Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop download
No. of Players: Up to 8 players
Release Date: March 20, 2020 (Worldwide)
Price: $59.99 USD
In 2001, Nintendo released a simulation game in Japan for the Nintendo 64, titled Dōbutsu no Mori that translates as “Animal Forest” in English. This was the first title in the Animal Crossing series and saw an enhanced Gamecube version release in Japan later in the same year. The Gamecube version then saw release over the rest of the world between 2002 in North America, Australia in 2003 and finally Europe in 2004.
The Animal Crossing series saw great success and popularity with the female demographic as much as it did the male demographic. There have been 5 titles in the main series including the newly released Animal Crossing: New Horizons and 3 Spin-off games. While the spin-off game Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival failed to wow critics and the public, the mobile app Animal Crossing Pocket Camp has certainly been more successful with consumers. The app might have only scored average reviews, it had grossed more than $50 million USD in just under a year since launch.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has some big boots to fill with the bar been set so high by other titles in the series, most notably Animal Crossing: New Leaf. However, Nintendo has been pushing hard with advertising the game months prior to its release without giving too much of the game’s details and features away.
Welcome to your own island getaway. You play as a human villager in a world of anthropomorphic animals who is on a trip of a lifetime to a deserted island to make a new home themselves. You are accompanied by two Tanuki (Raccoon-like animals) called Timmy and Tommy along with two other animal villagers that are chosen at random. When you arrive at your deserted island, you will meet by the infamous, I mean “famous” Tom Nook of Nook Inc. Tom Nook will give you the general lay of the land and give you a tent for you to set up anywhere you like on the island.
Upon setting up your own tent and laying your head down for the night, you will meet up with Tom Nook again who will tell you that there is a small matter of paying your set-up fees. You will have to raise what is called Nook Miles be completing certain tasks in order to pay off your debt. Upon doing so, you will find yourself again at the mercy of the notorious, I mean “benevolent”, Tom Nook again, should you wish to expand into a house, make it bigger, etc.
That is all there really is as regards the story for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The beginning is the same for everyone who plays up to this point. After the initial start-up, players are then virtually free to create their own life story of chopping down trees, picking fruit, traveling to other islands, visiting friends and the like.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is an open-world social simulation game that allows the player to interact with literally everyone and everything. You start off with little more than a canvas roof over your head and little else. You will have to pick fruit, cut down trees, erect buildings, fish, craft tools and furniture, and do it alone or with friends that you have invited over to your island.
As you become more adept to island living and making use of the resources, you will eventually be able to visit other islands and plunder their resources as well. Be conservative of what you take with you as you can only bring so much back. Pocket space is limited to 20 slots in the beginning and can fill up rather quickly. Fortunately, you can eventually gain extra space that will allow you to expand your pockets 40 slots.
Crafting is a big part of the Animal Crossing series and New Horizons is no different. Before you can start chopping down trees and digging up fossils, you will need to craft tools to do so. Doing so requires using Tom Nook’s own DIY bench until you can make your own. Once you have your own DIY bench, you can put it where ever you like, you can even carry it with you so you can make things on the fly.
Not everything can be made at the start. You have to learn the DIY recipes for them first which can either be bought, rewarded or found in bottles that have washed up on beaches. At certain points in the game, you’ll be required to find enough resources to build a shop or craft certain pieces of furniture for your animal residents. It pays to always be wary of your resources, as you never know when you might need something (like Iron nuggets, which aren’t the easiest substance to get hold of at times).
Not all tools are used for chopping down trees or digging holes, the pole vault allows players to hop across rivers and the ladder gives access to higher-level terrain. DIY recipes for these items become available as you progress through the game so that you don’t exhaust everything on the first day.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has plenty to keep players occupied. The day and night cycle is reflected in real-time based on the time that is set on your Nintendo Switch system. This means that when it is 8pm your time, it will be reflected in the game and you can find different bugs and things that you can’t encounter during the day. Seasons occur in-game much like in other Animal Crossing games to give you a feel of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.
Just because you live on an island, doesn’t mean you have to spend all your days confined to a tent. Once you are established on the island and paid off your debt of 5,000 Nook Miles, you can take out a loan for a house. This will take an actual day to be constructed but then you will be able to store items that you could use later or even start decorating your stately home.
Another big staple in Animal Crossing games is the museum. This rather special place can display all the fish, bugs and fossils that you have caught and donated. It is a vast place that is very much like a Tardis in the fact that it is massive on the inside than it appears on the outside. It is one of my favorite places to visit in the whole game and the more critters you donate, the more the Museum teems with life.
However, the museum is not on the island when you arrive and must be erected. You will have to donate to Tom Nook in the form of critters in order to get a tent that will become the temporary base for Blathers, the scholarly Owl. As the days go by, you will need to make more donations but this time to Blathers directly. After 15 more donations, you will then have to wait a few days for the museum to open on the island. Once the museum is finally built, you can visit it until your heart’s content.
Catching fish and bugs isn’t just a means to fill up the museum though, They also help fill up your Critterpedia that lets you know what times and periods of the year you can catch them. If you find yourself in a bind financially, you can also sell them to Tommy in exchange for Bells, the main currency of the game. You need Bells in order to purchase most items in store and to help pay off your loans.
The other form of currency is Nook Miles. When you pay off your initial debt of 5,000 Nook Miles, all other loans taken henceforth have to be paid in Bells. This type of currency can then be used to redeem special items from the Nook Stop machine in the Residential Services tent. To get them though, you must perform tasks around the island like cleaning up weeds, sell items for Bells, chop wood, catch fish, etc.
