Video gaming has been used as an escape from reality to a fantasy world for decades; one plays the Elder Scrolls games to role-play as axe wielding brutes or mystical sorcerers in a sprawling fantasy landscape rife with dynamic and unique voice acting, sound design, and orchestration. Another individual desires the immersion into the riveting and complex storyline that is woven into the Bioshock series; a visually intriguing, gritty world design puts Rapture in a league of its own, further embellished by the enticing and flat-out fun weapons that are Plasmids, the genetic modification that allows Rapture citizens to shoot fire, electricity, and bees from their fingertips. Animal Crossing: New Horizons transports players into another such fantasy world: one in which you can befriend cute and quirky animals, all while living out the dream of owning a home and repaying the 2,498,000 bell loan it takes to fully upgrade it. If home-ownership sounds like a lofty dream in real life, Animal Crossing is here to help you pretend that your hard work is worth something in a capitalist society.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a much-anticipated installment for the franchise, and given its killer release timing at the start of a global health crisis, it’s no wonder that record sales were reported. According to the ACNH Wikipedia page, “It sold five million digital copies in its first month, breaking the console game record for most digital units sold in a single month. It became the best-selling game in the Animal Crossing series and the second best-selling game on the Nintendo Switch, with over 22 million units sold.” I picked up my copy the night before its official release on March 20th, just days before my state issued a Stay-At-Home order that required non-essential businesses to close and lasted just under 2 months. Many others like me, who were either laid off or otherwise temporarily out of work, took to this game as a comfort blanket, a project, and something to ultimately keep us going during uncertain and stressful times.
In New Horizons, players find themselves exploring all that the Deserted Island Package has to offer: a getaway that takes players to an island that acts as a blank canvas (other than the predetermined placement of Resident Services). Players begin with two villagers accompanying them, and a few tasks delegated to them by Tom Nook, who provides you with a Nook Phone and loans to be able to build a home and many other attractions on the island. It may be a slow start for some, but it is rewarding being able to develop an island entirely inspired by one’s own tastes and interests. You then are able to invite more and more islanders to move in, and expand buildings for more experiences and purchasable items. You’ll also occasionally get a new app on your Nook Phone.
Players will still find many of the classic features offered since the original game, like fishing, gardening, and bug catching. Along with Tom Nook, many other familiar faces make a return in this game like Isabelle, Timmy and Tommy, the Able Sisters, and Blathers and Celeste. The bones of this game barely stray from original gameplay, however there are many new and exciting additions I will get to shortly. Updated graphics and expanded capability for multi-player adventures make this game standout as the best of the series, with many of the new features building upon or improving the original base for the game that many of us grew up loving. It’s safe to say that ACNH is fun and interesting for OG players and those who are new to the franchise alike. So…
The change from village to island is notable enough as it is, but the inclusion of Mystery Island Tours and Dodo Airlines really make this installment stand out among the others. Dodo Airlines is the airline run by brothers Wilbur and Orville. There’s no doubt something funny about the airline being run by a couple of flightless birds named after the fathers of flight. Visiting the airline and speaking to Orville allows players to choose from a couple of different options for travel. One option is to go on a mystery island tour, which requires a Nook Miles ticket that can be bought using Nook Miles that players accrue by completing tasks. Wilbur will transport you via his sea place, and these tours take your character to one of several randomly determined mystery islands with resources that can be tapped. This is convenient for collecting resources for crafting (especially after one’s island’s resources have been depleted for the day) or transporting sister fruit trees for an orchard on one’s home island. Another option is to visit a friend’s island, whether local or online (with online requiring a Nintendo Online account, which is only $20 for a year). Visiting friends has been a feature in previous Animal Crossing games, but this game makes it feel easier and more accessible. It’s entertaining to explore a friend’s island and can provide one with inspiration for their own. The final traveling option was introduced in a spring update for a wedding event where players could travel to Harvey’s island and invite villagers for photoshoots.
Crafting is another fun addition to ACNH. Resident Services is home to a workbench, and after acquiring the DIY crafting recipe for it, you can make your own workbench and place it anywhere on your island or in your home (the ability to place furniture and items outside of a home is also new for this game). These DIY recipes allow you to collect resources and turn them into furniture, items, or clothing. These can be further customized by changing colors. Players can even use custom designs that they have created to give items a personalized touch. Free DLC updates provide players with seasonal collections and new resources that will create limited series items.
The DLC updates also offer a constantly evolving gameplay experience, with new seasons bringing new events, NPCs, and new activities. Diving and swimming in the ocean were added in the summer update, and with it came deep sea creatures that could be collected and donated to the museum. Many have speculated that farming would eventually make its way into the game, and it is possibly making its debut in the free fall update which will allow players to grow pumpkins as a function of gardening. It would be fun to eventually see the addition of proper farming and possibly cooking as well.
Terraforming is one of the biggest additions to this game. One can have up to three levels on their island and completely control the placement of rivers, lakes, and waterfalls as well as ramps and bridges. If you build something and decide later that you don’t like it, you can demolish it and start from scratch. The possibilities are nearly endless for the landscape of your island, and you can even personalize it further with walkways. Custom designs can be used for these walkways as well, whether made by your or saved from another creator.
