I know what you might be thinking: I’m a little late on this. Yes, it seems that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is everywhere these days. I’m not surprised; it’s exactly the kind of game that we need at a time like this. Exploring an island paradise from within your own home is just what the doctor ordered, to the point that it’s become difficult to even find the Switch console recently. But, I still wanted to make sure I gave myself enough time to fully explore what this game has to offer before publishing a review. After all, Animal Crossing is not a game to rush through, and New Horizons slows things down even more in the first few days.
The big selling point for this particular entry, beyond being the first new main series Animal Crossing game in a very long time, is the freedom and openness afforded to you. Players begin not in a town, but on a deserted island, with two other villagers, a tent for each of you, and a Resident Services tent run by the man himself, Tom Nook. Everything else you pretty much have to build up from scratch. That being said, it isn’t actually that long before things start to feel more familiar. After a week or so of continuous play, all of the basics should be in place. Fortunately, you control more than just the basics this time; not only can furniture and other items be placed outdoors, you even get to decide where each building is going to be (you can change these decisions later.) The buildup does a great job of acclimatizing players to New Horizons and its world. At first, only a relatively small part of your island will actually be accessible, with the newly added ladder and vaulting pole tools gradually expanding the explorable area. It can be annoying to constantly switch to these two just to get around, but I appreciate the guidance nonetheless. Sadly, this freedom of customization is hindered by perhaps one of the worst game design decisions Nintendo has ever made: you can only have one island, and thus one “Resident Representative” (i.e. player who makes the big choices), per console. Not per game or per profile, but per console. Now, I’m the only person in my household who plays New Horizons, so it’s no big deal. But if you have two players sharing a console, this will greatly lessen the experience for one of them. It’s like Nintendo forgot that the Switch isn’t just a portable console.
Another “game changer” in New Horizons is crafting. Crafting technically debuted in the mobile spinoff Pocket Camp, but makes its first main series appearance here. I was initially concerned about this part, as I worried it would turn Animal Crossing into another survival and crafting-based Minecraft clone. Fortunately, while it is important, the crafting system adds to the Animal Crossing formula more than it messes up. After all, earlier games in the series largely forced players to rely on luck to obtain such necessary furnishings as a bed, a table, etc. Here, you can make these and many more projects, and later on gain the ability to customize their appearances. Crafting isn’t just limited to bare bones basics either; there are some very fancy things to craft if you have the right materials. Crafting is also how you get your tools, and unfortunately, that means they break. They break a lot, but for the most part, it’s trivial to make a spare. Crafting is also the backbone of many of the tasks players are given to build up the island, and early on, the limited supply of certain materials is a colossal pain. In particular, gathering regular wood (not softwood or hardwood) and iron nuggets will drive you mad. Fortunately, as more of the island opens up and the player is able to travel to other islands more often, these problems cease.
While there are obviously other changes to discuss, such as the unfortunate removal of a few popular characters, the charm that built the Animal Crossing fanbase in the first place is alive and well on the Switch. There are even more possible villagers to meet, new tasks to keep you busy, and a ton of general improvements to the overall experience. Villagers can now be seen doing all manner of activities on the island, with new, more expressive animations. You can fully customize your character’s appearance, and even change it later on. And despite the simplistic art style, New Horizons looks fantastic. Fish, bugs, and fossils are more detailed than ever before, and everything feels more alive. This is still Animal Crossing, and that means part of enjoying the game is just taking in the setting and the characters. In the past, that was never really my style; I’d handle my daily tasks, talk to my neighbors, and then move on to some sort of goal (if not another game entirely.) Maybe it’s because of the current circumstances, but that hasn’t been the case in New Horizons. My island of Koholint feels like a home away from home, and that is something I really need.
I’m pretty sure that by this point, I don’t need to tell you to pick up Animal Crossing: New Horizons. As long as this chill, casual sort of “life simulation” is something that won’t bore you to tears, you’re looking at what is easily the best game in the series. Even if you’ve never played the previous entries and are only reading this because you want to know what everyone on social media is going on about, give it a try. It isn’t the most exciting experience you can find on the Switch, but it isn’t meant to be. Instead, it’s another world to escape into. And even though it can feel like work early on, if you invest in your little island, it will give back in a big way.
Visuals - 9/10
Gameplay - 8/10
New Features - 9/10
+ Looks great
+ Great additions
– One island per Switch