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Checking out Animal Crossing: New Horizons – A Preview

by Paul RobertsMarch 14, 2020

I was fortunate enough to visit the Nintendo offices to get a glimpse of the island life that awaits us all March 20th. The main takeaway I took from the quick look at Nook for Vooks is that even a week away it is going to be a very long wait!


Nintendo was nice enough to show three different stages of the game, demonstrating how the island changes over time. Starting with the early days of island life where there are tents around the island. The main base of operations is the Nook tent seen in the Direct and Treehouse footage. Here was a chance to finally see how crafting works and pole vault across some creeks. 

Getting Crafty

It’s important to harvest resources for crafting, mostly wood, stone and fruit at this point. A quick look on your provided phone will help you to look up what’s needed to fulfil any collected crafting recipes. It looks like the early game is going to be spent with flimsy equipment. I quickly broke a flimsy axe, but it also wasn’t a good idea to use it on a rock. I then discovered that there is an obstacle new to Animal Crossing, cliffs! Cliffs aren’t new by any stretch, but there are usually ramps so they aren’t an obstacle. Until you build a ladder, areas at the top of cliffs are inaccessible.

There’s been no hint as to how quick it is to get the ladder, I doubt they’ll keep you from climbing those cliffs for too long. When crafting was introduced it was hard to know how to take it. You don’t want it tacked on because everyone does it now. It now means there is durability on your tools, starting with flimsy axes and shovels. From my rampant tree chopping (don’t worry, I didn’t completely fell them), there was no indicator how long my axe would last before it broke. Over time you’ll get some idea how much it can withstand and in time you’ll be able to craft stronger tools. I was guided into making the pole for vaulting over the creeks/rivers running through the island. It turned out to be fun flinging yourself over the water, they might have a hard time selling me on bothering to build bridges.

Home Owner Simulator

Then it was onto the next part of the preview! A version of the island that’s been developed and upgraded beyond a bunch of tents. I found I was now a proper homeowner and it was already filled with things and it began to resemble the Animal Crossing town instead of rough island living.

Playing older Animal Crossing games, the issue I came across was there’d be all the Nintendo-themed items along with a stack of other cool designer furniture I wanted to have in my house. In the end, my house always looked like a hoarder house, I wanted it all on display but there’s only so much room. New Horizons allows items to be placed outside of the house, opening up a lot more possibilities. I only had a quick look at the editor for moving stuff around the house, the last time I played Animal Crossing I was still having to manually move furniture around like a Neanderthal. With this option available I might even make an attempt at making it look presentable. Heaven help the poor villagers who have to live on my island with my hoarded items left all over the place outside.

Island Style Boutique

I took a peek into the Able Sisters store where you can get your clothes and accessories. You can also put your personally designed artwork on display in their store. I cannot wait to be reminded of the shameful creations that I gave up on once I realised I would never be truly content in one of my own creations. For people who enjoy creating patterns and designs, you can proudly put your work on display for yourself or for when others stop round. While clothing and accessories are still limited in how many are on display each day, there is more customisation available. For example say you want a Soft Serve Icecream hat, you don’t have to settle for vanilla. You can pick out the brown one and wear the equivalent of the poop emoji (it actually doesn’t look bad). 

Tom goes to the Mayor

I got to check the more established Town Hall, no longer just a crafting hangout for the Nooks. Here you’ll not only find Tom, but you’ll also find everyone’s favourite Secretary to the Manager and Smash Invitee Isabelle. Now that you have a more established Town and community, the functions were similar to past game options such as setting a town theme or reporting a resident. If things go sour with one of your island pals, it seems you can start again with a blank slate (although I never saw the exact outcome). 

Everyday Rewards

Nook Miles adds another layer of incentives to keep doing more of what you’re already doing. There are stamp cards like when you go to a cafe, there’s a lot of them that cover a wide range of Animal Crossing activities. If you struggle to find the motivation to do more than the bare minimum in the daily grind, this might give you some direction in activities around the island. The rewards you get can be useful resources as well as precious Nook Miles, as well as unlockable keywords. Memory fails me where these keywords are used in the past. There are also daily goals too so you keep earning those Miles. Tom Nook not only runs a monopoly but he knows his way around a reward scheme too. 

