The Nintendo Switch has had must-have titles every year in its three-year history, and this year’s Animal Crossing is no different. The series is one of the most beloved series Nintendo has to offer and we can say with great pleasure that they have once again succeeded in creating an almost perfect game.
Anyone who has played an Animal Crossing game in the series’ 19-year history will immediately know what to expect. Especially in theme and graphic style you will also recognize a lot in New Horizons. However, the Gentle Life Simulator also swallowed a survival game with a secondary Minecraft theme this time around, resulting in something bigger, more immersive and, well, better.
New Horizons, which exchanges the traditional setting of the city for a small, previously uninhabited island, puts you in the middle of nature. You start with just a tent and some knickknacks to eventually create a thriving community of like-minded souls. You play the game entirely in your own time and at your own pace, with short or long sessions, depending on your preference.
As with all AC games, your main goal in the game is to collect, hunt for insects and fossils, fish and build, all with the aim of building bigger and better houses for you and your new islanders. However, this time you can also create a lot and later in the game you finally get the opportunity to change the whole landscape through terraforming.
This easily makes it the most complete Animal Crossing yet and one with an extraordinary longevity. It may start with little openness for you, but wait a few days to weeks and you will soon be rewarded with the most diverse customization options offered so far.
First and foremost, you choose from four randomly generated islands, plus the location of your new home (it’s a tent first) and which hemisphere you want to play in. This is important because it determines from which season and weather it starts. Once chosen, it’s permanent even for other players on the same Nintendo Switch, so you have to decide wisely as you can’t change it without starting over. The game suggests that you best set the hemisphere relative to your home town, so it then simulates the exact seasons you experience in the real world. However, if you want to play the opposite of the game outside the window, select the other hemisphere.
Like New Leaf on the 3DS and earlier games, New Horizons plays in real time, with the real-world date and time in the lower left corner and a synchronized day / night cycle. The time of day makes a big difference in what types of insects and fish are available to catch, and they are also seasonal, so you need a little dedication if you plan to catch something that only appears in winter, while you started in the spring.
Like its predecessors, this Animal Crossing starts with simple challenges so you can settle on the island. From there you get more and more options. It ensures that you become familiar with the controls and new functions, without being bombarded with options. The new features are primarily delivered by the return of Tom Nook, who has become a multi-business entrepreneur in recent years, and his cousins Timmy and Tommy. As more tasks are completed and the island becomes populated, others will also ask for help and eventually they will give you some extra work every day. So while the game may seem a little sparse and small at first, the whole thing grows the more you unlock.
Most chores involve paying off debts, first for your island starter pack, then for every level of housing you build, and creating tools and items to improve your environment. It’s a clear reminder that even if you are isolated on a deserted island with cute residents, you don’t get anything for free in life. In addition, the game gets more of a purpose. The extra in-depth building options this time ensure that everything on the island can be viewed as a resource: trees, rocks, iron and clay granules and even easily available weeds can be turned into something useful. What is left can be sold to make enough money (well, Bells, the in-game currency) and then return to Nook, the potential lender.
There is also always another option to get back into debt after each payment. Still, there are plenty of Bells to be found everywhere, and we love the idea that anything you can collect can be transferred to credit.
In addition to the regular currency, New Horizons is adding a new reward scheme in the form of Nook Miles. These are like reward points on a customer card. You even get virtual reward points through another new feature, the NookPhone, so you can see exactly what you need to do to earn them. This can be something as simple as catching a certain number of fish or a specific type of bug, or it may require a longer term goal such as making hundreds of tools. Some are simple, everyday rewards, while others will take many months to complete.
Nook Miles are different from Bells, although you can use them to pay for some of the rarest items in the game, as they can also be spent to enhance your whole experience, for example by adding new features to your NookPhone or your bag expands to store more items at once. You can also spend them on tickets to take you from the island to another uninhabited island that you can plunder for your own liking from raw materials, insects and fish.
In fact, we found that regular visits outside of the island were essential to move forward, or it could have taken an extra week in real time to harvest enough iron nuggets to build a store. There may be insects and fish there that you may not find elsewhere.
That was just as essential to us, as donating our unique finds to the Blathers Museum is one of the highlights of New Horizons. These large halls allow you to explore multiple levels, with separate areas for insects, including a butterfly garden and fossils. Moreover, there is a beautiful aquarium wing, with the kind of tanks that you would see in a larger zoo. There’s even a huge shark tank available, with every catch you’ve made. It is currently a mystery to us how a humble islander can catch a shark, but it is an impressive sight.
The islands of family and friends can also be visited and offer other sources of material to donate to the museum, make crafts or simply convert them into cash. The online and local multiplayer mode can accommodate up to eight players, one of which hosts and others are able to interact with the environment on a limited level. For example, you wouldn’t want a visitor chopping down all your trees, would you?
You can also let multiple players play on the same Switch. The game supports up to four players on the same screen, and each islander can join an individual Joy-Con or Switch controller. One of the players is the designated leader, who can switch so that the screen focuses on him or her, but they can do whatever they want together on the island as if they were playing alone. Since players can play on the same Switch on the same island (in fact they have to, since it’s only one island per Switch), they can even help improve the living and living conditions of others.
At least that’s the only warning for New Horizons. Cloud storage is not possible, so you cannot play on one Switch and continue on another. So if you have a Nintendo Switch in the living room and a Switch Lite for traveling (a rare setting, we admit it), you have to start two completely separate adventures. Or, if you have multiple profiles on one Switch, they will all have to play together on the same island. That’s great for a family that wants to share their experiences, less for the siblings who enjoy destroying what someone else has built. One thing is for sure, whether you’re playing on Switch Lite or a Switch in portable or docked mode, New Horizons looks great.
It is a cartoon, just like its predecessors, but much use is made of the high-definition color palette, lighting and sharpness. With four seasons on offer, each with its own specific style, weather effects and day / night cycle, the game has a lot to offer aesthetically. It may even look best on the Switch’s small screen, and we’re pleased to report that all of the text is easy to read or see at a glance. That is not always the case with console games.
In the audio field, we recommend plugging in your headphones when you’re away from home, as there are often beeps for certain events, such as surprise packages floating above or alerts and ringtones from your NookPhone.
From everything we’ve seen in the game so far, we can’t help but feel like we’ve only discovered the beginnings of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. We’ve only been playing the game for a few weeks, albeit non-stop, so there’s plenty to do and experience for ourselves. However, that’s the fun of Animal Crossing. We were interested in not giving away any meaningful spoilers, because the whole point of the series is surprise and discovery through exploration. However, we could have written down much more and still not give away everything there is to see and do.
Animal Crossing is back in all its charme and glory. Together with the whole community you will have an amazing time whether you play half an hour or the whole day.