One of the last things that I wanted to touch on isn’t exactly new, just improved (or not) in the way it works. The Stalk Market (or, the buying of turnips and attempt to turn them for a profit later) has been a part of Animal Crossing since the beginning, but New Horizons makes it easy to exploit. This may not be enjoyable for everyone; some people may like the high stakes and mystery in the way things used to work. The expansion of online party play and online forum communities as well as a probability calculator that was developed by fans has made it easy to predict the best turnip prices for the week, or at least find other individuals willing to open their gates to share their high yields with others. I very much like this update; it helped me finish upgrading my home and pay off the corresponding loans, as well as front the bill of all of the public works projects I’ve done. I think I still have over 12,000,000 bells saved in my account because of a few lucky times when time-traveling friends of mine found days where Timmy and Tommy were buying turnips for 400 bells or more. Meanwhile, I still haven’t come close to paying off either of my loans in Wild World or New Leaf.
The cons that I could find in this game aren’t unforgivable, just annoying. The crafting function doesn’t allow for more than one item to be crafted at a time, even if you have the materials required for more than one of said item. There’s also the issue of getting repeat DIY recipes; balloons, messages in a bottle, and visiting a crafting islander’s home will all yield DIY recipes, but you can still receive recipes you’ve already learned, and there is no way to decline taking a learned DIY recipe if it is offered by a villager. You may find a friend’s island littered with duplicate DIY recipes (which will bring down a player’s overall island rating if there are many on the ground). You can sell them cheap at Timmy and Tommy’s shop or place them in a garbage bin, but it would be far more desirable to always receive new recipes instead of potentially endless duplicates.
There are also certain purchase limits that are inconvenient. You can only purchase one type of clothing item at a time; one hat, one shirt, one bottom, one pair of shoes, etc. You have to exit and re-enter the dressing room multiple times if, say, there is one style of shirt that you would like in more than one color. It would be nice if an update included an “add to cart” feature so that you could add as many items as you would like in order to purchase them all at once. Likewise, Nook Shopping has a daily limit of 5 items. I, personally, rarely find more than 5 items per day that I wish to purchase, however, I’ve heard other friends complain about the limit. Even if the developers wanted to keep some sort of purchase limit, I think an increase to 10 instead of 5 would be a lot more reasonable and manageable.
Some players also lamented that a few special characters and classic villagers were omitted from the game. Joan was replaced with her granddaughter, Daisy Mae. Flick has replaced Nat as the host of the Bug Off. C.J. has replaced Chip as the host of the Fishing Tourney. Maybe a cameo by some of those classic characters would assuage those that feel the loss of the characters’ omissions, but at least the events were not abandoned. A couple dozen of the villagers do not appear in this game either, but luckily it seems that many of the new villagers are popular enough that some have new favorites anyway. (Seriously. There are entire forums of people trying to trade or bid for characters like Raymond, Marshall, Marina, and others.)
I may just be a really optimistic gamer, but I regularly tend to find more pros with a game than cons, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons is no exception. The graphics are one of the most immediately noticeable improvements, but a lot of that comes from the game being developed for a bigger, more technologically evolved screen. It looks beautiful, with villagers appearing more refined, landscapes being more detailed, and the art style overall being more aesthetically pleasing. This aspect in tandem with the whimsical and relaxing soundtrack make this a game that is easy to get lost in for hours. And I mean hours. At this point I have logged over 350 hours into the game, and I am not even among those friends of mine who have far more hours of play time.
A player’s personal inventory can be greatly expanded through purchases with Nook Miles tickets. Whereas previous games allowed for about 15-16 items to be carried in a player’s pockets at a time, the purchasable expansions allow for 40 items to be carried; that doesn’t even include the in-home storage that keeps increasing up until the final house expansion.
Many of the new aspects I mentioned in the first section I also laud as pros; Dodo Airlines, crafting and customization, and Mystery Island Tours are all new, charming additions to the game that keep playtime exciting. You also have a Nook Phone that allows you to terraform your island, complete daily tasks for Nook Miles, and shop without visiting the Resident Services building.
The update of the museum is one of my favorite parts; it’s interactive, captivating, and beautiful. The art exhibit has what seems like marble flooring on which your can here your character’s shoes echoing as you walk or run through the exhibit. It’s a small attention to detail but a deeply pleasing one nonetheless. The insect exhibit is fascinating for its beautiful blending of colorful butterflies and other bugs, while the fossil exhibit amazes because of the sheer size and detail of the dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures on display. The sea exhibit shows the interesting dynamics between species of fish, and of course it’s fun to see how they appear to scale.
And of course, there is the reason that many people have fallen in love with the Animal Crossing series: the adorable animals you can befriend. There are some of my favorite villagers whom I actually look forward to talking to every day. Learning their individual interests and personalities is fun and gives them a depth that I feel lacked somewhat in previous Animal Crossing games. It’s also convenient that islanders cannot leave without permission. I know how that sounds, but if you ever happened to put down your game for a few short weeks only to return to a letter from your favorite villager saying goodbye forever… well, you understand why having a say in whether they stay or go matters.
This game just feels good. On a scale from 1 to 10 this game has earned a solid 9. I can’t stress enough how much I needed this game to get me through a tough time and how having simple tasks with cute animals, lovely animation, and immersive music helped me to keep from fusing permanently to my bed. This game offers something for everyone and is enjoyable and accessible for people of all ages and all styles of gaming. Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides players a fun community, whether one stays entirely tied to their own island and those who live in it or visits friends in far off lands and opposite hemispheres. It is easy to pick up and put down, easy to play without stress, and simulates a peaceful and serene life that you can build however you see fit. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is for you, reader, and you get to decide exactly what you make of it. Make it everything that you’ve ever dreamed of.