The Animal Crossing franchise was one of the games I’ve always wanted to play but couldn’t because, sadly, I didn’t own a Nintendo DS. My only exposure to it was merely watching videos and listening to stories when my niece played it. It was, surprisingly, enough to make me a fan. So when Animal Crossing: New Horizons was announced for the Nintendo Switch, I was excited to finally get a chance to play it.
This game is the latest entry from one of Nintendo’s biggest game franchises. It follows 7 years after the release of Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the DS which is largely the reason why fans are so excited. Not only did it receive a much welcome graphics upgrade, but it’s also the first Animal Crossing game since 2001 that will be playable on an actual TV. Nintendo also included a bunch of new features which I’ll talk about later on.
New Horizons was released during the first week of our region-wide quarantine in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Since stores were closed, I wasn’t able to buy a physical disc as I planned but, thankfully, we live in the digital age and I simply waited for the digital copy to download.
Jumping into this cutesy life simulator during a time when the world is at a panic offered a welcome form of escapism. In AC:NH, you literally leave everything behind to travel to a deserted island where you build up a community from scratch.
Once on this island
The first order of business in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is to create your character. The game introduces a more in-depth character creation system this time around. Though limited at the start, you’ll be able to buy or receive items that will soon expand your choices. This includes hair, hair color, and, of course, clothes. I particularly like how Animal Crossing decided to honor gender neutrality by not locking items, like dresses or hair designs, to a specific gender. No matter what gender you choose, your character will be able to access and wear all the items available.
Guided by Tom Nook of Nook Inc. and the two adorable Nooklings, you’re lead through a series of choices to determine the island you’ll live on. At the start, you’ll be offered four different island layouts to choose from. I’ve heard from other players that, if you don’t like the layouts offered, you can reset it to get new ones. But for the sake of hurrying the intro sequence, I chose one immediately.
After this, you’ll be asked which part of the world you want to live in: Northern or Southern hemisphere. The game needs to know because events happen in real-time. This means the current date, time, and season will be reflected in the game. It was nice to know that even if you live in a country without all four seasons (like me), you’ll still be able to experience them in the game.
Leaving it all behind
Once you land, you’ll be introduced to your neighbors, asked to name your island, and then introduced to your island’s native fruit. I named my island Gullwing (FF X-2 reference) and had apples on my island.
Every island in New Horizon will have one specific fruit growing on it and each player’s island will have a different fruit. Unfortunately, each Nintendo Switch console will only have one island per game. This means that if two or more accounts play, they’ll all be on the same island that the first player chooses. And if you’re wondering, yes, you can reset if you’re aiming to have a specific fruit on your island.
After a short series of tutorial quests, you’ll soon start building up your island home. One of the major things I noticed about New Horizons is that it’s a game that makes you take your time. Since it operates in real-time, you can’t really rush through quests. My first day, for example, was me just cleaning up the island and selling things to make bells (the Animal Crossing currency). After I paid off my initial debt to Tom Nook for bringing me to the island, I opted to upgrade my tent to a house which led me to another debt. The cycle continues on like this but doesn’t get as repetitive as you may think.
Not much happens on your first day, truth be told. If you do decide to upgrade, you’ll have to wait until the next day for those changes to take effect. However, I found that not having too much to do on the first day gave me time to just explore and familiarize myself with my island and plot out the layout of my soon-to-be village. I genuinely appreciate the bright and rich background Animal Crossing: New Horizon offers. Sure it’s not the realistic, game-changing graphics you’d normally be excited about but it’s neater, cleaner, and more detailed than any Animal Crossing game so far.
Also, if you get a chance, grab a good pair of headphones when you play. I put a pair on for some late-night gaming and was pleasantly surprised by ASMR-ish sounds of waves and calm music. It’s definitely a treat for the ears.
