Review: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Category:  The Arts
Monday, April 27th, 2020 at 4:12 PM
Review: Animal Crossing: New Horizons by Zeila Hobson

While not perfect, the newest edition of the Animal Crossing series, “New Horizons,” is packed with excellent features (even more so with a recent update), is beautifully designed, and serves as a needed distraction amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Nintendo Switch game is out now.

To say I was stoked for “New Horizons” would be an understatement. I waited (impatiently) for a year once a release date was announced. My fiancé pre-ordered the game, and I stayed up until midnight on March 20 so I could begin working on my island the moment it dropped. Over 100 hours of play later, I can easily admit that “New Horizons” has made quarantine bearable.  

The fifth installment in the Animal Crossing franchise, “New Horizons” is different from earlier versions of the sandbox role-playing game (RPG) because it has improved graphics, more options for customization of your island and character, and includes a multiplayer option wherein travel to the islands of other players is possible. The game will also have consistent updates, the first of which landed on April 23.  

The style of the Animal Crossing series is generally considered “adorable”⁠ — they are relaxing games about befriending cute animals, growing flowers and decorating spaces; thus they have traditionally been marketed to and played by the ever-growing population of female gamers. “New Horizons,” though, has seemingly found its footing as a unisex game, likely by accident, as the release date coincided with the beginnings of the COVID-19 shutdowns. For one, my fiancé, typically interested in shooters like “Overwatch,” is hooked. Perhaps we’ll see more guys getting into similar sandbox RPGs, like “Stardew Valley,” because of “New Horizons.” 

There are dozens of excellent features present in the game. The animation is often beautiful, and, like other Animal Crossing games, the concept of befriending local animals and decorating your new home is charming. “New Horizons” takes the customization aspect of the game to another level; as you progress, you unlock the ability to terraform your island. You can move entire buildings, change the theme song of your island, and create custom designs for everything from clothes, to furniture, to pathing. Other new features include the farmable shrubbery introduced in the update. The shrubbery, which can be grown as separate bushes or as hedges, is a game changer because the shrubs can grow practically anywhere on the island, unlike trees.  

Another fresh take in “New Horizons” is the museum: each island has an expansive museum wherein you can fill the exhibits with insects, fish and fossils that you find. The inside of the museum is beautifully designed and walking through to see all the critters I’ve collected is immensely satisfying. Thanks to the recent update, the museum now has an unlockable upgrade that adds an exhibit for artwork. The update also introduces a treasure-hunter and his boat⁠ — the treasure takes the form of famous artwork that players can donate to their museums or use to decorate their islands and virtual homes.  

I love that concepts from previous games are expanded upon in this new entry, such as investing in “The Stalk Market” and crossbreeding flowers. There are also plenty of Easter eggs throughout the game, such as the golden shovel you receive from Gunther if you talk to him 30 times. I also love that the game is in real time, the way past versions have been. I enjoy watching the day-to-night progression, while the seasons in-game change as real weather does. The impatient can “time travel” by setting their console’s time forward and reloading the game. 

Unlike the majority of other players, however, I do not think “New Horizons” is perfect, or even close to it. The game is riddled with tedious mechanics. Here are some examples: there is no way to know where you’re aiming (your character must be looking in exactly the right spot), so placing items, digging holes, terraforming and more can be an infuriating process. When crafting items, only one item can be made at a time, so you are constantly watching the crafting animation and clicking through the dialogue boxes. Generally, dialogue boxes in the game are hellish. Speaking to any of the characters is a monumental chore wherein you must furiously click the A button. Clicking B during dialogue speeds it up by a negligible amount. Many of these annoying bits of programming were present in past Animal Crossing games, and I’ve heard the argument that developers are staying true to the brand, but I don’t think Nintendo wants any of their games branded as “infuriating.”  

Playing with friends brings up another disappointing aspect of “New Horizons.” Having visitors to your island and visiting others requires constant interruptions to the game; every single visitor prompts a loading screen on all participating Switch devices when they arrive and when they leave. So, if you have the maximum number of allowed visitors (8), you will experience 16 different, 3-minute interruptions to the game. I won’t pretend to know how multiplayer gaming works⁠ — I’m sure the developers did their best⁠ — but it is irritating beyond belief. You also can’t decorate your island or donate items to your museum while friends are over.  

Still, partying on friends’ islands is incredibly fun and rewarding; you can collect fruits that aren’t native to your island, shop, accumulate new items and DIY recipes for your catalogs, and see how creative others have gotten with decorations.   

Regardless of the tedious bits, “New Horizons” is artfully designed. I recommend it to any and every gamer regardless of your usual “type” of game. Honestly, I recommend it to people who don’t game, too, because I can’t imagine a better introduction into the gaming world. Few video games offer the player complete freedom to create their own world, and players are already building gorgeous, mind-blowing islands for tours on YouTube. The calming music, beautiful graphics and infinite possibilities for fun make the game worth every cent.  

The Animal Crossing community, now larger than ever, is an amazing one full of people eager to help new players and share items. “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” now holds the record for most digital copies of a game sold in a single month⁠ — 5 million copies of the game were downloaded from March 20 to April 20. At a time when the world needs an escape from fear and harsh realities, “New Horizons” provides players with a sanctuary entirely their own.

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