The Nook Miles are accessible through your handy phone, but that’s not all, there is also a camera. This allows you to keep track of all your island memories that you make without having to use the Switch’s screenshot function. I didn’t spend long here. There are all kinds of movement you can adjust the camera to, a heap of filters to liven up your pics, and you can also call out to your villager so they look at the camera. There’s only so much to say about it, you can take photos with your phone in-game!

That Fossil belongs in a Museum

I also had to check out the Museum, another series mainstay. Gotta check out them Dinosaur bones, and they did not disappoint! Much like a TARDIS, the inside of the Museum is way bigger than the modest building I entered. Walking between the different areas there is plenty of space for you to keep a lot of bugs, fish and dead Dinosaurs. I look forward to filling up my own Museum over time, especially when the rooms are filled with giant Dino skeletons and the tanks are filled with all kinds of fish. There is just a peacefulness in the Museum that I really liked, no dealing with big crowds here.

Change the world

In the later stage version of the game it was mostly about checking out one of the big changes to Animal Crossing; Terraforming. No longer content to put up with the world as it is, you can become like a God! At a currently-unknown point in the game, you gain access to a construction mode that allows you to be more hands-on with your island. There’s the option to make paths or place down a design you’ve created, you can become the Banksy (he’s still a thing right?) of your own island or just cover it in Doom textures you put together pixel by pixel. Footpaths are a pretty neat thing to help navigate your way around the island or just to make it look nice. What I really wanted to see was how I could reshape my island and would I be able to make a rough approximation of Jurassic Park’s Isle Nublar (sans Dinosaurs). My hopes were quickly dashed, you will forever live on a square island, but fear not! There is still a lot you can do to personalise your island home.

You can dig up the ground leaving the hole full of water, with some more digging you’ve got yourself a river, make it big enough and fish will show up in there. Then there is the ability to form cliffs, or is it making mountains? You can build ramps to make it easier to get to the top of the cliffs or using the water tool to turn the edge of the cliff into a scenic waterfall. In fact, you could make the whole cliff face into a waterfall as part of your virtual paradise. There wasn’t an editor like when you’re inside your house, but it didn’t take long to get the feel for landscaping tile by tile. Hey, it might even be therapeutic for those who want to make their ultimate personal nirvana.     

No one is an island

While it’s already been shown off in previous footage, I got to try out the New Horizon’s co-op mode with Nintendo of Australia’s PR Josie. I didn’t spend much of my limited time busting up the island with my accompanying villager chum. Well, it was more I accidentally messed up the place and dug random holes while they were quietly filled back in during the aftermath. Running around the island with other villagers seems fun, and it’ll be interesting to see how many people are willing to share the same island without descending into chaos. One thing that was pointed out to me is the possibility for the lead villager to craft items that your companions aren’t yet able to build and share them. Which also means that when in co-op, crafting recipes aren’t shared on top of limitations such as only the lead villager can access their full inventory. I feel this co-op would be great for family and friends who can enjoy the island together instead of making everyone watch you show off your fancy furniture. 

Express yourself

What I didn’t really get to check out was the chat and expression functions beyond accidentally pressing the ZR and R button. One button brings up text entry, although I didn’t do anything besides ashamedly close it because I kept forgetting what the button did. The other button would show you expressions, these could be exclamations or looking bashful or overjoyed. There were plenty of expressions to choose from, but I didn’t have time for expressin’. I did have time to find out that talking with the other residents on the island, it’s possible to unlock expressions as one of them showed me how to look surprised. One can only hope that there is an expression for “I’m using tilt controls”.    


After 45 minutes with Animal Crossing New Horizons in its various stages, I couldn’t be more excited for March the 20th. There was so much left unseen and a brief glimpse doesn’t give a true representation of the day to day Animal Crossing experience. What I did see has gotten me really excited to be spending many hours on my island getaway for a long time to come.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons
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About The Author
Paul Roberts
Lego enthusiast, Picross Master and appreciator of games.

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