With the franchise skipping the Wii U – other than an amiibo-based party game we won’t talk about – it’s been a long time since we last saw a mainline Animal Crossing game. In fact, it’s been 6.5 years since Animal Crossing: New Leaf released for the Nintendo 3DS in Australia. With such a long wait between drinks, expectations are understandably high for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and I’m happy to say that it more than meets those expectations; as long as you’re fine with some typically-Nintendo decisions surrounding online and playing with friends.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons expands on the Animal Crossing debt repayment/life simulator in ways that I never knew I wanted, but that I absolutely couldn’t do without in future entries. While you had level of power around your Town and how it looked, this has expanded to levels never seen before in the series. On top of finally being able to put furniture wherever you want, as you progress through your lifelong journey in New Horizons, you’ll unlock the ability to build bridges, ramps, paths, move buildings and even literally terraform the Island itself. You can create rivers, waterfalls and cliffs, giving you the ability to truly make your Island whatever you want it to be. If you ever wanted to be the master of your own island, shaping the earth to your whims and forcing others to live where you tell them to, New Horizons will definitely scratch your dictatorship itch.
This unprecedented level of customisation meshes incredibly well with the shift in location that comes with New Horizons. Gone are the established townships of the past, replaced with a deserted island – which you can choose from four generations options at the start of the game – it makes sense to have the ability to shift things as your population grows. Once again Tom Nook rears his opportunistic, capitalist racoon face, selling you the ultimate Nook Inc. Getaway package; which, in reality, is just a tent and some extremely basic supplies to get you set up so he can exploit you as slave labour. You’ll be doing all sorts of different jobs for Nook, from collecting the materials for a bonfire to crafting a myriad of items for new residents that he lied to about the state of their accommodations. Old Nook certainly knows what he’s doing, because the ever-present escalating requests have reeled me in hook, line and sinker. New Horizons seems to keep the structured goals going for much longer than in previous games, especially when you consider the additional of the overarching ‘Nook Miles’ goals which act as achievements throughout the game.
Now, yes you did read that right earlier. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has introduced crafting (referred to as DIY in the game) to the franchise, which is both an exciting and frustrating addition. Crafting comes in two flavours in New Horizons: building cool new furniture for your house and islands, and crafting the tools you’ll use day to day. You’ll initially be quite limited in what you can create, but you’ll unlock a myriad of DIY recipes you can use to spruce up your life. Creating my own aesthetic and not having to rely on the randomly rotating stock of the shops is lovely, and materials are largely easy to come by, but crafting your tools is somewhat of an annoyance. This annoyance doesn’t come from the act of crafting, but from the fact that your tools will now break after a certain number of uses. Early on, your tools will break frequently, leaving you needing to craft new ones every 30 minutes or so. While this does get better as you progress and unlock the ability to craft better tools, there’s no doubt that I found myself frustrated as I frequently broke my net and fishing rod.
While there are plenty of new additions to New Horizons, it still retains the heart and soul of the franchise; a relaxing slice-of-life experience. Your island will progressively fill with more Villagers, each with their own personality and style, and all willing to have a chat to you. Blather’s museum is back, this time in a form that is truly a sight to behold and easily one of the best parts of the game. The music is incredibly relaxing, perfectly setting the mood for some chill bug catching, while the graphics and animations are surprisingly detailed and provide a great canvas for everything else to be expressed on. I also want to shout out the ability to update your Villager’s appearance and identity at any point, as well as allowing your character to wear any sets of clothing, regardless of the gender you’re playing at the time.
There’s no doubt that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the best game seen in the series to date, but there are a couple of things that stop it from being a perfect experience. One of these is the limit of having a single island per Nintendo Switch system. While a single island could have potentially been alright, the real issue comes from the fact that any other player-created residents on your island cannot contribute towards public works or story requirements. Instead, you have to go through a song and dance of transferring resources between characters. There are some similarly questionable choices online as well, as an unskippable cutscene plays every time a player visits your island, while connection dropouts are prevalent as well. You’ll also lose the ability to place or move furniture while there are visitors on your island, with no settings or options to control this.
The wait was long for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but it was well worth it. The game looks better and gives your more freedom than anything in the series before it. While there are some frustrations around the online and multiple-residents side of things, this slice of life is better than ever and you should make getting a hold of it a priority.
- More freedom than ever before - Animal Crossing has never looked so good - Chill beats to catch bugs to - Scratches that dictatorship itch
- Questionable online/save choices - Tools breaking is annoying early on