Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review
Reviewing an Animal Crossing game has never been easy, and in the month that Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been out we’ve already seen many changes to the game that adjust it on the fly. You might read this review now, and it’ll sync up with how the game is, or you might read it in a year, and things will have changed. This is one reason why reviewing a game like Animal Crossing New Horizons is so difficult.
Rather than try to squeeze into this review an explanation of what Animal Crossing is, I have handily written a complete guide on what the game is here. It should hopefully tell you if you’d like the concept of this game. If you just want to know how New Horizons takes Animal Crossing further then continue reading if you have no idea what Animal Crossing is, then read that first.
Unlike previous Animal Crossing games where you’re the new arrival in a village, New Horizons sees you take a holiday package through Tom Nook to a deserted island. This island has nothing but tents, some weeds, trees and a couple of other randomly assigned villagers who come along for the trip. The initial few (real life) days of the game will be setting up the basics and even a week into the game you won’t have everything. It’ll take a while, but in a couple of weeks, you should have something resembling what used to be the starter village in the older games. This blank slate allows you to literally craft your island however you like it.
Crafting is brand new to Animal Crossing; while you can still buy things off the shelf, you’ll spend a lot of your time in the game building tools, furniture and other items. You’ll need to harvest these items, like minerals, rocks, and wood from around the island. Early on this will be a struggle, but eventually, you should create enough of an ‘economy’ on the island that you can collect enough resources to make whatever you need. You’ll need to do this a lot because New Horizons, unfortunately, brings in tool durability. Use your shovel, axe, net and even slingshot enough and it’ll break, requiring you to craft a new one. You can craft more durable ones, but never one that doesn’t break. I get the idea here, and thematically it makes sense early on because you are on a deserted island. However, never having the chance to make a tool that doesn’t break is just a bit annoying. Why can I customise my tools, if they’re always going to break?
It’s not just items you can craft, but your entire island will eventually be able to be opened up in a way like never before. You’ll be able to move cliffs and create new waterways through the Island Designer Tool. To create bridges and ramps will still require permits and can take a day to build, you’ll need to do this to get outside the first part of your island. Eventually, you’ll be able to explore more and move things around, but it’ll take days to get everyone where you want them to be.
Taking the idea of making the game your own is extended further to not only the interior of your house but the entire island. Sure you can move water and earth, but even better you can now treat the whole outside of the island as if it was the inside of your house. You can place items wherever you want, no need for Special Public Works, if you want a fountain, put one there. If you want a sign, a streetlight, a candy machine, a Godzilla anywhere. You can.
Your house can still be a better outlet of expression, and one made more accessible by Nintendo lifting the house editing tools from Happy Home Designer into this game. You can place, pull and drag around the furniture like you could before, like a troglodyte, or you can now enter edit mode and place things down ala-The Sims. This includes items on the walls as well! You’ll be getting that A-rank from the Happy Home Academy in no time (seriously they’re generous this time around). You’ll have to rely on friends early on to get some of the basics. However, recipes for items, especially household ones, are scarce early on and is why the interior of my home looks like a shack compared to the outside.
You’ll also appreciate all the new options and customisation of your character. Don’t panic when you boot up the game, and there’s not too much in the way of editing how you appear. You will unlock more hairstyles and colours eventually. Clothes also are in abundance; especially once you meet Sable, there should be a style for everyone. There’s shorts, skirts, leggings, jeggings, tank tops, shirts, suits – and if that’s not enough, download a design off the internet or create your own.
You can mix and match almost everything, hats, glasses, bags, pouches, mix and match anything. You can adjust how you look anytime using a mirror, or change your outfit through your cupboard or with the use of a wand. Clothing items you ‘wand’ on yourself aren’t there, but more of an outfit over your existing clothes. But it’s good to dress up or down, especially if people are coming over.
A month into the game feels like there are less to fill out my island, off the shelf stores and the like, that just means there’s more room for things that you can create on your own. I’ve seen outdoor libraries, game boards, funfairs all created by people – there’s a lot of inspiration out there.
One brilliant new addition to New Horizons is the Nook Phone. Instead of having several different people to talk to or stores littered on the island, you can now access several functions and tools through your phone. I won’t go through them all, but some of the standout apps include the camera for getting that perfect snap with a friend and the Critterpedia for keeping track of all those fish and bugs you’re catching. However, the best new apps and one of the best things in the game is Nook Miles.
Nook Miles can be earned by completing essentially ‘achievements’. You can get more long-term goals, and there’s a revolving door of short term ones for doing things around the island. When you do these achievements, you earn Miles which can be used on several different things. Miles are used to unlock the more exciting parts of the game including travelling to islands, purchasing larger inventories, more options for customising your village and unique items – the cool things you’ve all seen on Twitter like lighthouses and giant mecha. Even nearly a month into the game I haven’t yet unlocked all of the possible ways to earn Miles, it’s going to provide things to do in the game and targets to hit for months.
The Nook Phone removes the friction of talking to a character and wading through conversation menus for a lot of things. It’s fast and slick and even more should be included in it.
