In a sea of shooters and combat heavy games, not to mention sharing a release date with Doom Eternal, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a freshly blooming flower in a war-torn field. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game like this one, with New Leaf on the 3ds coming out almost 8 years ago. Animal Crossing is a franchise close to the hearts of many, and Nintendo really went out of their way to make sure this game is an experience befitting the Animal Crossing title.
If you’re not familiar with Animal Crossing, the concept can seem kind of jarring. It’s a game linked to your real time clock, with events that happen in real time and things to do that change depending on the time of day. The calendar is the same, and there are seasons to match. It’s a community and life simulator type of game, but with a real world pacing that allows it to be enjoyed over incredibly long periods of time. It’s not a game you can “win” per-se, but you can make your island whatever you want it to be.
The main draw of this game is the island setting. Animal Crossing has had players tending villages, and attending mayoral duties, but this is the first main game to allow players access to an entire island. With this island of course comes more development than normal. You’re started with nothing but a tent and the task to make the island more hospitable towards new people. The beauty in this is how the tasks are presented to you. As someone who wants to sit back and unwind while seeing happy animal friends cheer you on, even picking weeds is pure bliss. The crafting system is nice and simple, and a welcome addition to the game. Being able to craft your own furniture from the resources around you, while also being taught new recipes from your neighbors is not only pleasant, but effective. This not only gives you resource management incentives that prove that your items just don’t clog up your inventory, but keeps the game fresh by introducing new ways to use items and rewards for saving up. Not only this, but the Nook Miles + feature unlocked shortly after the start of the game keeps you on your toes with ways to earn currency outside of doing timegated quests. While you wait you can do some mini-quests for miles and redeem them for cosmetic rewards, new crafting recipes, and even a flight ticket to go to a randomized island that has a chance of having different fruits and items to find.
Now with all these pleasant features come just a precious few drawbacks. The movement and aiming still feel a bit outdated. It feels very “Animal Crossing”, which inherently is a bit dated. Not much has changed, and it can still be an issue aiming your fishing rod and shovel in the right places even after playing for a good while. It’s something you get a feeling for, but definitely something that can be improved on. Secondly, the timegates aren’t for everyone. Normally between major events you have to wait a day of real time for the event to be completed and progress with the story. There’s a way to bypass this of course, by setting the day on the console one day forward. Some people are purists that will argue this as defeating the purpose of the game, but frankly you can enjoy this game with or without skipping; it’s totally a matter of preference. Finally and probably the biggest drawback is the fact that there can be only one island per console. If one person buys the game, the island is saved to the switch. Other profiles can access the island and play, but cannot influence any major events or progress the story. While this can be fine in co-op, having someone just help you do the chores or running around with friends, not being able to have multiple islands is a major deal breaker for some people, and has led to quite a bit of backlash.
To conclude on a more pleasant note; Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a very fun and relaxing game for all ages. Whether you’re coming back from a hectic school day or a long day of work, being able to unwind on an island to yourself is nothing short of therapeutic. Chopping trees, catching bugs and fish, populating a museum, expanding your house; all of these things are handled in typical Animal Crossing fashion, and are incredibly fun to do. Some would say this game is a Switch seller, and for more casual people I can’t help but agree. Even if you’re used to instant gratification in games and try to rush to the end, I urge you to give Animal Crossing: New Horizons a shot. While it might seem menial to begin with, this game will capture your heart.
Score: 9 out of 10
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch