Playing this felt in a strange way like I was really coming home, I was going into a place where I knew I could relax and take time out
As most of you are probably more than aware, Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out almost a month ago, and it has taken the world by storm. New Horizons has already surpassed many of the other games in the franchise and it has had the most units sold in the first week of all the franchise. I think it is easy to say this game is all I had hoped for… but, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s begin from the start. I have been an Animal Crossing fan ever since I begged my parents for a copy of Animal Crossing: Wild World (Nintendo DS) years ago. The game was captivating, my sister and I could not stop playing to get all those bugs, all those fish, pay your mortgage to our lord and leader Tom Nook. I fell in LOVE with the villager Punchy, but sadly never again would I have him again in any of my towns. We spent hours upon hours just playing a game that, to many who have never played it, seems almost trivial and empty.
The release of Animal Crossing: City Folk (or Let’s Go to the City in EU/UK) for the Wii went really badly under my radar and I must say it is the Animal Crossing main line game I played the least. Needless to say, I have always been a Nintendo fan boy, and when one summer I bought a Nintendo magazine to see that they had announced a new, main entry for the series on brand-new console Nintendo 3DS, I was over the moon. I sold my old DS and begged my parents to let me buy with my own money a 3DS just so I was ready to play the new Animal Crossing whenever it came out.
Later titled Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the new entry was released during a time where I was suffering from a lot of anxiety as I had yet to come to terms with my own sexuality which hindered my capabilities of having friends. I had a countdown on the wall of my room until the release date of New Leaf, and every day I would write it on my hand hoping time would move faster. When I tell you that I cried tears of joy when the store manager I had pre-ordered my copy from called my mom two days early from release day, telling her that the game had arrived early and that we could come pick it up, I would not be lying. New Leaf was the best game I had ever played. All of the new abilities the Nintendo team had added, making the player mayor of the town, being able to build bridges, put signposts up and even build a cafe were things that made the whole of the summer of 2013 an easy breeze in which I was happy talking to my villagers, with this town introducing me to two of the best villagers in the game, Flora and Vladimir, who I love deeply to this day.
Then, after a decade of producing massively successful main line Animal Crossing games that kept each and every one of their players playing for long periods of time, Nintendo decided to venture themselves into the land of spin-offs. Sigh.
The spin-offs, for the most part, aren’t that bad. I enjoyed Happy Home Designer, but mobile entry ‘Pocket Camp’ was just bland. Never having played the Amiibo Festival, I heard it was awful too. The problem was that Animal Crossing doesn’t really have an end goal that is transferable into different spin-offs like a Mario game might. The goal of the game is to build a community, to create friendships with the different villagers and to spend time in a different reality in which you don’t have to worry you don’t have enough money to pay your rent because Tom Nook or Timmy and Tommy will always gladly buy anything you want to sell. You don’t have to worry about being excluded by people as the villagers are always happy to talk to you and ask you different favours and tasks. The spin-offs boiled every relationship down to transactional exchanges, just wanting to sell games that already had the name of a best-selling franchise attached, knowing that desperate fans would buy it.
But after years and years of keeping silent, Nintendo finally announced a new mainline Animal Crossing game, exclusive for the Nintendo Switch. When seeing the clip of Tom Nook in September 2018, telling us he was making arrangements to ensure that everyone had a house when they were done playing with the new Super Smash Bros., again, I would be lying if I said I didn’t cry. They told us the game would be released in 2019, but at that year’s E3 they announced it would be postponed until March 20th 2020. I was sad, I needed that game. It had been 7 years with no core Animal Crossing release and I think the ongoing demands for a new game were putting a lot of pressure on the Animal Crossing developing team. However, I’m glad they postponed the game as they didn’t have to rush any of the developing.
With only one month to go until release day, Nintendo had put out little to no clips of the game and fans were angry. Nintendo released a 30 minute direct EXCLUSIVELY for Animal Crossing: New Horizons and we were all sold. I pre-ordered it online and I waited and waited, watching every YouTube video about it. With just under one week to go for the release day, Spain declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country and my family told me they wanted me to be there with them, just in case everything goes wrong in the UK like it did in Spain. So, I bought a plane ticket for Friday the 20th of March, the same day my game was arriving. That whole week I was so scared for many things, but I needed that game to come in time before I left. When the delivery person knocked on my door and gave me my copy of the game 20 minutes before I was supposed to leave for the airport I was so relieved. I finally had the game that I had been waiting for years, it was in my hands and I was ready to escape reality and join Tom Nook, Timmy, Tommy and the two random villagers in a deserted island. Animal Crossing New Horizons has allowed me every day to escape from the weird and anxiety inducing reality of the current times, and for that I am truly grateful.
After that long long intro, lets actually begin to actually review Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Firstly, as many who review this game, I want to make it clear I have only been playing this game since the 20th of March and so I cannot give a full review of the game as that would take over a year of gameplay. However, since I have unlocked MOST of the main features of this entry in the franchise already, I think I can sufficiently come to detailed conclusions of the game and my future gameplay. What I’m missing mostly is the different holidays which have yet to pass in real time. With that said, let’s start.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons actually starts on a different dynamic than the previous games. You get to the island and Tom Nook greets you, asking the new residents to do different tasks like setting up your tent or gathering tree branches. After that it transitions into night-time and they hold an island naming celebration in which the player becomes Island Representative. After the celebration Tom Nook asks the player to go sleep in the tent. By doing that the player has a strange dream about K.K. Slider and you wake up the next day, finally synchronizing the in-game clock with the real-world time. Playing this through as I travelled back to Spain felt in a strange way like I was really coming home, I was going into a place where I knew I could relax and take time out. The next couple of days playing this new game felt familiar but also different.
In my opinion, one of the best aspects of this game is definitely the setting. Being the first Animal Crossing game presented in HD, New Horizons really does deliver. The island sky and night-time visuals are truly beautiful. The visuals are just stunning, and as the first Animal Crossing to be presented in HD, the island sky and night-time visuals are truly beautiful. The deserted island delivers a really refreshing environment, compared to the setting of some other mainland games’ which used to be somewhat developed towns in which the player had little input into where the villagers can live or where to place the different shops. In previous games the player had been an outsider that is forced to fit into the new community they encounter, but in New Horizons the player and all the villagers are in a completely new environment meaning that everyone has to build new relationships and start from scratch.
The relationships are built over time in this animal crossing, you won’t get to do tasks or favours for the villagers straight away like you were able in previous instalments. Rather, the player has to first build a strong friendship with a villager before you can exchange items, or they ask you to bring them a specific bug or fish. The more gradual building of friendships really emphasizes that the player should be logging in everyday and just like in real life, friendships don’t happen overnight they come from regular meetings in which you learn to trust the new person. With that said, the deserted island also allows the main player to be able to select where the shops will be situated, where the villagers live and even further on in the game you will be able to build paths, inclines and bridges. This means it is the first time in the franchise that not everything is randomized and destroy your hard work in your own village.
The DIY crafting system is definitely a win for this Animal Crossing. I admit I wasn’t sold when they announced there would be crafting in New Horizons, originally, I felt like it was a step back rather than forward for the franchise. However, after playing the game the DIY crafting feels like it should have been a part of this franchise from the start. The crafting element of this instalment allows players to create tons of new furniture, tools and fun little things like an ocarina. Crafting allows the player to build furniture whenever they want, which means you don’t need to be buying or waiting for something to be on sale for you to be able to place it. It can be quite tedious, especially with the different tools that break every so often, however I do not think it was as annoying as some other reviewers of the game made it out to be. Overall the addition of crafting to Animal Crossing is quite satisfying and is actually rewarding to see items you have crafted yourself around the island rather than ones you have bought.
The extreme level of customization that is available in this game is outstanding. New Horizons is the first in the franchise that allows players to place as many items as they desire outside of your house. By allowing players to place items outside, there have been really cool outside spaces created by different people. I have created a really cute Japanese garden in my island and other spaces that are themed according to the different personalities of my islanders. However, I think the customization new aspect that has given me the most satisfaction is terraforming. Being able to build cliffs, ponds, rivers and waterfalls is so cool and definitely a big positive of the game. I also like that being able to terraform is not a skill you are given straight away but rather you have to gain by completing all the different tasks that Tom Nook asks from the player. I must admit, after having unlocked the terraforming I have maybe gone a little too crazy building waterfalls.
The Nook Miles+ programme gives the player points to spend after doing different tasks around the island. They range from planting a tree, to visiting a friend’s island and even dropping a present into the river after popping the balloon it was attached to with a slingshot. The miles+ programme has definitely kept me playing whenever I had nothing major to do in my town, which is definitely an improvement from other titles in the franchise.
DLC holidays and special characters I think has been a great way of stopping players from time travelling in order to get different furniture sets or special items. Having DLCs for every single holiday and event also allows Nintendo to create new sets of items and challenges every year for each holiday. Therefore players will have to come back to the game yearly in order to get the new sets of furniture meaning that Nintendo will keep the active player base big which is always a good thing for a game.
The villager dialogue and behaviour has had a step up from different instalments of the series. They run around, sing when they are hanging out in the town plaza (or even sign along specific K.K. Slider songs if you place a jukebox somewhere in your island, which melts my heart) or they sit down on the floor and eat a picnic whilst they watch the wildlife in the island. The villagers actually feel like they have a purpose with their life, instead of being coded in just to help the player get more items.
For the most part I do not think there are many things to be said negatively about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, so for the following aspects I have definitely had to nit-pick.
There is a lack of different furniture sets. I have seen the same items being sold at Nooks Cranny way too often, and it is actually making me a little anxious as to if there is not going to be the same level that was available in Animal Crossing New Leaf and Happy Home Designer. The catalogue of furniture for the games I just mentioned is so extensive that Nintendo actually issued a book that compiles all of them and it would feel like a lost opportunity for Nintendo not to add the same amount of furniture sets. Especially considering the emphasis on island customization that is available in New Horizons. ALSO, we want the FROGGY CHAIR!
I definitely think that there should be more shops available to build like Katrina’s fortune store or Crazy Redd’s black-market shop. The lack of different shops definitely feels a little bit like a step back in terms of idle activities that are available in previous instalments and I think it makes the gameplay a little emptier than it should. The overabundance of skills regarding customizations in New Horizons seems to have taken centre stage taking away a lot of personality from previous gameplay.
I have heard some other fans criticize the previous instalments for the overabundance of shops and how they felt almost disconnected to the town itself (much of that criticism is directed at New Leaf and City Folk), but I actually found those to be a really big highlight of the previous games. With the level of customization that is available in New Horizons I juts refuse to accept that there are only two shops available to build in the island, it just makes no sense. So, with that said we can only hope these will be added in future DLCs (and according to crazy Animal Crossing fans, Brewster’s café is already coded into the game and he is even mentioned in some dialogues with villagers, so it is very plausible more shops will be added to the game).
Overall, Animal Crossing New Horizons is an amazing game that I definitely had really high expectations for. I can say with confidence that I will be playing this game through this quarantine and for the months and years to come. The game might well be the best the franchise has ever offered to its players, and should leave all Animal Crossing players to wonder what the next mainline entry in this flagship Nintendo franchise might look like.
- 9.2 -
Guille Fernandez is music lover who studied the cello for almost 10 years before moving to the UK to study English literature at King's College, London.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England.