Sunday morning, 11:50 am. Only 10 minutes left, is there enough time for a flight to the island? No, don’t be stupid James, I’ll never be back in time. OK, I’ll catch a couple more fish. Maybe the sea bass have dried up for now. I cast my rod out into the light blue ocean, waves lapping at the beach, around the sand dollars and hermit crabs laying peacefully – at least before I sprint toward them. After five minutes, I’ve caught a horse mackerel, a couple red snappers and even more sea bass. My mysteriously filled pockets in tow, I quickly make my way over to Nook’s Cranny to flog all I can, before urgently locating Daisy Mae to purchase as many turnips as possible. Just in time.
Such is the Sunday morning ritual after the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Anyone who has played prior entries should relate to this immediately. There’s a lot of familiarity to the Switch iteration, but conversely there’s so much that Nintendo has tweaked and improved. It feels almost like a rebirth of the franchise, which might sound frightening to fans, but trust me – it works, spectacularly.
Instead of moving to an already inhabited town, New Horizons has you taken out to a deserted island, with the objective of converting it into a bustling retreat other animals will flock to, with the help of the racoon trio: Tommy, Timmy, and mainstay Tom Nook. New Horizons is the first to give you a truly blank canvas; once you land, there is nothing present but the resident services tent, housing the aforementioned racoon family. The first job is to find a location for your tent, and aid your other paradise seekers to find a suitable location for theirs. I quickly noticed just how little of my island I had access to, with the majority blocked off by streams and high cliffs. Now, no bridges or ramps are placed anywhere, meaning your first couple of days are limited until you receive a pole to jump across the water, or a small ladder with a funny little animation to climb up the cliffs.
These first few days are important though so as to not get too overwhelmed. New features are explained at a leisurely pace, but these tutorials don't come across as patronising – even for veterans of the series – and can mostly be skipped. After a few days of collecting fish, paying your mortgage, and donating to Blathers to help set up your island’s museum, your island will begin to feel much more homely. Predominantly due to the fact that everything is placed by you. Nook’s Cranny, the museum, resident houses, bridges and ramps, are all left for you to decide where best to place them. When residents move in, you’re even given the instruction to collect and craft items for their houses.
Craft? What was that I said? Yes, new here is crafting. I am always slightly worried about crafting in games as it can get very complicated very easily, and at that point I lose interest (flashbacks to some Minecraft mod packs come to mind). In New Horizons, it doesn’t feel new at all. By that, I mean it’s as though I’ve always been visiting a workbench to craft tools; it just fits perfectly. Instead of procuring rods, shovels and others from Tommy and Timmy, using workbenches to create them yourself will be a frequent task – especially as these tools also break now, too. But not too often that it feels like the only thing you’re doing is running backwards and forwards collecting resources to craft, the balance is just right. There are endless amounts of recipes to create and share, from simple flimsy axes to outdoor wooden swings, all fully customisable, a feature brought forward and vastly improved from New Leaf.
Customisation doesn’t really stop there, either. As I said earlier, the island is just a blank canvas for you to do as you please. After a few weeks have passed, you can begin to move rivers or cliffs and really make your island how you want it. Furniture can be placed anywhere outside, so you can display axes outside your house as if you’re some kind of serial killer.
Alongside the usual currency we are familiar with, Bells, is another that are earned by completing objectives. There are five objectives that change every day, with new ones generated once one has been completed. These are accessed by a new smartphone device that Tom Nook provides you with at the beginning of your island story. Completing these tasks, such as capturing five bugs, chopping down a tree or selling items for 5,000 Bells will net you some Nook Miles rewards points. With these, you can purchase a whole host of items or upgrades – the inventory upgrades and tool shortcut are probably the most useful – including a Nook Miles Ticket. This lets you jet off to a mystery island, similar to the paradise island from New Leaf, except in New Horizons it is randomly generated. Sometimes you can find a tarantula infested island, each of which sells for 8,000 Bells. These also spawn on your normal island, but you’ve got to be careful – they are particularly vicious and will attack, causing you to faint.
What these objectives provide though is something to aim for and complete every day. For some players, the openness and lack of structure will be frustrating. Of course, there’s the other usual money-making schemes to complete daily that experienced Animal Crossing players will remember: shaking trees for Bells (or wasps, but have your net ready!); digging crosses for fossils; hitting rocks for Bells, ores, clay and stones; and collecting fruits to sell. Tom Nook provides more guidance now too, and will give you more tasks to complete so he can achieve his goals with the island.
What New Horizons introduces to the series is much to applaud. But for those who can’t get along with the slow pace most likely won’t see that changed. Any game that forces you to wait for, as an example, construction to finish after 24 hours, will be polarising to some. Animal Crossing has never meant to be a game that you “complete” after playing eight hours a day for two weeks. Little and often is what it’s designed for, which won’t appeal for some. The only real gripe I can say that I have after four weeks is the arbitrary limit of one island per Switch console. Come on, Nintendo, give us the choice of having multiple. That, and whoever the other players are on the island have a severely limited capacity in what they are able to do on the island, which is a real shame given how the Switch is marketed as a family console.
In as not so many words, New Horizons is the best Animal Crossing game to date, and one of the best games on the Switch. This is a confident Nintendo pushing out their absolute best work, another on the list of must-have games for this generation.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
New Horizons is simply the best Animal Crossing game to date. New features have been expertly developed, the pacing is perfect whilst retaining the magical charm the series has always been based upon. The latest in a growing line of must-own Switch titles.