Animal Crossing: New Horizons game review

rachel sawicki animal crossing
Rachel Sawicki/THE REVIEW
In these dark times, animal crossing has been our only light.

BY
Senior Reporter

I’ve been playing Animal Crossing since elementary school. My dad, of all people, was the one to get me into it. I never played the original game, but started with Wild World (2005) and played City Folk (2008) and New Leaf (2012) when they came out, but Wild World was always my favorite. Maybe it was because I had put the most time into it: I had the biggest house, all the fruits, my Nook Catalog and museum were nearly complete. Nothing could beat it … until now.

The possibilities in New Horizons seem endless. It’s a city planner/interior and fashion designer’s dream. No game has ever satisfied my sense of accomplishment like this; I could play it for six hours a day, every day. (And I mean that because I literally have been playing for six hours a day, every day. #quarantinethings) No other version has so much creative opportunity as New Horizons.

Whereas the older versions of the game drive you to a “town” to start your new life, you’re transported to a desert island in New Horizons. You choose from four different island layouts at the airport before you go, do the usual customizing and naming of your character (I started with dark red pigtails and big green eyes, and my name is always Katara because I was obsessed with “Avatar: the Last Airbender” when I started playing as a kid) and then you’re off!

On the first day, you get to name your island (I named mine Rachel), choose the spot where you put your house (it starts out as just a tent) and you can even offer the other two animals who come to the island with you to pick a spot for their homes.

Later on, as you start to build your town and invite more animals to your island, you can relocate your home and theirs, for the great low rate of 30,000 to 50,000 bells (the in-game currency). The plaza where your town hall is eventually built can’t be changed, but you also get to choose, and can later relocate, where Tom Nook’s store (called Nook’s Cranny and manned by Timmy and Tommy) and the museum go.

I am obsessed with this feature. In previous games, I always end up hating where my house and the other homes are across town. I like to organize things, so having the ability to choose where everything goes is incredibly satisfying and allows me to truly make the island my own. This way, I can put all the shops and the museum near the plaza to make it like a shopping center. All of my villagers live on one side of the island, like a neighborhood, and my home is tucked away in the back corner of the island on a cliff, virtually fulfilling my dream of living in the middle of nowhere by myself.

There are parts of your island that will be inaccessible until you gain access to a pole to vault across the river or a ladder to climb the cliffs. To get the pole and ladder however, along with every other tool, you have to build it.

Tell all the Karens to sit down for this one: Every piece of furniture, tools, outdoor fencing and decorations, are all do-it-yourself (DIY)! You can buy DIY recipes, find them in message bottles on the beach and receive them as gifts from your fellow island dwellers. The first tools you make will be “flimsy,” but eventually you’ll get recipes for stronger tools, which still break but not as fast. This can be really annoying when I’m not near a DIY workbench or don’t have the materials on me to remake another. I then have to stop whatever I’m doing to go and remake that tool; I wouldn’t want to miss a balloon with a present attached, a fossil in the ground or a rare bug or fish because my tool broke.

Most materials are collected from trees and rocks, but some recipes require special materials like fruits or other pieces of furniture and tools. You can even customize the color of some furniture, something you can’t do in any other version of the game. Furthermore, the rules that previously applied to furniture no longer apply. In other versions, you can’t place furniture outside. Now however, not only can I set up furniture outside, but there are tons of pieces of furniture specifically for outdoors like picnic tables and swinging benches, creating another slew of possibilities for creating outdoor hangout/living spaces.

But what if I run out of trees and rocks on my island to loot for materials you ask? You fly to a mystery island! By completing milestone tasks like catching your first 10, then 50, then 100 fish or bugs (and so on), shooting balloons out of the sky, selling items, planting trees and flowers and completing DIY projects, you earn what are called “Nook Miles,” which can be used to buy a “Nook Miles Ticket” that will fly you to a mystery island to loot. This is also where to find coconuts to plant on your beaches, and where you’ll meet the next few animals that will move to your island. Nook Miles Tickets can also be used to purchase DIY recipes and other cool outside items like fountains, street lamps and playground equipment.

Buying and creating outdoor furniture becomes an important part of the game as well. Once Isabelle moves to your island to work with Tom Nook, she’ll help you keep track of your island rating. Decorating the island with flowers, fruit trees, furniture and fencing will boost your rating. I’m currently in the process of hosting a K.K. Slider concert, but before he visits the island my rating has to go up.

K.K. Slider and several other special characters are still around. So far I’ve also come across Gulliver, the shipwrecked pelican that washes up on the beach, Celeste, Blathers’ sister who gifted me a DIY recipe for a magic wand, Sahara, the camel that sells rugs, and Mabel, who appears at the plaza every so often to sell clothes, and will eventually ask you to find a place to build the Able Sisters shop. There are a few new special characters as well. A ghost named “Wisp” will appear every so often, who is always startled when you try to speak to him, and will lose pieces of his “spirit”, which he asks you to collect for a reward. There’s also a beaver named C.J. who runs a fishing blog and buys fish from you for a day at nearly twice the price as Nooks offers. There’s a bug fanatic too, a dragon named Flick who also commissions bug art.

You don’t need a Nook Miles ticket to do so, but you can also go to the airport to visit friends. Just about everyone in my friend group plays Animal Crossing and we all luckily had different native fruits on our islands. I exchanged my pears for peaches, cherries, apples and bamboo, found coconuts on a mystery island, and got some oranges in a letter from “Mom” one morning. Pears, my native fruit, sell for 100 bells a pop. Coconuts sell for 250, and every other fruit goes for 500. However, I can save my pears and bring them with me when I visit a friends island to sell them for 500.

Overall, the variety in New Horizons is fantastic. To “master” any version of Animal Crossing, it will take at least a full year in order to play through all the seasons and have an opportunity to collect seasonal furniture and clothing items. I think it will take much longer than a year to master New Horizons, however. To collect every variety of every piece of furniture, clothing and animal, you’ll need a lot of time on your hands.

I’m only about two weeks into the game, so I’m sure there are a number of new characters and adventures to be discovered. As wonderful as the game is, there are a few drawbacks.

I don’t have my own Nintendo Switch. My dad has one that I share with him when I come home. I’m glad that I was the one to start the game and create my profile first, because only one island is allowed per Switch. Not per profile or game card, but per Switch. Once my dad hopped on to create his character, he was only secondary. Secondary characters have very limited possibilities. They can’t change the layout of the town, build bridges, inclines and new homes and will be fighting with other players for access to resources on the island.

I play the game way more than my dad. He’s only been on once or twice to “check it out,” but for households where everyone plays the game, it’s a pain in the ass. Almost every user review I’ve read from people who share Switch consoles are negative, these people are furious, and I would be too. The whole point of Animal Crossing is to make the island your own, and have complete creative freedom to build and change it however you want. You can’t do that when more than one person is sharing an island.

Other than the small drawbacks, I think that New Horizons is the best version of Animal Crossing there is to date. It’s the most variable and inventive version of any game. The possibilities for creativity are endless, and as long as I’m stuck at home in coronavirus quarantine, I’ll be glued to the screen with every minute of free time I have.

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