The Animal Crossing series is one of Nintendo’s most unlikely franchises to hit it big. A game with no real goals, where you simply live in a small town filled with up to ten friendly anthropomorphic animals. You can plant flowers, fish, catch bugs, and sell things you’ve found throughout the town so you can buy furniture or wall paper. The closest thing to a structure is that a capitalist raccoon named Tom Nook will upgrade your house multiple times in exchange for interest-free loans. Animal Crossing is pretty much just a second life. It’s a perfect game for self isolation.
The latest iteration, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, is the first new main-entry in seven years (there were a couple of spin-offs in between). Not only that but it’s the first in twelve years to be released on a home console. Nintendo could have easily just released an entry that didn’t change the formula too much and was simply prettier but New Horizons changes the games in a number of interesting ways.
The most obvious change is the new setting. Instead of being set in a town, the player has an island to call their home. It gives the game a cozy vacation feel and considering that most people’s vacations have been cancelled due to what’s happening in the world, it lends itself to becoming an even more fulfilling fantasy. This island the player gets however isn’t quite a resort yet, there is a lengthy tutorial that goes on for about seven real-world days where the game gradually introduces new concepts and features. It makes the opening of the game a bit slow to say the least. For example in previous games the player had five villagers in their town at the beginning, in New Horizons you only start with two. Key landmarks such as the museum have to be built at first and will not be finished for days.
Speaking of things being built, that’s one of the key new features of the game. Crafting is easily the biggest new feature. Your key items such as your shovel and fishing rod have to be built from scratch and they also have different levels of strength, you start with flimsy graded tools and work your way all the way up to gold-grade. The difference in strength is measured by how quickly your items will break. This is easily the most controversial addition to the franchise and it can definitely be a bummer when your bug catching net breaks right before you catch a rare spider. While the tools breaking is definitely the weakest part of the game, crafting things like furniture is a heck of a lot of fun and it’s super exciting when you come across a new design to add to your crafting kit.
You can also go to other islands, whether it’s your friend’s island through online play, or a randomly generated island that will potentially give you access to new resources and new villagers to join you. Access to these random islands is granted by purchasing a ticket to them by spending “Nook Miles.”
It’s through Nook Miles that Animal Crossing finally becomes more of a goal driven game. Everything you do is tracked through an achievement system that rewards you with Nook Miles for accomplishing tasks. Whether it’s from achieving a milestone in filling your bug journal up or planting X number of trees. Everything you do in this game rewards you in some way. There are also daily challenges that give you even more Nook Miles so there’s always an incentive to turn the game on every day and check in.
And don’t even get me started on how the villagers in this game still manage to be incredibly endearing. With nearly 400 characters each with their own personalities, your island’s neighbourhood will be completely unique to you. It truly makes the game feel special.
I’m only five days into New Horizons and still haven’t unlocked a number of important features such as “terraforming” but I can say that I’ve really enjoyed my time with this game. If you’re looking for a peaceful experience with a massive amount of customization options then Animal Crossing: New Horizons is definitely the game for you.