In New Horizons, an additional currency called Nook Miles is introduced. You earn miles by finishing tasks which can be found on your NookPhone. My favorite thing about Nook Miles is that, more often than not, the goals are always reachable. It doesn’t take much to start raking in Nook Miles because you’re basically rewarded for tasks you’d normally be doing anyway. It’s designed to reward the player for doing things to make the island better or for familiarizing yourself with the game. For example, you get Nook Miles just for pulling out and selling clumps of weed or even for breaking your tools.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are some that are challenging tasks, like catching 100 fish in a row with no fail. I, personally, gave up and saved that task for next time.
Nook Miles are also used in redeeming a Nook Miles Ticket. This item will let you visit other deserted islands where you can farm for resources that may not be on your island. My first trip to a deserted island rewarded me with few coconut trees, which I planted near my own beach, and a bunch of new species of bugs and fish.
You can also find prospective neighbors whom you can invite to live on your island. Each trip will be different because, according to the Dodo Airlines pilot, you never visit the same island twice.
One of the major additions in the game is the element of crafting. Being on a deserted island, you’ll have lots of items to gather and craft with. Crafting had no problem finding a home in AC:NH. Having the ability to craft your own tools and furniture adds a new layer of immersion.
I found that, because of crafting, cleaning up and collecting materials weren’t mundane tasks. Crafted tools, though, will eventually break. As you progress through the game, you’ll gain DIY recipes for crafting better, more durable tools.
Slow but steady
I’m currently on Day Three of my game and so far I’ve expanded my house twice, started constructing a museum, and in the process of gathering materials to open the general store. Playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons for all those days, no matter how many hours you put in, won’t get you too far. At the very least, you’ll be able to expand your house and maybe buy everything available but in terms of story progression, you’ll have to be more patient.
This leads me to one of my favorite things about the game. Like I said earlier, Animal Crossing: New Horizons just forces you to slow down and take your time. Goals can be accomplished but you normally wouldn’t see results until the next day. For example, I was able to gather all my materials to create the museum on the second day but I had to wait a while before it actually gets constructed.
Probably what I don’t like the most is that shopping online also takes patience. I ordered cute new sneakers to match my outfit not knowing I wouldn’t get it immediately. Thus, I walked around barefoot on the island until the next day. I guess I should have expected it, it is a deserted island after all.
Each day is a different experience in AC:NH. It’s up to you to decide what you’ll be focusing on for that day. The game, so far, doesn’t put time pressure on anything you do. Be it paying your loans, expanding your house, or just fishing by the sea, New Horizons respects your time and doesn’t penalize you for not progressing.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons also has local and online multiplayer. Connecting with other players allows you to receive items you may not have, like different fruits or fish. I haven’t quite explored this feature yet, but I did have a friend come to my island and plant pear trees and gave him a couple of apple trees in return. Normally, either you or your friend will have to produce a Dodo Code to access either one’s island but you can check if there are open invitations to any island by checking the airport.
You can also open up your own island to visitors, but be wary as this may invite people who could wreck your island.
A new day, every day
With just a few days into playing the game, I’m sure I’m just barely scratching the surface. But right off the bat, I can say that while I personally love it, this game may not be for everyone. There are no clear-cut goals, no immediate sense of gratification (most of the time), and is basically a game that’s best enjoyed when played a little every day over a long period of time. It’s obvious that the true beauty of Animal Crossing: New Horizons will reveal itself over weeks or months of playing.
Looking past that — or totally embracing it — the game gives players a literal and figurative island to escape to, especially in the midst of a quarantined life. It gives you something to look forward to every day and provides just enough distraction to get you into a good mood. I, personally, have so far loved seeing my little empty island slowly getting buildings and more people. I’m excited to have a real store, to pave roads, and to discover new fish and bugs I haven’t caught yet.
The art and graphics are major eye candies with gameplay elements that perfectly complement it. The characters are bright and charming and the whole game is tied together with a serene soundtrack. Nintendo’s move to depart from the usual village setup to a deserted island is proving to be a good decision as it’s refreshing for both old and new players.
With Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the promise of a getaway is ultimately fulfilled.