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Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: March 20, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Animal Crossing: New Horizons'

by Cody Medellin on March 26, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Animal Crossing: New Horizons lets players take the fun to a deserted island. Collect, craft, set up a home, make friends, and more!

Buy Animal Crossing: New Horizons

If you wanted to succinctly describe Animal Crossing, you could say that it is Nintendo's attempt at The Sims minus the micromanagement. It is a game without a real endgame. You're practically the only human in a place full of anthropomorphic animals, and you have no fear of death, and you can't actually kill anyone. It is a relaxing experience and formula that has become a worldwide hit on every platform it has graced from the GameCube onward. It should come as no surprise, then, that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is one of the most anticipated game of the year.

The Animal Crossing titles have always had a simple premise, and New Horizons is no exception. After hearing about a deserted island getaway, you decide to take up the offer. You fill in your information, which includes your name and appearance, preferred island layout, and which hemisphere you want the island to be, and you're on your way. Once you land on the island, you're given a chance to pitch your tent and suggest where your two fellow travelers should set up camp. After obtaining fruit for cold drinks, you all meet up to name the island, and with the title of Resident Representative bestowed upon you, you're pretty much free to live your new life.

If you're unfamiliar with the previous offerings, the game has day and night cycles that play out in real time. You'll need tools — axes, fishing rods, and shovels — that come in handy when planting new trees or flowers for your island. Fishing and catching bugs are a central way to earning bells, which can then be used to buy just about any good on the island, either directly or via mail order. Bells can also be used to pay off your house and upgrades, which you can start after you've paid off your previous house loan.

Given time, your simple activities will expand. You'll donate bugs and dig up fossils to fill up a museum for a curator. You'll shake trees for hidden bells and fruit while watching out for wasps that can sting you. You'll play catch-up with neighbors while also welcoming new ones to the island, provided you've built houses for them. Those who are familiar with the traveling rug and wallpaper saleswoman will be happy to see her again. The same goes for the turnip seller and personalities that challenge you to creature-catching contests. Old tricks, like waiting until nighttime to see a ghost, are still in New Horizons, as well as planting money trees or shooting presents from the sky.

All of the above will sound very familiar to longtime series fans, but there are new additions in New Horizons that make the game fresh for solo players. Nook miles is perhaps the first addition you'll encounter. You're now rewarded with Nook miles for doing just about anything on the island, whether it's taking photos, planting trees, or selling stuff back to Tommy and Timmy Nook. The list replenishes, so the miles aren't finite. Aside from your initial tent setup, the miles can't be spent on your mortgage, but it gives you access to new things, like clothes, hairstyles and other rewards, especially if you connect the game to Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. It doesn't give you everything in that game, but it's cool to see things like the slot machine and a miniature camp bus for purchase.

Crafting is a big deal, as you can craft a multitude of things from furniture to plants to tools. This brings about a new ecosystem, as you have to obtain recipes to know what to craft and then get those ingredients. In a way, this is very Minecraft-like, which will appeal to those who love crafting and those who love having at least one task or project to keep them busy. New Horizons introduces durability to the equation, so that means lots of running back and forth to the crafting benches so you'll always have tools.

Going hand in hand with crafting is the ability to fly off to randomly generated islands, provided you paid enough Nook miles for a ticket. Considering how big your island is, the trips provide a great means of finding new items, like different fruit or fish, or to gain more ingredients once you've exhausted your island's materials for a short while. The random islands also act as a means to gain more neighbors — for when you feel like your initial two neighbors aren't enough.

Taking a page from the 3DS game Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, you can use custom textures in a variety of things like flags, floor and wall decorations, and even shirts. The in-game tools are easy to understand, but they're a bit of a pain to use since you can't use the system's touch-screen to draw, but if you own Happy Home Designer on the 3DS, you can use the QR codes in conjunction with the Nintendo Switch Online app to scan those creations into the game. The community has already made a slew of textures, and the QR codes are ready for scanning. You also have the ability to start changing the colors on most of your items, so you can paint your own bed green instead of waiting for a premade green bed to go on sale.

The other big change is the new terraforming feature. It takes quite a while to get the ability, but it lets you completely change the layout of your island by adding cliffs or slopes. You even get the chance to form rivers and waterfalls, so you can probably re-create some famous real or fictional islands. The only thing you can't do is expand your island, so don't expect to create something Australia-sized anytime soon.

Those new additions to the game emphasize the seemingly endless number of things to do and discover in New Horizons. There's still the aspect of seasons and special events that change up everything from the environment to the clothes and wildlife. Certain fish only appear during certain months, while snails may only pop up every time it rains. It gets to the point that you need a whole year to see everything the game offers before you start to see things cycle.

