Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review – A Whole New World

    Title: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
    Developer: Nintendo EPD
    Release Date: March 19, 2020
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Genre: Sim-Adventure

It’s been eight years since a proper installment of Animal Crossing released, and with several less than favorably received tie-in titles, I was a little cautious. However, Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons immediately drew me into its beautiful and charming world full of quirky characters and immense customization.

Unlike previous games, Animal Crossing: New Horizons doesn’t give you much to start with. Aside from two other villagers, Nook and his two-man staff, the deserted island truly feels deserted. Almost everything in the game at this point comes from crafting materials you find around the island to build tools, which help you gather more materials for homes and furniture.

You’re unlikely to reach certain parts of your island for days until you learn to craft new items like the ladder and vaulting pole. It’s by far the Animal Crossing with the slowest burn, but one that I felt was gratifying. So many things that were given to you right from the beginning in previous titles felt like tremendous achievements in New Horizons.

When building your island community, you have a lot of say in the infrastructure and almost every step of the island’s presentation. I prefer this approach over the random placement of buildings and houses that I would inevitably end up moving anyway.

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Customization can be found in almost every aspect of the game. Happy Home Designer’s influence is seen with easy furniture and object placement you can alter to your liking, with added wood stain or color swap options. The custom pro design returns allowing you to create your own clothing and even use it to alter outdoor scenery. Furthermore, these designs are easily shared with anyone you wish to and with QR codes, which can also be transferred from older titles.

Probably the most game-changing customization tool is the new “Island Designer,” which allows you to terraform your island how you see fit. Adding or subtracting land, making cliffs, and changing waterways are at your fingertips. Paved pathways and terrain can also vary from the landscaping feature of Island Designer. This is a feature that is endlessly fun but does come around two weeks or possibly, even more, depending on your play style.

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My favorite part of Animal Crossing has always been its personality, and New Horizons doesn’t disappoint. Eccentric villagers are ready with new zany conversations even if you talk to them several times a day. Every silly dad joke, comments on my attire, and the latest gossip brought a smile to my face. There are over four hundred recruitable villagers you can come across, which makes every island have originality.

Additionally, this time around, you can influence who stays on your island by using Amiibo cards to invite them to your campground. It’s a nice feature for those still hanging onto those cards. Animal Crossing Amiibo figures are also utilized for the photo island or to obtain in-game items such as posters. I didn’t find the photo island too enthralling, but it’s nice to be able to use these figures for something. Neither of these features is necessary to play the game, thankfully.

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In previous Animal Crossing games, it could feel a bit limiting what could be accomplished in a day. New Horizons never seemed to have this problem thanks to the Nook Miles systems, which are pretty much mini-missions. There are main Nook Mile missions and five rotating quests. Nook miles give you tickets to buy unique items and the chance to visit other islands, so there’s an incentive to keep earning.

When visiting the Nook Mile islands, you can collect bugs, fish, and farm other materials that might scarce on your island. As long as you have the miles, there isn’t a limit to how many islands you can explore. All of this made playing New Horizons extraordinarily enticing and many times downright addicting.

Collecting has always been a big part of my Animal Crossing experience, and the process is streamlined here. During gameplay, you can upgrade the number of items you can hold pretty early on, and fruits automatically group. Returning to the series is also a museum that will display your bugs, fish, and fossils. I thoroughly enjoyed leisurely walking by the enclosures and displays taking in the calming atmosphere.

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Players can also play with a friend and visit their island to trade or just hang out, with local and online options. You can also select friends you really trust to be on your “best friends” list, which gives them the power to use tools and potentially alter your island. So make sure you choose your best friends wisely.

There is even an option for eight people to share an island on one Nintendo Switch, but this isn’t really an ideal way to play, and an argument could definitely be made over why multiple save files aren’t available for one Switch. In fact, each copy of New Horizons also needs its own switch. Multiple copies of the game won’t change the fact that you can only have one island per switch. It’s pretty baffling and unfortunate that this is even something that needs to be brought up when reviewing the game. While it didn’t personally affect my experience, I can ultimately see how that would cause a family to reconsider picking the game up.

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While there is a ton of content to discover, there were a few things absent this time around, like art paintings, which was surprisingly a bigger bummer than I thought it would be. Some fruit and NPCs are also missing. It makes me wonder if they will be introduced later in updates or real-time days, or if this is it.

The biggest offender in exclusions, however, is the island tours. These were mini-games that could be played with friends or alone to earn medals and compete against friends. They were incredibly fun, especially with a friend or two. I naively had a friend visit my island totally expecting to go on an island tour and quickly became confused than disappointed when we realized they weren’t in this title. An equivalent will probably be added later, but it is a pretty significant omission from launch.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons ends up being worth the wait between mainline entries. Even with some omissions and issues with the one island per system, the streamlined gameplay and customization show just how much this series has grown over the years. There is so much to do here that it will easily keep me busy crafting, customizing, and collecting for months if not years to come.

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