Basically, anything in the game that you would normally do can net you Nook Miles. They also act like challenges for you to take on as and when. Nook Miles are also required to redeem Nook Miles Tickets that will allow you to fly to mystery islands for you to pilfer their resources. You can’t visit the same island twice so you don’t have to worry about preserving the local ecosystem.
Probably the most worthwhile feature is multiplayer. Be it local multiplayer, Local Wireless or online, up to eight players can get together and run amok on each other’s island. As friends, they can pick the fruits off the trees or off the ground, catch fish and bugs. They can’t, however, use the shovel or the axe to on other people’s islands unless they are listed as best friends. After all, it would take a really trusting person to let their friend loose on their island with a shovel and axe. There could literally be nothing left if bestie decided to make off with your prized possessions.
When playing online, there two methods of communication available to converse with your friends. There is the in-game text chat that allows players to send messages to each other. Voice chat is available for anyone who has the Nintendo Switch Online app on their smartphone.
When playing local multiplayer otherwise known as Party Play, up to four people can play on the same console and can become residents on the same island. In fact, up to eight human residents can live on the same island (one for each account on the Nintendo Switch) but only four people can play together in Party Play mode at any one time.
These are just some of the features in the game. Others include a Custom design app to design your own flags and clothing, a photo app to take in-game screenshots and even a studio called photopia where you can scan your amiibo to model in photo shoots. Amiibo can also be used much later in the game to invite new residents to your island.
With more experience in the game, you will also learn how to build bridges across rivers and terraform the land as you see fit. There are also so many customization options as regards your character like hairstyles, facial features, clothing and more. You can even customize some of the things you can craft as well to make them even more personalized to you.
Lastly, I want to talk about the many updates that have come out for the game so far. Nintendo have been adding new features to the game every few months to keep the gameplay fresh. While these features may not be new to Series veterans, the incorporation of the Wedding Season, Art Gallery, Swimming and Free Diving as well as events like the Bunny Day Egg Hunt or the May Day Maze, do help to keep players coming back to their islands time after time.
The music in Animal Crossing has always been that of a relaxing nature. It isn’t loud and in your face but soothing and relaxing. It complements the gameplay by being peaceful and warm. While it is true that the background varies little between day and night cycles and during seasons, it never really gets tiring or dull.
I must say that I do love the sound effects. There is a touch of realism and a flair for comical theatrics. Like the sounds of the villagers when expressing reactions or when finding bags of money in rocks that make a 1-UP sound. These little nuances just add to the game’s charm. Best of all is when you can eventually make your own Island theme tune when that will play when you interact with your fellow villagers.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has a very cutesy art style from the buildings to the animal villagers that live in them. It is colorful and vibrant and really does look amazing on Nintendo Switch. The visual effects like the transition between day, evening and night are very fluid. A lot of attention has done into making every little thing as great as it could possibly be.
To say that the game runs like a dream wouldn’t be too far from the truth. Even in handheld mode, the game is very smooth to play. There are moments when playing online that you get the occasion lag when picking up or interacting with items. Another problem is when you have too many people on your island. Eight people are the limit but it can put a strain on your internet connection. A steady, high-speed internet connection will help minimize these issues, of course, letting you and your friends get on with playing together virtually hassle-free.
Having never played an Animal Crossing game, I went into playing this game not really knowing what to expect. Like most people, I understood the premise but thought “If it is basically about doing menial tasks every day, I may as well just do chores. Where is the fun in that?” This was a big mistake on my part as I have learned just how fun these games can actually be.
I mean, yes, it can get repetitive trying to catch bugs and fish just to earn a bell or two. There is always something that needs to be done and you grind a lot just to get the funds to pay off your house or loan extension. That is not including if you wish to move a house or other building, there is even a charge for that. Fortunately, though scrupulous, Tom Nook does let players pay off their debts as and when without interest. You do have to ask yourself though, “Do I really need that third house extension?” In short, yes. Yes, you do.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is not a game you can just blast through. It is designed in a way that players are rewarded for playing day by day as opposed to unlocking everything as soon as possible. Housing projects and such take time to be constructed in the game. You can “Time Travel” by changing the date on your Switch to speed things up a bit. However, it is not really the way the game should be played and attempting to “Rush” through the game will only dampen the overall experience.
Playing online could do with being a bit more streamlined in my opinion. When a new player comes to visit your island, you are welcomed with a short cutscene with a display with light-up pads indicating the distance between the player who is flying to your island and their impending arrival. This is all well and good for a visitor or two but it becomes very long-winded when you want your whole clan to come over. Still, with any luck, Nintendo might patch it to make the cutscene optional, allowing players to carry on with what they are doing while waiting for other players to arrive.
Another niggling issue is that players can only have one island per Nintendo Switch system. That is all well and good if you are the only one playing on your Switch but multiple users have to share their island. On top of that, only the person who set up the island is the primary player and can make development progress. Other players can cut down trees, collect fossils and fruit as well as catch fish and bugs but they can’t do any of the big changes like move buildings or build bridges.
I do have one major issue with the game. Since playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I just can’t seem to put the game down. From the moment, I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. I have been completely engrossed in the game. It is just as well that I am trapped at home in Lockdown due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as it has been a means for me to escape and still “meet up” with friends. It is also one of the reasons why this review has been so late. It is just darn so addictive!
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a charming and relaxing experience that is such a joy to play and even more fun when playing with friends. It is a welcoming escape from the harsh realities of current events and incredibly difficult to put down.
THE VERDICT: 9/10
*A download key was provided by Nintendo UK for the purposes of this review
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This post was written by Mike Scorpio