Animal Crossing fans have been waiting eight long years for a new fully-featured game, and it is finally here! Many gameplay features from the previous games are still here plus some new twists.
What Is It?
For newcomers, the Animal Crossing series is a life simulator game. The player is a resident representative for a deserted island which becomes far less deserted as gameplay progresses. Key elements include collecting, neighbor interactions, fishing, gardening, crafting, fossil and insect hunting, festivals, seasonal activities, visiting other islands, hosting visitors, fashion, interior decorating, and more. The game really is massive!
Special characters like Tom Nook, Blathers, Sahara, and Gulliver return in AC:NH but a few seem to be missing like Brewster, Tortimer, and Kapp’n. Perhaps they will appear later, which brings up a great point about this game for those unfamiliar with the series. This is meant to be played in real time. The clock for the island is synced to internet time on the Switch by default, so if someone doesn’t get a chance to play until 10pm, their shops are going to be closed. Many people choose to time travel by setting their Switch clock manually. For the purpose of this review, however, there was no time travel into the distant future to experience new seasons and see if some of the special characters make a cameo.
There are new characters like the dodos running the airline, Flick the bug tournament organizer replacing Nat, and C.J. the fish tournament organizer replacing Chip. Daisy Mae, granddaughter of Ol’ Sow Joan, is also new and she sells turnips since Joan’s arthritis/age/years of knee abuse carrying those turnips has apparently caught up with her.
There are some great changes in AC:NH. One of the best little features is the tool ring, making it easy to switch from slingshot to shovel to the new ladder and vaulting pole tools, and so on. Moving trees is easy–just eat something to gain super strength and dig the whole tree up and relocate it. No wear paths from walking, making the grass thin, oh thank the Nintendo deities for this enhancement! The introduction of Nook Miles achievements is great, as are the islands players can visit using those miles (like tarantula island). One difference from previous games is the absence of annoying fetch-quests for villagers. There is still one fetch-quest per visiting campsite animal, but it’s very minimal. Visual changes abound, such as more clothing options for villagers, increased gender neutral hair and face styles for players, different window dressings in houses, door decorations, ability to move the mailbox after some house upgrades, half-tile furniture arrangement indoors and outdoors, copious outdoor decorations a la Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer and Pocket Camp.
We don’t see Redd the fox and there are no artwork “sales” right now. There is also no sign of island tour games featuring Tortimer as the referee. Diving with a wetsuit doesn’t seem to be included in this iteration of the series. Again, perhaps all these things will appear later in the game (please, no fetch-quests!), but for now they aren’t present. There have been several mentions of Brewster and his coffee shop, so players could hope for a later appearance from him, but it’s entirely possible that Nintendo is trolling us! After all, this is the same Nintendo that lets players poop out extra fruit if there is a toilet placed in their house….
Overall, the game’s premise is true to the series. The deserted island starts small, the player starts off living in a tent, there are a couple of animals who move to the island, then things take off. Tom Nook, real estate mogul, sells you a house, pushes you for upgrades to your living space, gets you to set up new home sites for additional animal residents, hires Isabelle to help manage the island, and keeps growing his business–or is that growing the island? Well, Tom Nook’s gonna Tom Nook, so get to catching some fish and bugs to pay off that mortgage while enjoying new corny puns from Nintendo.
Why Should I Care?
Perhaps the most exciting part of AC:NH is getting together with other players via local or online play. This game launched amidst a pandemic that sent most of the world’s citizens into their homes for everyone’s safety. Humans, overall, are social creatures. Being able to fly on the Dodo Airlines seaplane and visit our friends’ islands has been so therapeutic! Add in voice chat using the Nintendo Switch Online app on a smartphone or any other voice options one might choose (discord, Skype, etc.) makes it even better! Sharing the whole game experience is the icing on the Animal Crossing cake.
So what can someone do in this game? Well, there are as many ways to play an Animal Crossing game as there are players. Some people get deeply involved in fashion, using the Pro Designer (Nintendo Online subscription is required) to design new clothes. Sharing the designs is easy with designer and design codes, similar to Switch friend codes. Using the Nintendo Switch Online app enables scanning of QR codes to import clothing and patterns from older Animal Crossing games.
Other players work hard to collect complete furniture lines and decorate their homes. Online play assists in cataloging efforts, allowing players to visit other islands and swap items. Outdoor decorating is also a fun endeavor. Each island initially gets three native flower seed packs in their store. It seems impossible to get every type of flower without visiting a friend’s island. Hybrid flowers are in AC:NH, too!
And yet other segments of players do major terraforming and change the island to represent their ultimate vision. There are some pretty cool island builds out there that recreate real and imaginary places. This cool new feature adds a huge new dimension to island stewardship.
Only one more player-defined main objective will be mentioned although there are many more, and that is curating the animal villagers. Lots of players have favorite villagers and/or favorite villager personality types (Cranky, Jock, Lazy and Smug for males, Snooty, Peppy, Normal and Uchi for females). Animal Crossing Amiibo Cards work in AC:NH. Scan one in and that villager will head to the island’s visitor campsite. But don’t rush out and spend exorbitant amounts of money on them on eBay or etsy–rumors have been confirmed for a re-release of Series 1-4 cards in Japan, and it is highly likely that a worldwide re-release will follow. There are also well-founded suspicions of a new Series of cards to represent the new villagers added in this game.
Nintendo is paying attention to the fan base, and not just with re-releasing Amiibo cards. The drop rates on eggs for the seasonal Easter event was ridiculously high, and for many players it ruined fishing and balloon hunting. Nintendo heard the outcry and adjusted the rates to a more reasonable level. It will be interesting to see what further tweaking they do for the Easter event prior to 2021. It was definitely not a hit with the majority of players.
While on the subject of modifying the game, there are things on most player’s wish list for AC:NH. First and foremost, the ability to craft with materials from storage instead of pockets while at a workbench inside the player’s house would be stellar! Crafting multiples of an item at once instead of one at a time is another suggestion. Maybe a drop-box for extra copies of DIY recipes and crafting materials next to outdoor workbenches could be added. That would keep the clutter on the ground to a minimum and allow visitors to peruse and use them as desired. Bringing back ordinances from New Leaf would be grand. I’ll mention diving again because that’s a favorite activity of mine from New Leaf. And can they please let manila clams stack? They take up so much space until they are finally crafted into fish bait. And for the biggest gripe from this reviewer, please, please, PLEASE speed up the Dodo Airlines arrivals and departures from islands!
There is hope, though. Firstly, the game is fantastic even with some flaws and it’s clear how much work went into its development. Secondly, Nintendo’s handling of the Easter egg drop rate and some previous software updates surrounding online play are good signs. They aren’t just releasing the game and forgetting about it, and that hasn’t seemed to be their MO lately anyway (think Zelda:BotW). There is a strong possibility that the aforementioned modifications to the game mechanics could become a reality.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
If this type of game appeals to you, you generally already know it. Fans of previous Animal Crossing games, the Harvest Moon series, and wildly popular Stardew Valley probably pre-ordered this game ages ago. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is easy to pick up, making it ideal for casual gamers as well as die-hard fans.
Is your mom going crazy during our current nearly nationwide COVID-19 pandemic shelter-at-home order? Go get a Switch Lite (if you can find one) and a copy of AC:NH (yes, this game IS a system seller). It is immensely calming and works as a much-needed beautiful, positive distraction from the world’s troubles.
Make no mistake, while this game is definitely casual-friendly and easy to pick up, it is not pure fluff. There is so much depth here. Many players will spend scores upon scores of hours enjoying island life both playing solo and with others online. There aren’t many other games out there providing this level of return on investment!