Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the follow-up to Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which was released over seven years ago for the Nintendo 3DS. Gamers have been itching to get their hands on a new main series Animal Crossing game for years, especially given the mixed reception received by mobile spin-off Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, as well as Animal Crossing Amiibo Festival. Now it’s finally a reality, but can the game live up to such long-lived hype?
Animal Crossing: New Horizons follows a similar plot to its predecessor New Leaf, with a few notable exceptions. Instead of visiting a full-fledged town and its pronounced mayor, players are dropped on a deserted island with nothing but their wits, tools, and the support of Tom Nook’s family to get them through. Instead of visiting existing shops and buildings, players start from scratch with nothing but tents, and must work their way up to a full-fledged civilization.
Of course, building that civilization will not be easy. Animal Crossing has always been a little collectathon, and New Horizons is no different. Players have to hunt a lot of supplies to make the necessary tools and build town buildings from scratch and to earn enough bells to pay for town projects and home expansion and improvement. Bug hunting, fishing, planting, and harvesting are all played out, just like previous entries in the series.
Although part of what makes New Horizons different from New Leaf, is the player’s ability to customize almost everything in their town. At first, it’s just small decisions like where to place buildings or which villagers to invite to join the island. But as the game progresses, the options are almost limitless, culminating in a terraforming tool that allows players to literally change the shape of the island as they see fit.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been in development since shortly after the last major series predecessor, New Leaf, ended. The amount of time and polish the game has received is clearly evident. In addition to making full use of the Switch’s graphical capabilities, New Horizons fixes many of the annoyances and problems that New Leaf had. One of the biggest problems fans had with New Leaf was that they had little control over what happened in the environment around them; Villagers can move in and destroy groves of trees and flowers, whether the players want them to or not. Now, players have the ultimate decision on where each villager moves, and with the ability to pocket and move entire trees, the impact on landscaping is minimal at worst.
That barely touches the surface of the quality of life improvements in New Horizons, however. Fish are more responsive to the presence of fishing lures, multiplayer limits have been greatly increased, and running no longer destroys carefully placed plants, instead simply obliterating their blooms. after many runthroughs. Some features are no longer hidden behind elusive NPCs and their services; for example, players can now specify what hairstyle, hair color, and overall look they want from the start, and they gain the ability to change it on the fly, with more – and more accessible – options in the customization that will appear later in the game. While these options are pretty standard fare for other games, considering New Leaf players have to leave their characters’ appearance up to a random series of questions with no real way to define exactly what they want, this improvement makes a big difference.
New Horizons also introduced the Nook Phone, which serves as the player’s smartphone in the game. This facilitates access to various tools and information, including the ability to communicate with friends on and off the island. It also introduced Nook Miles, which reward the player for completing various types of tasks. This is enough to make even the most tedious tasks more rewarding, which is likely to keep the player coming back.
Of course, not everything about New Horizons is perfect. Multiplayer, in particular, has its drawbacks. Secondary players sharing the island on the same Switch only get a fraction of the Animal Crossing experience, with most of the responsibility and options left to the first player of the session. Multiplayer online and local play is functional and enjoyable, but the long loading sequence for each player to join makes it a very difficult process to actually bring as many players as possible to New Horizons. Multiplayer also creates a bit of a hassle for the main island player, as making any significant changes to the island – or even one’s own home – becomes impossible while friends are visiting. However, perhaps the most confusing decision on Nintendo’s part is the inability to craft multiple items at once, which means players will have to watch the crafting animation over and over again, particularly causing problems. on items like fish bait.
The introduction of destruction tools is likely to displease some players. Similar to games like Breath of the Wild and Dead Rising, New Horizon’s tools break down over time and have to be rebuilt from scratch. The necessary supplies are almost always available, but this eats up time that players could use to actually play the game.
Ultimately, Animal Crossing: New Horizons refines the formula, but doesn’t dramatically shake it up. It’s still a quiet game that ultimately allows the player to choose what they do at any given moment, but those choices are still limited to what existed in the previous games. So if someone thinks that collecting things, filling a museum, and talking to cute animals isn’t their cup of tea, Animal Crossing: New Horizons probably isn’t for them. But given the huge demand for Animal Crossing: New Horizons and the Nintendo Switch console since its release, it’s clear that New Horizons still has a large audience eager for that kind of gameplay.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is now available exclusively for Nintendo Switch. Today Technology was provided with a code for this review.