First, you became a resident of a quaint town, then you became the mayor… now, for the first time ever, you’ll even be able to run your own island! In a world where we are currently unable to go outside unless absolutely necessary, Nintendo comes into the rescue by launching the latest Animal Crossing title for Nintendo Switch: New Horizons.

After more than a month of getting settled into my new island life, I am now ready to share my verdict on this long-awaited release. Check out what I thought after the break by clicking below.

Animal Crossing New Horizons
Nintendo Switch
Developed by Nintendo EPD
Published by Nintendo
Released: 20th March 2020

There are very few life simulation games like Animal Crossing. Those who are unfamiliar with the series, the games consist of you moving into a town or city inhabited by animal villagers. You spend your entire time paying off the debt to Tom Nook for your house, donating creatures, fossils, and art to the museum, building simple relationships with your neighbours, and socialising with real friends from afar. What’s unique about Animal Crossing is how the game syncs with your console’s clock, so the in-game time matches the time in real life, letting you progress at a steady pace.

Describing how Animal Crossing works without making it sound tedious and boring is a feat of its own, but believe me when I say it’s a lot better than it sounds. They genuinely are games that you just have to play firsthand to truly grasp what it’s all about. It may sound like a bunch of mundane tasks, but it’s pretty easy to find yourself addicted to catching bugs or watering your plants.

New Horizons contains more of a structure for the first week of the game unlike previous games in the series; in some ways, you could say it acts as a tutorial. I truly appreciated this and can see how it would be beneficial for newcomers. Some may find starting an Animal Crossing game to be quite overwhelming with what you are supposed to do, but this ‘tutorial’ gives you a better understanding of how to begin, easing you into the game. When you first launch the game, you’ll arrive on a deserted island with two animal villagers, alongside Nook and co. leading your expedition. Your starting task is to find a spot to set up your tent, as well as helping the other villagers put up theirs. You’ll then be given some other errands, eventually leading to the decision of naming the island. Following this, you’ll have to work on building new facilities and making your island more attractive, persuading the infamous K.K. Slider to hold a concert. During your first day, Tom Nook, the main leader of the excursion, gifts you a NookPhone. This phone contains various features such as creating custom designs,  checking DIY recipes, and more. Additional apps get installed as you develop the island further.

New Horizons allows you to craft furniture and tools using unique DIY recipes, marking a first for the Animal Crossing series. Crafting can be done by gathering the required resources, such as wood or stone, and combining them at a workbench. You can also modify certain items with new colours or patterns by using customisation kits and user-made designs. Sometimes you’ll be required to gather a bunch of resources to build specific facilities, including stores and the museum, to turn your deserted island into a bustling village. 

Gathering resources is pretty simple, just strike your shovel or axe to a rock or a tree, and you’ll have plenty of materials in no time. Some projects require the use of other crafted items though, so be sure to bear that in mind. There are plenty of other tools to help make the most of your island life. These include fishing rods to catch fish, a vaulting pole to hop rivers, and even a ladder to climb cliff sides. Most of your tools can break after a certain amount of use, so be sure to keep any materials handy to build more. You could also purchase them from your store, but where’s the fun in that?

After a while, your island should start to develop as more facilities become available. If you are looking for some retail therapy, there are many stores to spend your well-earned bells. You can buy and sell furniture, and other knick-knacks, at Nook’s Cranny, purchase various items of clothing at the Able Sisters, and even compliment your green thumb with a selection of plants from Leif’s travelling store. If culture is more your thing, you can donate any fossil, bug, and fish to the museum and view them in their amazing exhibits. In a recent update, Blathers, the museum curator, builds an art wing once a piece of genuine art is donated.

Some of the facilities have seen significant improvements since the previous game, New Leaf. The most notable improvement so far relates to the Able Sisters. Previously, you would have a relatively limited choice per day. You’ll still have the usual selection in the new store, though this time there is a changing room which is used to access a wider selection of clothing, as well as different colours of the ones currently on offer. You can also purchase several items at the same time; unfortunately, however, purchasing multiple of the same type of item (such as two different shirts), requires several trips to the changing room. A shopping cart option would have alleviated this issue.

Though you’ll start with only a tent, you can eventually upgrade it to a house. Expansions can also be purchased to add additional space and rooms. Just having a bed with a roof over your head is good and all, but if you truly want to call it home, you might want to make it more homely with a flair of your personality. You can decorate each room with an abundant range of furniture that can be bought or created. Before, decorating was fairly tedious, you’d have to get an item out of your pocket then manually drag and rotate it to where you want. New Horizons makes decorating a lot easier with its decorating mode.