Of course, the only thing that some may see is a drawback is the amount of time you need to wait for some things to get done. For natural resources like fruit and rocks and growing trees, this is expected. When you're waiting for new stores to open or neighbors to move in, this can be challenging for people who aren't experienced with the series. Whether you like it or not, this game rewards patience; cheating by moving the system clock forward is met with heavy reprimands in the form of neighbors leaving due to your absence and you missing out on big holiday events.

Although a large number of players who have dabbled in the series will remember it as a mainly single-player experience, the series has always supported multiplayer, and that tradition continues in New Horizons. Multiple people can live on the same island with their own progress. They can all contribute to the advancement of the island at large in terms of decoration and planting, and they can contribute to some of the projects, like building a museum. The first player who registers the island is the one who gets the most benefits as far as establishing the projects and getting some recipes first, but everyone still gets access to them once the major milestones are met.

On the topic of the one-island setup, there are some positives and negatives. On the one hand, it makes the experience more communal, as everyone is working together toward a goal, so there's a decreased chance of being slowed down due to a lack of resources. Any chance to reduce the grind is good. On the other hand, while this setup has been the tradition of the series since its inception, the advent of profiles on the Switch should have acted like separate memory cards from the GameCube days, where making a new town required the significant investment of a new system and an additional copy of the game. As such, if you're planning to play this game cooperatively with others, prepare for a big financial commitment if everyone wants complete freedom in how they play.

If you decide to play locally, you'll have to contend with the imbalance of the leader/follower setup. As the leader, you can expect the full range of activities, like crafting and earning Nook miles and bells as well as talking to the island inhabitants. Followers can't do any of those things, so they're restricted to tasks like fishing and chopping wood, without accessing their own pockets or the tool wheel. While that seems quite limited, followers can pick up everything they can and are only limited to the storage space of the town's recycling bin, which can hold up to 200 items at a time. In a way, local multiplayer is best for those who want to go on heavy resource and collection hunts, assuming you don't mind constantly switching leadership when someone else wants to sell and craft stuff.

The real magic for multiplayer comes from playing either with multiple systems locally or with people online, provided you don't mind that you can't do this with another player on the same system. To be fair, starting this up can feel tedious due to the overabundance of caution that Nintendo likes to put in for its online endeavors. For starters, if you want anyone to visit your island when you're online, you'll need to go to their airport and have them open the gates for travelers. If you want to visit someone else's island, you either need to have that person on your friends list or have each person exchange their Dodo Code, which is completely different from the system's own Friend Code. Compared to other games, this feels like a bunch of needless hoops to jump through when you just want to see someone else's place. A welcome feature is the ability to deem someone as a best friend to give them the ability to dig up your place or get more resources other than fish and bugs. The onus is placed on yourself to determine who you deem trustworthy enough to change your place; this is a nice preventive measure when you consider what complete strangers might do to one another's islands.

All of that aside, the multiplayer feels robust since you can have up to eight people online at a time in your place. Unlike local multiplayer, every person can freely run around without dragging others with them, and everyone is free to craft and sell their own stuff while also being able to shop everywhere but the Nook Inc., machines. The chance to get tasks done even more quickly is much better, since there's a higher chance that you can get someone with more progression than you to craft something you don't have access to yet. Even without work or collection in mind, the chance to beautify the place, do simple item exchanges, or take in the sights is enough to encourage people to visit their friends' islands, similar to what others do in titles like Dragon Quest Builders 2 and Minecraft.

From the first game onward, the presentation has always been a highlight in the Animal Crossing series, and this entry is no exception. The squat body shape and round heads give every animal and human a doll-like appearance, and this is further accentuated by the texture on every animal if you dock the system and play it on a TV. The environments retain a colorful style but are given more life with the wind swaying the leaves on trees and the waters looking peaceful, with some sun- and moonlight reflections if you angle the camera just right. Except for the higher resolution when compared to the previous outings, the only other noticeable change in New Horizons has to do with your critter journal, which sports more realistic-looking images of the fish and insects you've caught. Depending on how you feel about them, this is either wonderful or the creepiest thing the series has done yet.

As usual, the sound is superb. When you're out in the world, the soundtrack conjures a laidback vibe with subtle and slow guitar twangs. Back in your home, K.K. Slider songs break up the monotony, since you'll get a randomized song when visiting any house, and when you consider the wide range of tunes composed for him, the chance of getting a repeat song seems very slim. Footsteps remain the main sound effect you'll hear in play sessions, but the subtle sounds of fish nibbling at your line or the ambient noise of a construction site are very soothing. Of course, the dialogue is the real highlight, as the animal language sounds charming.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons offers players a plethora of things to do at a very measured pace. The slow build does well to lull players into a cadence and get them used to some of the basics before going full bore — while still managing to be a relaxing jaunt. Solo play is near-perfect with the new additions that make this feel different from previous outings, while multiplayer is a treat even if some of the methods can feel slightly archaic. Ultimately, this is the kind of long-term game you want to get addicted to because it has a wealth of things to discover and do.

Score: 9.0/10

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