Released on: March 20 2020
Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Price: $79.99 CDN ($59.99 US)
When I was ten years old, I played a game called Harvest Moon 64, a game that introduced me to what is commonly referred to as a life simulator. At the time, few games replicated the joy I felt from farming, fishing, and just living life. That is until I got my Game Cube at the age of thirteen with Animal Crossing. I remember spending so many hours playing Animal Crossing. I even got my mom to play it. Ever since, I had played all mainline Animal Crossing games and was ecstatic when Nintendo announced an Animal Crossing game on the Switch. Finally, after many long years of waiting, Animal Crossing: New Horizons releases, and everyone is talking about it. It got critical reception, and the internet is full of memes, creations, and fan art of the new Animal Crossing. Is Animal Crossing: New Horizons worthy of all this praise?
Upon first booting up New Horizons, the player meets a pair of talking raccoons, Timmy and Tommy Nook. They help the player set up their island, their appearance, and which hemisphere the island is on. The hemisphere option is an excellent touch, as it decides when the seasons happen (spring in the northern hemisphere means it would be autumn in the southern hemisphere). The player boards a plane and arrives on a deserted island. There, they meet Tom Nook, the raccoon in charge of the whole thing. He gives the player tents for themselves, and the two other islanders (which are randomly decided). After the player sets up everybody’s tent, Tom Nook tells the player that they must cover the moving fee. From here on out, it is up to the player to decide what tasks need attention, or what they should do. The story might sound silly if this is the player’s first time with Animal Crossing, but it will quickly dawn on the player that Animal Crossing is a relaxed experience. There is no real pressure to complete tasks or any obligation for that matter. I usually like having a clear goal when it comes to games, but in New Horizons, I find myself just living life, doing my own thing, which is lovely.
I always thought that Animal Crossing’s graphics were charming but primitive. New Horizons amps up the charm and adds an unprecedented amount of polish to the visuals. Now and then, I stop dead in my tracks, just to enjoy the scenery. The trees now blow in the wind, making the presentation even more lively. The water looks gorgeous, shimmering in the moonlight. There is no end to the attention to detail put into New Horizons. I could go on about New Horizon’s visuals; they are simply stunning!
Whenever I feel overwhelmed or stressed, I like to put on some relaxing music. Two kinds of music that come to mind are lo-fi hip-hop and Animal Crossing music. New Horizons follows the tradition of slow, gentle tunes perfect for the island life. When I watch my girlfriend play, I often get lost in thought when I’m listening to the music, and it helps set my mind at ease.
Until now, Animal Crossing did little to stray from the formula it set in the original. It added a lot of new things, but it always felt like additions, rather than innovations. New Horizons changes that. If there were a central goal to Animal Crossing, it would be to make enough money (referred to as “Bells”) to pay off the mortgage of the player’s house. New Horizons follows suit in that regard, but the real gamechanger comes in the form of Nook Miles. The player gets Nook Miles when they complete specific tasks. After the player pays off the moving fees, they will unlock Nook Miles+, which are repeatable tasks that award Nook Miles. Before I unlocked Nook Miles+, I feared that Nook Miles would be finite. That fear vanished as soon as I saw the repeatable Nook Miles+ tasks. I love this, as Nook Miles synergize exquisitely with tasks that the player would be inclined to do regardless. It made making money and earning Nook Miles feel intuitive and efficient. With Nook Miles, the player can: upgrade their inventory, unlock new hairstyles, upgrade the custom design tool, and purchase a Nook Miles ticket, which lets players explore a random island for more resources and new islanders. Players can catch fish and bugs to donate to the museum or complete their critter-pedia. The usual threat when it comes to finding bugs is the wasps that emerge from trees. While still true in New Horizons, they are much easier to catch this time around. New Horizons does add a new threat; however, in the form of the tarantula. If the player gets caught by the tarantula, they will faint, causing them to return home. The amount of thought that went into the overall gameplay design of New Horizons is insane. The gameplay loop is so well thought out, that getting in the groove has put me in a zen-like state, where I lose track of time playing New Horizons.
Crafting is a significant addition to New Horizons. Players can make their furniture, tools, and even articles of clothing. Resources are relatively plentiful, and it does give garbage a purpose. I like the crafting system in New Horizons. It feels at home, and gathering crafting material is enjoyable.
New Horizons does a lot of things right, but some things baffle me…
While the player’s inventory has been improved significantly since the last Animal Crossing game (New Leaf), it still feels clunky. In New Horizons, many items can stack. If the player wants to separate the stacks, say take seven iron nuggets from a stack of thirty, they must do so one at a time. Inventory management is one area I would recommend they improve on in a future patch.
My biggest issue with New Horizons is players can only have one island per system. If the player acquires a second copy of the game, they will still be stuck on their first island, unless they erase it and start from scratch. If two or more people are living together, they will either, must buy their Switch with their copy of New Horizons, or make a new resident on the first player’s island. While it isn’t so bad on paper, the addition of the crafting mechanic makes resource management a big part of New Horizons. If one player chops all the wood and mines all the rocks, then the other players are out of resources. New Horizons does allow up to four people to play cooperatively on the same system, but everybody else except for the leader is severely limited in what they can do. Changing leaders is simple enough, but same system multiplayer is something that is quickly forgotten.
On the subject of having multiple residents on an island, the first player to arrive on the deserted island gets to decide the layout, the name, and where each islander stays. The second person to make a resident only has to worry about where their tent is going to be. At first, I thought that was going to be it, but it turns out that the first player is also the one that has to convince Tom Nook to invite his museum curator friend Blathers over to the island. Later on, the first resident also decided island ordinances, like building new bridges, and so forth. I do think this is an unfortunate set back, as being on the same island with other people will promote communication anyway, so I find this issue to be annoying at best and frustrating at worst.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a magnificent game. As someone who stood by the original as being the best in the series, New Horizons is my new favorite. Tons of things to do, at one’s own pace, in such a relaxing atmosphere. I would recommend New Horizons to anyone who is looking for a calm, relaxing experience.