has made me use to this), but nothing that hampered me playing the game. I successfully used a Wi-Fi hotspot to visit an international friends’ town on the go with no issues at all. The variety of choices when you go online are great and cover all the possibilities you need, from friends, to best friends (who can use tools in your town), to a randomly generated code you can share with specific people if you don’t want all your friends coming in at once.
Playing with your friends is great fun, you’ll want to document the experience with many fun photos
Like past games, there is no shortage of things to do in New Horizons. You want to work off your loan? Go fishing or bug catching or fruit farming. Need a change of scenery? Visit a friend’s island or try your luck on a mystery island. If you’re a collectible fiend like me as you conduct tasks you’re on the constant look out for balloons and you check the shop religiously every day to try and find something new. There is an added appeal to collecting all the items as even returning items are all gloriously re-rendered. The addition of crafting is really fun and adds a lot of personality and sense of achievement in making new items and customising them. My only minor critique is that it would be nice to be able to access crafting materials from storage at the bench and make multiples at a time. However, you can spam ‘A’ to speed up this process a lot.
After about two weeks in game (about 100+ hours), a bazillion flowers, putting furniture everywhere with little sense of theme as it’s still early days and a serenade from K.K. Slider, I unlocked the last piece of the puzzle – terraforming via the Island Designer app. Terraforming has well and truly capitalised on what is great about Animal Crossing – the creativity and uniqueness of each and every player’s experience – and takes it to another level. You want your bridge to go exactly where you want it to make your aesthetic dreams come true? You can now make that happen. The possibilities in what players will be able to create and replicate are staggering. Over a few hours I decided to relocate my house to a little mountain hideaway that I engineered, and the effect was quite tranquil if I do say so myself. Using the waterscaping and cliff-construction permits after you unlock them via Nook Miles is straightforward and once you get used to adding and removing terrain, is very satisfying.
My terraformed area for my home, i’m very pleased with my tranquil hideaway
I have not been so happily absorbed in a game in a really long time. The writing in this game had me laughing out loud, to being slightly worried about some of my animal friend’s strange quirks. The gameplay style of New Horizons lends itself perfectly to short bursts or extended play times, making it a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch. Please excuse me while I go back to tending my flowers and building my own slice of paradise for another few hundred hours.
Reviewed on Switch // Review copy supplied by publisher