Animal Crossing was at the forefront of Nintendo’s efforts into online with Wild World on the DS among Nintendo’s first games to be online-enabled. New Horizons has opened up its online offerings even further, it’s still not perfect, but it’s better than it has been in the past. You can now open your gates at your airport to allow friends in and control who can do things with your island using the Best Friends feature. If someone is your best friend, they can do more on your island like help modify it, dig up trees and plant new ones. These are different from your Best Friends on your Nintendo Switch friend list. At the moment if you want to play any mini-games with friends as you could in New Leaf, you’ll have to make them yourself which some people have done already creating casino games, and mazes to keep friends entertained.
New to the game are Dodo Codes; these allow you to open your gates to anyone whether they’re on your friend list or not. Have you got high turnip prices one day? Open your airport gate and share the DoDo code – anyone who sees it and can join. It’s a great new feature but soon exposes the weaknesses in New Horizons online play. When you have a small number of friends coming over to visit, it’s not so bad, but when you invite randoms over things can become a little more clunky. Every time someone visits or leaves, everyone has to stop what they’re doing while a lengthy animation (for the visitor) or a loading screen for the host plays. It’s very annoying.
The online experience in Animal Crossing is still bogged down by Nintendo’s decisions and perhaps immaturity in the online space. Things can hopefully get better with the mechanics because once you do have everyone over – playing with your friends in the game is quite fun.
Local, on one console play, is a little different. The Nintendo Switch has the ability for eight profiles on your console, usually allowing people to have different saves for each of those profiles. Animal Crossing: New Horizons ignores all of that only allows one island per console.
This means anyone also who wants to play Animal Crossing on your Switch will share the one island; they then will miss out on the full Animal Crossing experience because only the first player can lead your island. It’s like you’re just a passenger and it’s pretty bad. To be clear, this has always been a thing with Animal Crossing, but with the Switch, we’d hoped it would be different. If you do have multiple people on the island, you can play multiplayer with them all at the same time; the camera will follow a lead player and the rest have to follow. It works, but I can’t imagine playing Animal Crossing this way for very long.
We’ve also have got to talk about save files and how they work. Currently, Animal Crossing New Horizons does not support cloud saves; you can’t even transfer your island to a new console. If you lose or damage your Switch, it’s lost forever – for now. Nintendo eventually plans to offer a service to recover islands in extraordinary cases. It’s frankly not good enough, Nintendo’s done this to avoid people abusing save files for (in-game) monetary gain, something which people are already doing. The people who do the right thing shouldn’t be punished by those who are abusing the system.
Also congrats to Nintendo on making the Nintendo Switch Online app useful for once. Using the app as the chat keyboard and the way to import designs from previous games is fast and efficient.
Alright, it’s time to talk about some of the things Animal Crossing New Horizons does not so well, and it’s with great hope some of those get patched as time goes on.
Animal Crossing has always had a tonne of rules and a rigid structure about how things get placed and how long they take. Now they’ve freed up how we can place items in the world, the system of waiting days for bridges and inclines to be built feels archaic. Things already cost enough bells to complete, let it complete when we’ve paid items off.
This game has a lot of Menus. Conversations, in menus, an Animal Crossing staple. We don’t want to lose the conversational nature of the game that gets us to connect with these characters, but at the same time – we just want to get online. Remember the owl from Ocarina of Time, when you’d accidentally hit “Yes I want to hear this again” and rambles on again? Animal Crossing is a lot like that.
Crafting needs some work. Crafting individual items ends with a “Yay I made this” celebration. Cute to begin with. However, this celebration quickly turns into an annoyance especially when mass crafting items. This may be excusable now, only a month in Nintendo wants us to be sure how the game works – but in another month, it’s going to get even more tiresome. I don’t need a whole spiel every time.
Restrictions like stores closing at times are cute, it mirrors the real world, (when we’re not in a pandemic at least), but if I want to play the game at 3 am – why can’t I sell things for the full amount. Let’s not punish people for playing outside the norm.
New Horizons on the surface is a simple-looking game, with simple art style for the world and characters. It’s the details in the game that get the Switch pumping and bring everything to life. Lighting effects throughout look stunning, react differently to different surfaces, when the sky is purple as the sun sets, so is the water. Houses have a warm glow when lit with fire; campfires similarly scatter across the ground. Tricks with the depth of field and bloom, give the game some real atmosphere as well.
New Horizon’s soundtrack is also perfect; it’s laid back – it just takes a week to open up the tracks that play for every hour, and that’s way too long. It would also be nice to be able to adjust the mix of sounds so the text speech wasn’t so loud compared to the music.
Now here’s a whole paragraph about the game’s text size. While there are too many menus, at least you can read them! There’s massive text everywhere! The game can be read on the TV, in handheld, the font size is big, bold and readable – and more games need to do this!
Despite its awkwardness with how online connects, and the game’s legacy of menus and rigid structure around how things progress. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the perfect embodiment of what a ‘communications game’ should be. You can build an island from scratch, meet some friends, and then invite your real ones over too. If that’s not your thing, you’ve got so much to collect and your island to perfect.
Animal Crossing New Horizons is the perfect escape from life, now and for years to come.
+ Delightful adorable game with tonnes of personality
+ Deserted island concept
+ Improvements to world-building and modifications
+ An escape
- Lots of slow menus and dialogue steeped in a legacy that could be improved
- Breakable items, once your island is no longer 'deserted', is just silly
- Arbitrary events taking until the next day despite other new freedoms
- Game will not suit a lot of people