At any point within your home, just press the down arrow to access the decorating mode. Doing so lets you place items from your pocket or storage and move them around freely without having to move them physically; this provides a lot more freedom with how you can display your items. For example, outside of decorating mode, you would have to rearrange items if you wanted to move another behind it, such as a chair behind a table. With decorating mode, however, all you need to do is drag and drop! This mode is very similar to how decorating in Happy Home Designer worked, so I’m thrilled a mainline game was able to adopt this mechanic. You also get plenty of storage space, perfect for the hoarder within.

There are plenty of guests who visit your island; you’ll usually have a random visitor every day. These include fashion designer Label, wallpaper and flooring peddler Saharah, fishing enthusiast C.J. or his ‘business’ partner Flick, and many more. Some of them come to your island selling a range of unique goods, whereas others reward you after helping them out. Mabel, of Able Sisters, will often visit your plaza selling a range of clothing. After you have spent a specific amount of bells, she’ll even offer to build a clothing store on your island.

A visitor worth paying attention to though is Daisy Mae. Like her grandmother, Joan, from the previous games, she’ll turn up on your island every Sunday morning to sell you turnips; these play a crucial role in the Stalk Market. During the rest of the week, you can sell your turnips to your local store. The selling price for turnips fluctuates throughout the week, with two separate prices every day, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Some weeks these follow a trend, other weeks the prices can fluctuate randomly. To make matters a little easier, you can both buy and sell at other people’s islands if they have a higher price than you.

If you are looking to get social with other players, then you’ll want to head over to the seaport. Here, you can either invite guests to your island or fly over to your friends’ islands over online or local connection; there is also a facility to send letters and presents to your buddies here. If you want to invite people who are not on your friend’s list, you can choose to invite others with a Dodo Code™️, a randomly generated code that you can send to anyone in the world, allowing them access to your island. Most visitors are unable to use tools like axes or shovels on your island. If you want to permit them to use those tools however, just add them as a best friend using your NookPhone. Adding people as a best friend allows you to see a notification if they come online in New Horizons, and also send them messages, even if they are not on your island.

Overall, I have experienced very few issues when playing with friends online. Gameplay has always been pretty smooth, and I have rarely encountered disconnects. Unfortunately, there are a couple issues mainly relating to the flow of play. Firstly, going through the dialogue to open your gate or to fly away is somewhat tedious; there are way too many dialogue options to enable multiplayer. If you make a mistake, such as incorrectly typing in a Dodo Code or clicking local instead of online, you have to start the process all over again. Additionally, it can become relatively annoying that the game pauses for everyone whenever someone comes to your island; it can take a while to load in a player. I really wish that the loading screens would be shorter or that the arriving cutscene would load only once the visitor had arrived.

If you have another player living on your island on the same console (you can only have one island per system), there is also an option to play together at the same time. In fact, up to four can hang out on the same console. One player acts as the leader, while the others follow. Even though only the leader can shop and use tools, they can easily be changed to someone else to let them do what they need. Though limited, it’s a great way to chill with people in the same home; this could also be perfect if you wish to play the game with your children or those who are not as experienced with Animal Crossing.

The seaport also offers a brand new feature called the Mystery Island Tour. These tours jet you off to special islands that have an abundance of resources, such as fish, bugs, flowers, trees, and rocks. There are many different types of island tours, and the destination you arrive at is random every time. Will you arrive on an island full of non-native fruit, or will you survive tarantula island? (yes that’s a thing!) What is the price of taking a mystery island tour though? Just a single Nook Miles Ticket for 2000 Nook Miles has you soaring to your next adventure. Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself a new neighbour to move onto your island!

Starting to run out of things to do? Your NookPhone has you covered with the Nook Miles app. The app hosts a range of different challenges for you to complete, such as filling out your Critterpedia or profiting off the stalk market; many of these tasks have several levels too. Completing a Nook Mile challenge rewards you with an exclusive currency, aptly named Nook Miles. These can be exchanged for unique items, DIY recipes, and Nook Miles Tickets.

What’s cool about Animal Crossing is how the games tend to crossover with real-life events, such as Easter, Halloween, and Earth Day. Already, New Horizons celebrated Easter with Bunny Day. During this event, there were different types of eggs hidden across your island, which could be used to craft special Bunny Day furniture and clothing. Even though many complained about how intrusive the eggs were (the rate of reeling in a water egg instead of a fish, for example, were quite high), Nintendo published an update that reduced their frequency. It’s really nice that Nintendo listens to these criticisms and acts upon the feedback of the community, especially this early on in the game’s life cycle. There are plenty more events planned for the future. These include jetting off to a special island tour in the May Day Tour, collecting stamps from your museum on International Museum Day, taking some wedding-themed photos in Wedding Season, and much more. As the game updates to unlock these seasonal events, they introduce new features too. For example, the latest update not only unlocked the Nature Day event, but it also added the ability to build an art exhibit in the museum and reintroduced Leif so you could purchase a wider range of plants to grow!

