I woke up this morning to find one of my villagers, a hippo named Bubbles, doing yoga in the plaza. Later in the day, I found Marina singing a tune while gazing out at the ocean. Every moment I’ve spent in Animal Crossing: New Horizons so far has been filled with awe and pure joy. I’d been anticipating this release for years, but I wasn’t prepared for how happy it would really make me.
Some games are played for a challenge, others to experience a remarkable story, but Animal Crossing is meant to be enjoyed slowly, and New Horizons may be the slowest of them all. Players are plopped onto a deserted island with absolutely nothing but a place to sleep. From there, it’s up to you to build your own tools from resources on the island, and slowly grow your town one day at a time. And, boy, does it take some time.
To give you an example, it takes four full, real-life days until construction finally finishes up at the museum. The museum houses donations of fish and bugs native to the island, as well as fossils that can be dug up each day. To completely unlock the museum, one must give Tom Nook five different specimens caught on the island, wait a day for Blathers to show up, provide him with 15 more specimens once he does arrive, and then wait an additional day for the building to be constructed. Meanwhile, you won’t have anywhere to donate your bugs and fish, so you pretty much have to leave them piled up outside in aquariums and cages. It’s a little ridiculous, but everything in New Horizons takes time. Every building takes a day to complete, and each tool is unlocked after various tasks are done. It’s all about being patient and enjoying your time with the game bit by bit.
Luckily, there are plenty of things to do in the meantime. With the addition of a crafting system, New Horizons opens up so many possibilities. Players can, of course, participate in the typical Animal Crossing activities such as catching bugs, fishing, digging up fossils, and talking to adorable animal villagers. This time around, you’ll also be able to craft furniture out of the various pieces of wood and iron you gather around your island. Instead of hoping that your dream furniture shows up for purchase in the shop, you get to decide what you craft, and how you display it either inside or outside. The ability to place furniture outside is honestly a game-changer. Creating an outdoor cafe or decorating your home with a clothesline and garden gnome adds so much more life to the overall experience, and provides even more opportunities to be creative.
Likewise, New Horizons offers more of a sense of ownership over your own space than previous games. Players are able to manipulate the terrain, place pathways, and decide exactly where buildings will go, providing autonomy over what the world looks like. My island now feels much more personalized and unique because I was given the tools needed to design its layout. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, I felt more like I was inheriting a town that I had little control over outside my own home and a few public works projects. I’ve found New Horizons to be much more engaging because I can immediately craft that cool piece of furniture I just got a recipe for, and place it in an area I designed on my own.
Though I do control what the island looks like for the most part, I also share an island with my boyfriend. Since there can only be one island per Switch console, we both have our own separate houses on the same island. It’s actually been amazing to share an island with someone, since I can get feedback on where I want to place someone’s home, or I can give constructive criticism on the way he designs his house. The only bump in the road so far has been the couch co-op. When we decide to play together, one player gets to be the “leader,” while the other is a follower. The follower doesn’t have access to their inventory and has limited use of their tools. Any items I pick up as a follower go straight into a recycling bin at Resident Services, rather than my own inventory, and instead of having a tool wheel to choose exactly which one I want to use, I’d have to scroll through each tool individually until I reach the one I want. Not to mention the camera, which can get pulled around in weird ways, which makes fishing together a serious pain. I do still enjoy running around the island with him when he plays, but it feels a lot less interactive than I would hope.
The only other (minor) complaint I have about the game is the durability system. Because players can now craft their own tools, they can also break. Tools can be upgraded to be a bit sturdier, but they will still break after continued use. I can’t tell how many times my bug net has broken right before I saw a rare bug spawn right in front of my face, forcing me to run back to a crafting station, grab any materials from storage that I don’t have with me, and craft a new one. Needless to say, that rare bug has definitely despawned by that point. You can always carry backup tools or place a crafting station in a more convenient location, but it’s still a hassle to have tools break when you need them most.
There are some rewards to breaking tools, however. Real estate mogul Tom Nook will now give out Nook Miles to players based on the everyday things they do. Catching a certain amount of fish or crafting a certain amount of items can net you Miles, and you’ll even accrue a handful for breaking a lot of tools. If I ever found myself with no idea of what to do at any point, I could pick a goal I might want to reach and work toward it. Generally speaking, these are meant to be done slowly, though there are also daily goals that can be achieved fairly quickly. For example, there’s a reward for catching a total of 500 fish, which isn’t meant to be done in a single day. One of the daily goals, however, might be to catch five fish, netting you fewer points in return. It might sound simple, but this system adds a little bit of structure and progression to an otherwise fairly aimless game.
Besides the decision to incorporate durability and a few gripes with couch co-op, I’ve found every aspect of Animal Crossing: New Horizons to be an absolute delight. I love that it reminds me to take it slow and enjoy everything around me. I’d notice small details like the way wind goes through the trees, or how the sounds of my feet crunching on grass differs from walking on sand, and before long, I become absolutely entranced in how serene everything is. It’s been incredible to spend so much time on this lush island when it feels like things are crumbling in the real world. Playing online with the incredible Animal Crossing community has provided me with some much-needed comfort, and I know it will continue to do so as time goes on. I can’t put into words how excited I am to see holidays like Halloween and Christmas on the island, and I’m equally excited to decorate accordingly.
With everything going on in the world today, Animal Crossing: New Horizons lets me take a step back and appreciate the little things in life. It gives me the chance to immerse myself in an island designed entirely by me (and a little bit by my boyfriend), and spend time with a cast of colorful, cute animals who opt to spend their time singing in the middle of the town and chasing after butterflies. I look forward to seeing my town grow and flourish as seasons go on since I’ll definitely be playing for some time to come, even if just to get some of the long-term Nook Miles achievements. Speaking of which, I got to get back to playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Nintendo.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the perfect getaway from daily life, putting players in a serene world where the only thing that matters is catching fish and arranging furniture. Its crafting system creates a sense of ownership over the island while also doubling as a creative outlet. It's an absolutely delightful and refreshing experience.