While under self-isolation, I was counting down the days for March 20th, 2020. Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Nintendo’s first-ever release of this franchise for the Nintendo Switch, brought about a big sigh of relief for fans – including myself. With most of us having a lot more time on our hands, as well as the near constant feed of of bad news and uncertainty, New Horizons truly is that vacation getaway we all wish we had right now.
If you are familiar with Animal Crossing games, the world of farming, grinding, and dealing with Tom Nook’s shady business dealings will make you forget about what’s happening, even if for a little while.
In about four days, I have clocked in well over 30 hours of gameplay. I found myself getting quite competitive with friends, seeing them unlock various achievements, items, and making the most insane custom designs for their homes and clothing. I tried taking a whole day off after clocking in 12 consecutive hours in one sitting, surprisingly finding myself getting withdrawal symptoms and getting incredibly anxious about catching up.
New Leaf vs. New Horizons
These two games fundamentally play the same way, but they do have some differences. In New Leaf, you are a mayor of an island-like town and must grind to unlock public work projects that Isabelle gives you, and you also have a more developed main street of various shops and services. You are essentially doing the same thing in New Horizons, but instead of being called a mayor, you are an island dweller who has a lot more responsibilities given that you have tho help Tom Nook make the island more habitable. You can also visit other islands (around three or four variations) where you can get rare items like different fruit, flowers, and fish similar to New Leaf.
The core idea of New Horizons falls in line with what Animal Crossing is all about — to welcome new fans to the game with fairly easy to pick up mechanics as well as veterans who are familiar with the franchise. The major additions to the game are a heightened sense of customization and malleability to the island as a whole, this allows players to craft items, make public work projects, develop the landscape, and upgrade tools.
The smartphone is a clever way to categorize features into apps to track achievements, customize through the Art Pro tools, message friends, take photos, and store DIY recipes. You can upgrade existing tools either found in the shop or done via crafting by getting the DIY recipe, and building upon the item to make it even stronger. New Horizons builds off what New Leaf did so well by having so much more to do to pass the time, offering a very rewarding experience.
To time-travel, or not to time-travel?
In order to get as much done as possible without having to wait till the next day, you can hack the game by changing your time setting on your Switch to a future date. One of my friends actually got the credits to roll in about 4 days after the release by doing this hack. As great and highly addictive as this is not having to wait a full 24 hours to unlock something, it really does take away from the Animal Crossing experience. The benefit is having a super cool island everyone wants to go to because you have everything, but more often than not, others are not as far ahead and trades sometimes are one-sided.
On the flipside, others playing like they’re supposed to complain they run out of things to do and have to wait for something new to happen to progress the island’s developments and storyline to unlock certain additional tools or DIY projects.
The game lets you play the way you want and is quite flexible as to what you want to prioritize when it comes to progression. For example, you may be like myself and focus solely on making enough bells to pay for house extensions, or you can push ahead with the story and main objectives.
However, having both types of players does add value to the overall New Horizons experience of multiplayer mechanics when they visit each other’s islands which helps progression while finding creative ways to play together.
Animal Crossing and Self Isolation
Due to self- isolation and large events being canceled (especially with convention season coming to a full stop), people who would have attended events in real life are getting pretty crafty in the way they interact in-game. Players are throwing house parties inviting others through word of mouth, social media, and Twitch streams using Dodo Codes or opening their gates to everyone. It’s even helping businesses who are involved in the nerd culture scene by allowing brands and artists to make digital “storefronts” for their products by heavily utilizing the customization tools like crafting systems or the Art Pro tools. Even for individuals who are separated from their families or significant others during this time, they can hang out or go on dates virtually.
As mentioned before, Animal Crossing: New Horizons came at a time when we needed it most, and I’ve even heard from friends that it’s really helping their mental health during these uncertain times and easing their cabin fever. The grind is distracting enough by continuing to tack on new tasks while you progress through the game. It also gives those suffering from mental health issues a sense of ownership and purpose over what they’re doing on a daily basis. New Horizons proves that video games can be good for a player’s health, and serves as a great distraction from what’s going on right now.
Room For Improvements
One major mechanic that’s missing from Animal Crossing: New Horizons happens when someone visits your island. Other than collecting those rare items, fishing, or basically stealing all your fruit, visitors don’t stay for very long. It’s always exciting to visit someone else’s island for the first time, and part of the fun is exploring someone else’s creativity in how they arrange and manage their island. But what happens after you have pillaged through their island and taken them for everything they’re worth? Not much else. You can leave funny notes on their board, send them things and trade stuff, but players always end up just running around and then leaving when they’re done. A missed opportunity here is the lack of cooperative mini-games you can play with your friends while visiting to get them to stay longer.
You can’t really track a visitor’s location on the map either. This is critical in the case that you want to decorate or customize your island but unsure where your friend went, or if you missed the pop up message that they had left the island. New Horizons won’t let you customize unless you’re alone and your gate is closed. I found this to be a bit cumbersome when I wanted to arrange furniture or tried to knock things off from my to-do list, but had to wait for players to leave. I eventually had to prioritize my task list before inviting players over for a visit.
So what happens when you throw parties?
I attended one last night, and I found out very quickly that you can only have about 8 people on your island at once. Whereas this was probably a fail-safe to make sure that things don’t get too out of hand, it would be great if the number of people in an island can be raised; this is so that during trying times like now, you can throw parties, events, or hang outs people want to attend without being limited.
Another issue is that when too many people try to get onto one island at once, connection issues occur and you can’t let your Switch go on sleep mode. If you do, you’ll get kicked out, and progress plus items during the visit will be unrecorded.
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
Despite my gripes with this game, I did enjoy the 30+ hours I clocked in thus far. The grind is enough to keep me entertained for hours, and the ability to hang out with my friends (and even go on virtual dates) is like the breath of fresh air; great as I am severely lacking at the moment. The crafting system is well thought out and really jives with my DIY interests, and Design Pro is a nifty tool for a creative outlet.
In sum, this game came at a time when we needed it most. It’s light-hearted nature allows players to step away from the dreary happenings in today’s events. It proves beneficial especially for those suffering from mental health issues and helps to relieve the stresses of uncertainty.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons, despite the coincidence of its release during the COVID-19 outbreak, is now Japan’s biggest Nintendo Switch release ever. It’s well deserved, and we hope it continues to do really well.