The most significant new addition to New Horizons is the island designer feature. You can now modify rivers, cliffs, and the terrain of your island with terraforming tools for the first time in Animal Crossing history, though this can only be unlocked once you’ve been playing for a week or so. You can also move just about any building for a ‘small fee’ if you ask Tom Nook nicely. It’s great having this freedom to form your island just about any way you want; however, I personally felt slightly overwhelmed or intimidated with how it functions. It can be a bit tedious if you are planning out pathways or waterways as you have to physically move to that spot to place it down. There have definitely been times where I have accidentally painted a piece of terrain in the wrong place simply because I was too close to the edge of the space. I would’ve loved it if there were an option to use a grid-based editor similar to the decorating mode, even if it required more effort to unlock.

It wouldn’t be an Animal Crossing game without its villagers. Admittedly, the villagers don’t really have much depth compared to games like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, but they still have a lot of charm and spunk, and there are more than 400 different villagers to choose from to be your neighbour. Be careful though, there’s only enough room for 10 residents on your island. I am personally very fond of both Tybalt, the tiger jock, and Flora, the flamingo trendsetter. If you become good enough friends with your neighbours, they may also teach you reactions and emotes that you can perform to show off how you are feeling. The charm doesn’t stop with your neighbour, each character is just as lovely as the next. Blathers, the museum curator, for example, could talk forever about anything you donate, though he is incredibly creeped out by bugs, and who could ever hate Isabelle when she goes off on a tangent about her favourite magazine during the morning announcements? I also love how her hair jingles! I also absolutely adore Flick and C.J., who buys your bugs and fish at an increased price respectively! If you have an amiibo or an amiibo card of a villager, just tap it on the reader in the Resident Services building to invite them over to your campsite (once it has been built). After some convincing, they make your island their new home.

New Horizons has done a lot so far to improve the game’s quality of life. Previously, you could only carry about 16 items on your person (26 if you utilised your letter space); now you can carry up to 40! You’ll start at 20 slots, though this can be expanded a couple of times by using those nifty Nook Miles. You can also cram a lot more furniture in your home storage, which can now be accessed from anywhere in your home rather than a specific piece of furniture. Previously, you only had 120 slots, but each upgrade you achieve on your home increases these further until you eventually have more than 1000 slots. If you have a wardrobe (even a freezer box works), you’ll be able to see all your clothing efficiently. This virtual closet displays the clothing exactly how it appears, making it a lot easier to choose what to wear for any occasion. Speaking of clothing, some players may also appreciate that you can now wear any piece of clothing regardless of the gender of your character. There are various other quality of life improvements, including the addition of a tool wheel, more items being stackable, and a mobile catalogue. One thing that impressed me is how well the game can integrate with the Nintendo Switch Online app. You can check your friend’s list, copy over designs from previous games using a Q.R. code, and even send text messages using your phone’s keyboard for text chat, saving much time compared to the in-game keyboard. New Horizons also adds a nifty new camera app, allowing you to take photos with different filters and frames. You can also head down to Harv’s island to do your own photoshoot; tapping your Animal Crossing amiibo figures and cards will grant you with some models too!

I already discussed my disdain for how much dialogue you have to go through to start a multiplayer session, but several other QoL aspects should’ve been improved too. When crafting recipes, you can only build them one at a time. Though you can tap A to craft items more quickly, an option to build multiple of the same items at once would have been fantastic… I’m just reminded of the pain me and my friends have endured crafting bait so that we could catch that pesky Coelacanth. A durability gauge for the tools would have also been a welcome feature.

Animal Crossing New Horizons is a fantastic game; I would even go as far as to say that it’s the best the series has to offer. There are plenty of new features that drastically improve replayability; Nintendo’s promises to support New Horizons for many years to come with new updates only improves this further. So far I’ve clocked about 200 hours into the game at the time of writing, but I know several other friends are pretty close to 300 hours, and a few have even exceeded this! During this time of uncertainty due to the current lockdown, New Horizons has offered a way for gamers to relax and socialise without having to go out. Yes, the game isn’t perfect. Some improvements could be made, but I don’t believe that’s enough to stop people from playing, and who knows, maybe Nintendo will take note of some of the most significant issues and provide even more improvements in the game’s ever-updating cycle.

If you don’t enjoy games that are slow-burning, then this game probably isn’t for you, and I respect that completely. If, however,  you are looking for a game you can easily unwind to and take your time with then I would thoroughly recommend Animal Crossing New Horizons!

Final rating – 4 out of 5

Animal Crossing New Horizons is out now exclusively for Nintendo Switch family systems.

Review Overview
SUMMARY
4.0
Leon Fletcher

I am a huge Nintendo fan, hence why NintyBuzz exists. I especially love all things Zelda and Metroid. NintyBuzz was started by me back in the Summer of 2014, it started out mainly as a hobby, though the site has gradually grown, and I hope it grows for many years to come!