Animal Crossing: New Horizons has arrived on Nintendo Switch at a strange time. Times might look a bit bleak for us but Animal Crossing offers a wonderful escape. It offers something few games do – pure joy. Animal Crossing is slow, calming and one of its central mechanics is the need to wait. It is not a game for everyone but it certainly is for me.
Animal Crossing opens fairly ordinarily. You meet Tommy and Timmy (the sons of Tom Nook? It’s not entirely confirmed) at the front desk of DAL airlines for some general administration questions. These involve asking about your name, the hemisphere you live in and your birthday. Don’t worry, they will get you a birthday present. So far, so Animal Crossing. After everything is sorted, you and two other randomly assigned characters arrive on a deserted island. For the foreseeable future, this will be your home. You got to choose the shape of the island when you were at the desk but this doesn’t really matter in the long run. You acclimate before meeting part-time capitalist overlord, part-time adorable friend, Tom Nook.
Upon meeting him, you and your town are tasked with finding places for your houses, left to collect wood and tasked with grabbing whatever fruit you can shake off trees. Then, after a successful welcome ceremony, the game opens up for you to do as you please. “As you please” could be fishing, harvesting or wacking your local player on the head with a net. Your choice.
New Horizons, fundamentally, is a game that can be played in different ways. You could probably profile someone’s personality based on how they have their island. You can systematically plant trees in a coordinated grid on certain days to maximise your bell gain, you can attempt to load the entire island in flowers and items to make it look pretty or you can fill it with spiders – the choice my brother chose. This is the charm of Animal Crossing. The island almost starts to feel like part of your own personality. You take ownership over it.
One of Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ most unique ideas is its night and day mechanic. In a time where games offer immediate payoff, Animal Crossing, like Nintendo as a whole, sits in the past in a great way. You occasionally have to wait days, weeks or months for something. Days in the case of your house, weeks with your turnips and months for certain fish and bugs to arrive. Of course, you could always time travel with the help of your settings menu, but I’ll leave that decision up to you.
In Animal Crossing, the gameplay loop is very simple. You make bells, earn Nook Miles and harvest resources in order to get a better house and upgrade your collection. If you earn enough bells to pay off your house, you can take out a loan for an extension. This can be done several times. You can also spend this money on clothes, items and Turnips (Animal Crossing’s stock market) – Bells aren’t the only currency system in Animal Crossing. Nook Miles can be used on a special machine for a Nook Miles ticket, items and recipes for crafting. These Nook Miles are a fascinating addition to the gameplay loop too. They incentivize everyday objectives such as catching a certain number of fish or selling a specified amount of things. You also receive Nook Miles once a day for playing, making daily play even more addicting.
This brings us on to a central new mechanic from New Horizons – crafting. In this, you must put together the resources you collect in order to build tools and items. There are parts where crafting tools after they’ve broken feels tedious but the addition of earning Nook Miles when building makes it rewarding. You very quickly learn to stockpile ingredients in your home. Luckily your storage is quite large and gets larger with each house upgrade. This makes upgrading your house even more rewarding.
The art style and music of Animal Crossing: New Horizons tie the general tone and atmosphere together wonderfully. The visuals aren’t highly realistic but offer a subtle complexity, seeing trees move in the breeze and bugs stretching on flowers. The same can be said for the music. It is stylistically simple but offers enough to stay interesting even when you are some 30 hours in. This is the ultimate charm of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The entire game is deceptively simple. If you choose to, you could spend your entire playtime catching bugs and fishing but that doesn’t need to be all you do. You can customize your towns in a multitude of ways, hold ceremonies, travel to exotic islands. All from the comfort of your sofa.
Overall, Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Switch offers one of the most charming experiences I’ve had the pleasure of playing, and even now it promises to keep me entertained for a long time going forward. Whilst its gameplay is quite slow and there occasionally feels like little to do, this just makes it even more likeable. You may hate or love Animal Crossing: New Horizons but one thing is certain – you won’t play anything else like it.
Release date: March 2020
Formats: Nintendo Switch (Review)