Katsuya Eguchi, generally credited as the creator of Animal Crossing, was inspired to make the franchise in part by a desire to recreate the feeling that comes with living surrounded by friends and loved ones. The latest entry in the series, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, takes this initial drive to create a connected and living community and refines the overall game design with modern ideas. The final product is a friendly atmosphere that you just never want to leave.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons molds the series into a more accessible and enjoyable experience
When I first started Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I was surprised to see how different the game’s first few days were. Typically when starting an Animal Crossing title, there’s very little freedom since the game is tied directly to the time reflected by the system clock. As this time progresses in the real world, there are more activities, shops, and island inhabitants that will appear. Yet, I found myself very busy collecting materials, bugs, and fish thanks to the purchasable Nook Miles Ticket that allowed me to travel to a random island and strip it of its resources. As a result, I was able to build out expansions to both my house and the Nooks’ store in the first few days. Onboarding into the island life is a painless process, and it excels in allowing someone with a more aggressive play style to find as much initial enjoyment in it as they want.
Being able to set the pace of play for a particular day is the greatest highlight of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. On some days, I found myself falling into loops of crafting, then catching animals, and even planting flowers (something I’d never dedicated time to in the franchise till now). This was all thanks to the Nook Mileage Program, a new implementation that provides unending rewards for accomplishing small tasks. These small tasks range from selling a few pieces of fruit to the store or planting a handful of flowers to catching a specific fish. After completion of these tasks, I gained “miles” that could be exchanged for exclusive furniture, clothing, or even just cashed out for bells. These small rewards gave me a burst of satisfaction in what otherwise would’ve been repetitive gameplay.
Nonetheless, Animal Crossing: New Horizons retains the series’s design sensibility for incremental progress and improvement. I was given the task of amassing an insurmountable amount of bells to upgrade my house and was also required to expand the island through the purchase of goods at various stores. Eventually, I had to contribute towards donations that led to the construction of bridges, which allowed the island to grow even more. It can feel like a little too much to ask at some points, with a few of the days that I played barely resulting in any major progression at all.
An island adventure you can fine-tune to your enjoyment
However, that’s the key to enjoyment found within Animal Crossing: New Horizons: Realizing that the end of the journey is years away has always been at the core of the series. The occasional roadblock with what feels like taking the hundredth attempt to catch a specific fish only found in that particular season can lead to frustration. However, thanks to the aforementioned Nook Miles program, enough meaning and variety in the tasks is provided to keep enjoying island life at any point and just live in the moment.
As for the villagers themselves, the writing in Animal Crossing: New Horizons makes them worthwhile. Initially, I wasn’t too thrilled with the villagers that the game had provided me. Yet, as time went on, I began to enjoy their idiosyncrasies and noticed how they benefit the overall island. While a few did needed chores (props to Ruby for always watering my flowers), others like Dizzy the aloof elephant provided entertainment thanks to his fascination with snacks and bugs. The text is funny and at points very sweet, and when I took the time to talk with the villagers and provide gifts, I felt that I was rewarded with even more meaningful connections. All of this stellar localization is brought to life with satisfyingly large text bubbles that ensure readability on even a faraway Nintendo Switch Lite.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons connects players better (in most ways) than ever before
Other improvements worth noting are the enhanced multiplayer and online features that are present in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s very easy to connect with friends and have them visit the island, allowing up to eight players on a single instance. There’s a system in place ensuring that guests don’t irreparably destroy the island, but there’s also the ability to delegate players onto a “best friends” list if they can be trusted to not destroy everything.
There are a few aspects of the multiplayer and online functionality that sadly leave a bit to be desired. Deciding to share the game off of a single Switch isn’t great, as there’s no functionality to create another island. The new player is forced to play on the existing island, and aspects of progression are locked out by the other player. There is also no voice chat baked into the base game. Instead, I was required to use the Nintendo Switch Online app on a smartphone if I wanted to communicate with others. However, the biggest drawback is that save data can’t be uploaded to the cloud or copied, but Nintendo has stated that they’re planning a solution for implementation within the year.
Providing a much-needed getaway from the real world
A majority of my time with Animal Crossing: New Horizons was spent quarantined in my house. Unable to go outside and even speak with my neighbors or travel to see my loved ones, there was a crippling loneliness remedied by the soothingly warm island life. Rearranging furniture, connecting with friends online, and zoning out in the now impressively overhauled museum allowed for meaningful introspection.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons ultimately helped me better appreciate the importance of being able to spend time with others. With or without a pandemic, this is one of the best games to have graced Nintendo Switch yet. It’s the purest and most engaging form of Eguchi’s vision, and there’s an unparalleled belonging and meaning that’ll draw me back in for a long time to come.