Back in 2015, I mentioned that I’ve always been a softy for the Animal Crossing series, but I never really elaborated on why. As a kid, going to school was a very lonely experience, as the few friends I had moved schools due to zoning changes. On top of this, I was an easy target for social ostracism given my nerdy tendencies; more often than not, I went home pretty dejected.
Naturally, I turned to video games as a way of escape—finding solace in games like Pokémon, Mario Sunshine, and most notably, Animal Crossing. Whereas my days in school were filled with solitude and sadness, Animal Crossing felt like a world I could belong in. One where I was in control; one where I could have friends, write them letters and they would write back. Where the time progressed the same as outside and made it feel real. It sounds pretty ridiculous now, but too depressed 12-year old, it was a respite.
Now, as an adult, I mainly play Animal Crossing for the mellow experience it is—whenever I need a break from the intensity of games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Darkest Dungeon, or Monster Hunter World; but it will always hold a special place in my heart. That love has carried through from every entry in the series—yes, even Amiibo Festival—and with every main entry in the franchise, my fondness for Animal Crossing has grown.
That affection may have hit its apex with Animal Crossing: New Horizons though. There is really no better way to say it than simply: New Horizons is the PERFECT Animal Crossing game.
There’s not a whole lot that I can describe about this game that wasn’t already given away in the February 20th Direct—sometimes information on a game can be a double-edged sword. You are a human villager come to live on a deserted island with Tom Nook and a couple of animal companions; and as each day goes by, you’ll slowly build your island into a thriving community.
While the Direct did showcase many of the game’s features, it was genuinely flooring to me just how incredibly well everything works. Firstly, the game’s main addition: Crafting. When Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp introduced crafting to the series, I had a feeling it would make its way into the next main game; but it’s a concept that fits so perfectly into Animal Crossing’s core gameplay it’s almost a wonder it hadn’t shown up before.
It works on two levels: first, it adds a layer of dimensionality to furniture collection, which now plays a bigger role than ever as players can decorate both their homes and island with furniture. Secondly, it works incredibly well to flesh out the gameplay, giving players small goals to work towards as they mill about their island.
In fact, Animal Crossing: New Horizons does an incredible job of giving the players a lot to do in a game that is essentially about doing nothing. The other way this is achieved is through “Nook Miles,” which are points that can be earned through one-time achievements, or small daily goals. While the Nook Miles can be redeemed for important crafting recipes and other small items, the most important thing it can be used for are “Nook Miles Tickets,” which allow players to travel to uninhabited islands to gather crafting materials.
Nook Miles Tickets work in tandem with crafting to add a lot of incentive to many of Animal Crossing’s more laid back elements, giving the players small goals to work towards in order to give them the ability to acquire materials that may not be available until the following day—as rocks and trees only provide materials once per day. While you can still enjoy fishing and bug catching on your own terms, giving players more of a purpose to do these things, even minor, adds a lot to the overall experience.
But the best thing about Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the level of control it gives to the player. It was something I thought was missing from New Leaf; considering players were given the role of Mayor in that game but had very little control over their towns. That problem has been completely removed in New Horizons, as players control almost every aspect of both their character and their island—from being able to change your entire look with a mirror; to where buildings are placed, to paving roads and eventually altering the terrain. Even after they’ve been placed, everything can be moved and altered, so you can change the entire look and feel of your island at any point–providing further incentives to complete small goals.
Not only that, Animal Crossing: New Horizons streamlines a lot of the more archaic elements of Animal Crossing into an experience that’s much more seamless and natural feeling. Small things like how dialogue that would have stopped the game—such as entering a shop—is relegated to small text boxes over characters’ heads.
Furthermore, neighbours no longer send you on tedious tasks, and instead can either be talked to or just given gifts outright, creating a sense that you’re a member of the community and not just some errand boy. Even the small tasks you can complete for them like delivering items to others, happens more organically, further emphasizing the feeling of community. However, despite these additions to gameplay, New Horizons is definitely a game that wants you to take it slow and experience it day-by-day, in traditional Animal Crossing fashion.
Visually, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is absolutely breathtaking, and may easily be the best looking game on the Switch. Similar to games like Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Link’s Awakening, New Horizons does a lot with a little; combining HD clarity with vibrant colours, and a copious attention to detail. Not only does it maintain and elevate the series’ trademark aesthetic; subtle details like how the weather will affect the hue of the ocean’s blue, the way light shimmers off river water to portray movement, or the intricate way each leaf shakes in the wind–are only a few of the litany of ways New Horizons showcases an incredible amount of visual fidelity. It’s a game I can play for hours upon hours, simply because of how visually stunning it is in every moment, both in handheld mode and on the TV. Honestly, I could make this entire review a list of all the aesthetic details I love about this game; it’s so beautiful.
In the audio department, New Horizons is an absolute delight. I was a little confused when starting the game as it seemed there was only one piece of music that played in both day and night—changing slightly in the night. However, those worries were quickly put to bed after the “Resident Service” tent became a proper building, and the series’ hourly themes come into play. Each one is poppy and upbeat, adding a lot of charm and fun to the game; and while the tunes mellow out a bit at night they maintain a tempo that never really slows down too much; consistently maintaining the fun even at an audio level. Each track combines live music with a bit of electronic keyboard giving it a smooth jazzy feel, and it’s never boring.
I think there’s definitely something to be said on how perfectly suited New Horizons is to a system like the Nintendo Switch. Personally, I’ve always felt Animal Crossing worked best as a handheld game, given the nature of its gameplay is best suited to short bursts of pick-up-and-play, rather than dedicated time to a stationary system. New Horizons maintains this same feeling, probably being best playing in handheld mode on the Switch; but it’s incredible visual design, and increased focus on completing Nook Miles tasks and crafting projects; gives you a lot of reason to sit down and play it on larger screen.
If I have one complaint, it’s that I’m not exactly crazy about how tools can break. I understand that it exists to facilitate the crafting, and unlike Breath of the Wild, if a tool breaks, making a new one is fairly simple, but it can be a little annoying at times. But given the game’s whole vibe is to take it slow and easy, I can’t really be mad about it.
I love every second I’m playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I love its looks, I love its feel, and I’m genuinely excited for each new day and how my island will grow with it. It’s perfect for newcomers and fans, young and old alike. It was well worth the wait and well-deserving of the hype. Do not miss this one.