Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: March 20, 2020
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Originally slated for an unspecified 2019 release, Animal Crossing: New Horizons fell victim to delays, pushing the game back to 2020, much to the disappointment of fans everywhere.
However, that delay may be just what the newest title in the franchise needed. Donning the freshest look the series has ever had, with gameplay to match, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the definitive Animal Crossing entry that welcomes new and old players to its unexplored shores.
Story—or lack thereof
Animal Crossing has always adopted a non-linear approach to directing players, allowing them to dictate their game’s progression without the hassle and stress of other simulation games. There’s no overarching story or grand quest to accomplish. Player freedom is at the forefront of Animal Crossing’s philosophy. What New Horizons does differently however, is player pacing.
From the start, much of the island is closed off from the player by untraversable terrain, limiting player freedom and exploration. As such, this island adventure starts off slower than other titles, bogging down the early game. Though, this slow-paced start gets players acclimated to their randomly-generated island and the game’s mechanics before they break out into the grand world that awaits.
As such, New Horizons teaches players to be patient. It cannot be . Because the game runs on a real-time clock, new facilities, residents, and buildings take actual days before players have access to them. Grinding for resources does nothing except fatten the players’ wallets and limited pocket space.
While this may rub gamers who want to progress quickly the wrong way, this pacing is ideal. It tells players to take it slow and enjoy themselves, taking more careful observations of the ground they CAN cover and what islanders tell them. Before long, islanders will have gained mastery on what needs to be done to level up their islands.
At this point, their island is their oyster, with so many tasks left to do.
Gameplay: Chores have never been so much fun!
Animal Crossing, at its most basic, is a chore simulator. Players pick up weeds and flowers, chop trees, dig up fossils, along with a variety of other menial tasks. Where New Horizons differs from other titles is giving players more to do with the seeming rubbish stuffing their pockets.
Crafting is a staple New Horizons feature, giving players a wide variety of creativity with the resources they collect. What would have been a couple hundred bells when sold at the store can turn into furniture, cosmetics, and countless other items.
New Horizons’ DIY crafting mechanics offer a lot of versatility. Players can craft their own tools, saving precious bells to pay off debts, craft special items to get them to previously unreachable locales, and create crafting projects which can be sold for large amounts of bells.
Players must learn DIY recipes from items scattered all over the world, but will naturally obtain a sizable amount as they progress—and with a little bit of luck as well.
On top of this, the in-game Nook Mileage Program ensures that specific menial work is properly rewarded. The program awards Mile points, which can be used to earn special goodies and upgrades throughout the game, making chores quite addicting the longer you do them. Bigger rewards are handed out for accomplishing more specific tasks, keeping players on their toes.
Fishing and bug catching are also more streamlined. The in-game Nook phone provides information on active hours for specific types of insects and fish and what locales they can be found in.
Resource gathering, like fishing and wood chopping, is still a chore. However, the Nook Mileage program,with the things players are able to accomplish by continuously toiling away, makes the labor more bearable.
New Horizons offers players a degree of customization unmatched by previous titles, for both player characters and their island.
This entry also marks the return of New Leaf’s QR codes, which allows players to create custom designs and decals for clothes, wallpaper, and more, that can be shared and downloaded by everyone.
On top of the plethora of pre-made clothes, these codes let players paint over clothing items with any designs they want. This level of customization extends to furniture as well.
Players can theme their houses and outfit to their favorite game franchises or meme the living hell out of everything they lay their hands on. The power is in the player’s hands.
With the ability to place furniture virtually anywhere—on top of being able to set locations for all islander houses and facilities—players can turn their islands into aesthetically pleasing, exotic locales or modern art “masterpieces.”
The deserted island setting is a first for the series. Where once players would be living in a village among an ocean of forests, they now live on an ocean— literally.
The presentation of these islands is a feast for the eyes. All island ecosystems—the forests, rivers, beaches, and oceans—are vibrantly colored and mesh together incredibly. The islands look incredible when playing docked, and still looks good in handheld mode. Combined with the dynamic shadows and lighting, these elements truly bring the deserted island alive.
In-game character models also look fantastic. Every villager was rebuilt to fit the cartoony visual aesthetic of this newer generation while maintaining the Animal Crossing look and appeal. They are taller, have better proportions, and actual facial polygons instead of sprites plastered onto faces.
Bug, fish, and fossil models are expertly crafted to help distinguish one from the other and look gorgeous when displayed in the museum, which is a whole other spectacle in-and-of itself.
The game runs smoothly, both docked and handheld, to ensure that nothing looks out of place and feels right. The only issue is the fixed camera angles that get in the way of exploration.
Impeccable Sound Design
Animal Crossing’s music is renowned for its upbeat and relaxing atmosphere, fitting the mood of an adventure filled with anthropomorphic talking animals. Previous hit tracks, like Bubblegum K.K and more, are present.
New Horizons’ music epitomizes relaxation. Warm guitar strums and melodies follow the player on their travels, bobbing in and out of focus so as to not bombard the player constantly. Night and day sample the same track differently. Daytime plays the music more strongly, matching the morning’s energy. On the other hand, night time is more subdued and relaxing, with softer melodies to complement the breezy island evenings.
Players will also notice the background music ease up while performing activities that necessitate quiet sound, like hunting bugs or fishing. This dynamic sound design helps players keep an ear out for bugs hiding away and fish that are teasing their lures.
On top of the music, sound effects are excellent. Footsteps are what players will hear the most on their adventures. Different surfaces trigger unique, identifiable sound effects, which are all very pleasing to the ears.
From the soft crunching of sand underfoot, to the clacks of heels against hard stone, New Horizons is an auditory treat.
Dawn of a New Horizon
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the series’ return to fine form after five years of absence. The depth this game offers, on top of its pristine layer of polish, will keep players glued to their seats. This is the start of a vacation that will not be ending any time soon.