Review: Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the Perfect Getaway for these Trying Times

Screenshot: Animal Crossing: New Horizon I grew up playing games you might think typical for a young male, especially since the gaming landscape was different when I first picked up a controller to cut my teeth on early Nintendo platformers, and later PC games—mostly first person shooters. When the first Animal Crossing game released, I dismissed it, despite owning a GameCube. I had Nazis to shoot, after all. But then, my life turned a little darker. I cared for my mom as she died of cancer, and that tore a chunk out of my soul. There was a part of me that was missing, and that part was the one my mom would fill with wholesome goodness and love. When New Leaf released soon after her passing, I bought it on a whim, and it filled a little bit of that gaping wound in my soul. New Leaf helped me weather some of my darkest days—and now with all this darkness and uncertainty on the horizon, Animal Crossing: New Horizons couldn’t have come at a better time. Animal Crossing: New Horizons, for me, is like wrapping myself in a warm blanket of security and good feelings. Everything from the art style, to the music and even the gameplay invoke a carefree feeling that I haven’t had since I was a kid. In fact, when you play New Horizons it feels like you’re a kid, playing pretend by building up a village of animal friends—except it's wonderfully gamified, and absolutely wholesome to its core. No other game has come close to invoking such emotions in me before and since—I love Animal Crossing, and New Horizons is more of the same goodness, with a bunch of quality of life issues addressed. Screenshot: Animal Crossing: New Horizon In New Horizons your character leaves their normal life to start a new life on a deserted island, following one of Tom Nook’s many (money making) schemes. Island life is the easy life, as most of your time can be spent as you please, usually running around picking flowers, digging holes, or catching fish and bugs. If you’re played an Animal Crossing game, you should know what to expect, though there have been a few changes—mostly quality of life, but some are a little irksome. I’m not going to go over each and every change between New Leaf and New Horizons, mostly because I don’t have time to catalogue them all—but a lot of button presses have been eliminated, and things like donating to the museum, stacking items, and more have been streamlined. The biggest difference, and probably one of the most controversial is the fact that tools break, and there is a huge focus on crafting. Screenshot: Animal Crossing: New Horizon Crafting is an essential part of New Horizons. Your tools will eventually break, and need replacing. The community needs sprucing up, and if you want some of the coolest furniture (without paying the Nook surcharge) you need to make it yourself. When it was apparent resource gathering was going to be such an integral part of New Horizons, I was originally worried—but it doesn’t seem as involved as I feared. The last thing I need is an excuse to spend even more time in New Horizons. I like to refer to Animal Crossing as the “dailies game.” Anyone familiar with MMOs, especially World of Warcraft, are probably familiar with the concept of daily quests. New Horizons often feels the same in this regard, as progression is usually based on what can be done in a day. Playing Animal Crossing during the day, essentially, has diminishing returns on progress. Unless you know what to prepare for, you’re not aware of “the next step” until you get to it. Screenshot: Animal Crossing: New Horizon Your town expands as time goes. You may want to spend all day, every day grinding for your next goal, but the very nature of Animal Crossing discourages that. Each day, you are usually given some new guidance, goal, or direction. After that is complete, there’s usually not much more to do than talk to villagers, and customize in ways you want. Of course, you can always run around collecting objects to sell to Timmy and Tommy to make bells, but that’s hardly required—unless you want to fast track getting a bigger house. New Horizons has two currencies: the usual Bells, and Nook Miles. The Nook Mileage program is a way to incentivize doing certain activities, like finding bugs, fishing, gathering resources, taking pictures and more. And Bells are used to buy most everything else. They say money doesn’t grow on trees, but in New Horizons it literally does, and Bells are never too hard to come by, even if you have to wait for Timmy and Tommy’s shop to open to get a payout. Screenshot: Animal Crossing: New Horizon Newcomers to the series may be surprised to learn that some stores close at 10pm, and you can’t do normal exchanges during the middle of the night. The museum still accepts donations, but the world of Animal Crossing is a sleepy one once the lights go out—that is, unless a night club opens, and KK Slider visits your island, something I’m hoping for. In the meantime I’ve spent a heck of a lot of time decorating my ever-expanding house, and setting up outdoors areas by placing items outside, something new for New Horizons. See, I’ve spent the last week in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and while I definitely experienced everything I could in the game, I’m far from seeing everything it has to offer. If New Leaf is any indication, there will be more villagers to meet, shops to explore, and even minigames to play with friends. I haven’t read any reports from time travelers (those who set their system clocks ahead to artificially move time forward in the game) but if New Leaf is any indication, New Horizons will expand a lot as the months progress. Screenshot: Animal Crossing: New Horizon Real life seasons, time, and holidays played a part into the island life. Certain bugs and fish only appear at certain seasons, and villagers will celebrate holidays as they come. Villagers themselves will come and go—yes, sometimes even your favorite ones will someday leave you. If you don’t play for an amount of time, and eventually come back to it, the villagers may even wonder where you’ve been. And it really, somehow, manages to endear itself to me on an emotional level. When one of my favorite villagers moved out of my New Leaf town, I was genuinely upset. New Horizons is great handheld or on a TV. It’s also just so dang polished, with bright joyful colors, and music that just immediately puts me at ease. There are many, many items to collect, wear, and decorate with. The controls can be a bit finicky to newcomers, and I still dig holes in the wrong spots, but once you get the hang of it, New Horizons is sublime. But most things are extremely intuitive, and even with its semi-aimless nature, New Horizons manages to nudge players toward progression. Screenshot: Animal Crossing: New Horizon Multiplayer in New Horizons is fun, or problematic, depending on how you engage with it. If you share a Switch between family members, you can share an island with them, too. But the progression for that island is tied into the main account holder, and if they don’t play often, you may be stuck on a deserted island for longer than you’d like—it’s a bummer they don’t allow others to contribute to progress. Online multiplayer is great—you can exchange items, and show off each other’s islands. Unfortunately, you can’t visit the Nook Miles islands with friends. Hopefully the future will bring minigames, and other island activities with friends. Animal Crossing: New Horizons was one of my most anticipated games for the Nintendo Switch, and I adore it. I spend my time outside of the game thinking of how I’m going to spend my next session. I play it when I should be working. It’s great, wholesome, and extremely polished—but it presents a bit of a learning curve to those who many not play such games. The multiplayer aspect is still a bit up in the air, but it’s always fun to visit with friends and exchange items. New Horizons is nearly perfect, and it should be essential to anyone even remotely interested. Screenshot: Animal Crossing: New Horizon Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available now, and a must play for those struggling through these times.       If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. 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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.