Video Game Review: Animal Crossing: New Horizons

INTRODUCTION

Berry: It has been eight years since the last Animal Crossing game came out. Animal Crossing: New Leaf was a great entry into the series, and personally it was also the first Animal Crossing game I actually took seriously and put a lot of time in. It was a great game with new features and the introduction of some new characters, like fan-favorite Isabelle. And after a few years, when people other than die-hard fans stopped playing the game, the game randomly got a nice free update out of the blue. It was a really smart idea to integrate amiibo, and even though I didn’t have any, it still brought me back to the game for a little while.

Since then, I hadn’t touched New Leaf but then New Horizons was announced much later and brought that excitement back. Now that the game is here, did it live up to my and everyone’s expectations? With it’s staggering numbers shown in the recent fiscal report, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a resounding success and I couldn’t be happier.

It is worth mentioning that this game is literally the perfect game to be playing in our current pandemic, and that may have boosted the sales of the game. Either way, many people were excited for this one and Animal Crossing already had quite the following. So while it sold well, is it a quality game too?

 

Nikolita: My memory is garbage so while I do own New Leaf and played it quite a bit from what I remember…. I barely remember it. ^^;; Eight years feels like such a long time! Therefore New Horizons is almost like my “first Animal Crossing”, really. I was very excited when New Horizons was first announced and I knew I’d liked New Leaf enough that I would definitely be buying New Horizons at some point.

I’m very glad to see that New Horizons has been as successful as it has been. As Berry said some of its success might be due to people being quarantined while Covid-19 is active, but I like to think that the 8 year wait for a new Animal Crossing game had something to do with it too. I have heard rumors of Nintendo prepping years of DLC content for New Horizons; I hope that will be what happens because I want to keep playing this game for a long time to come.

 


STORY

Berry: When it comes to Animal Crossing, there’s not much of a “plot” or a huge campaign to complete, but there is some semblance of a story. You take part in Tom Nook’s Island Getaway package, and after greeting Timmy and Tommy at the airport, you choose your island layout as well as its name, as well as your own name and appearance. You then arrive on the island with two starting villagers and your island adventure begins. You don’t reach the “end game” until you achieve a certain event, so in the meantime you take on tasks from Tom Nook to really build the island up, while also having some freedom as well. Said tasks are simple but do well in making you really feel like you’re creating a home and society on your island, as well as integrating the new features of the game.

In New Horizons you use a wardrobe to change your outfit, and a mirror to change your physical appearance. You can also craft wands, which will allow you to assign different set outfits to a slot, allowing you to swap outfits on the spot with a wave of the wand.

I put “end game” in quotes because even when you reach that certain event, you can still play to your heart’s content.

Nikolita: I am very appreciative of New Horizons being so “open world” if you will. The overarching plot is always present but you can also ignore it and just play the game in other ways like visiting friends, collecting items, fishing and catching bugs, and so on. I would still recommend finishing the game because terraforming and other game features become available once the main game is complete, plus some Nook Mile achievements open up too.

If anyone asks whether the story is worth playing the game for, it’s really not. But that’s because this game is not about its plot so much as it’s about your island and making it feel like a home. Weekly visitors selling items or trading for creatures, flower breeding and terraforming are all about customizing your avatar and your island to your heart’s content.

 


 

GAMEPLAY

Berry: Animal Crossing: New Horizons is going to look familiar for existing fans. The game looks, sounds, and plays pretty much the same way it always has. You have a certain amount of tools you can use to dig, fish, water flowers, etc. The usual staples can still be found such as digging for fossils, catching fish, catching bugs, and planting flowers.

However, New Horizons implemented new features that are a huge game changer: the DIY craft system, building inclines/stairs, and terraforming. Inclines are self-explanatory but a welcome feature. With cliffs also making a debut, making the island even more expansive, we are given the option to build inclines/stairs to reach said cliffs. You also get to climb these cliffs with one of two new tools, the ladder. It’s quite convenient but you can’t deny how wonderful the inclines are. Bridges of course return, but until you can raise the funds for them, the last new tool introduced in the game is the vaulting pole, which allows you to cross rivers so you can still explore. These tools are fantastic additions and make exploring even more fun, and are all around great temporary tools to have until you can afford to make the amount of inclines and bridges you want.

The DIY craft system is a really fun addition. You get to collect DIY recipes from your villagers, balloons, and bottles that wash up on the beach once a day. You also get quite a bit from Tom Nook himself, as well as Nook’s Cranny. Collecting the recipes are fun, though can take awhile. The randomness can also be a little irritating, but that can also add to the fun. Collecting items and resources for the recipes adds to the gameplay as it gives you a goal to complete, and at first it seems neverending because of the sheer amount of recipes there are. If you really want a certain piece of furniture or decoration, you’re going to have to work for it but it’s worth it.

You’re able to talk to your villagers and gift them one item per day. Each villager has their own catchphrase, which can change as your relationship with them improves.

When it comes to the crafting system, I have two problems with it. One slight problem are the changes to how tools work this time around. The tools function the same way, but just like Breath of the Wild, after a certain amount of use the tool breaks, and you have to craft them over and over. This is a slight annoyance since they don’t cost that much resources, or if you have enough money, you can just buy them from Nook’s Cranny for cheap if you’re too lazy like me. I’m not a fan of Breath of the Wild for many reasons, but one reason was for the weapons breaking so I’m a little disappointed they implemented the same system in a game like Animal Crossing, where I feel this is unnecessary. It’s only a tiny problem though, and I can live with it.

One GLARING problem I have with the crafting system however, is the fact that you cannot bulk craft. If you want to craft a certain item multiple times, you have to do it one by one. One. By. One. You have to repeat the same button commands, see the same menus, have to watch the same animation multiple times. If I have 20 clams to make 20 fish bait, I should be able to craft the 20 fish bait all in one go instead of taking forever to make them one by one. Not being able to access my full inventory from anywhere in the island to craft is also a glaring and flabbergasting omission. I’m hoping for a future update where this is improved upon.

Terraforming is the biggest implementation into Animal Crossing, and while it’s a little wonky in its controls, it’s a fantastic addition. With the two types of terraforming, cliff and water, you’re really able to customize your island and create whatever cliff or water formations you’ve dreamed of. You’re also able to create paths of many different styles to create streets and neighborhoods, or whatever you want. While the process is pretty slow and tedious, it’s probably my favorite addition.

The game is incredibly fun and you can put in hundreds of hours, but one huge problem I find in this game are the villagers. It’s great that we got new villagers and that we have hundreds of possibilities, and even though they all vary in animal and design, they lack individuality. Repetitive dialogue was always a problem in the series but I feel in New Horizons, the lack of dialogue and repetition is even worse. It’s gotten so bad that I don’t even want to talk to my villagers because they just tell me the same damn thing. And while I understand people having favorite villagers (mine is Diana), they lack in individuality because the same personality types say the same thing. They’re just clones of each other, but they just look different. I do love how the villagers seem more alive this time around as you see them wandering around, lifting weights, eating donuts and sandwiches, Naruto running, and singing. It’s adorable and always puts a smile on my face and they feel like they matter, I just wish the team would work on writing more dialogue. Same goes for Isabelle and her daily announcements, too.

 

Nikolita: Berry’s thoughts cover a lot of what I wanted to say, so I’ll try not to repeat her words too much.

Pros: I’m the opposite of Berry in that I don’t mind my villagers. I will usually go search them out so as to make sure our friendships stay strong and they don’t think about leaving. There’s are a couple villagers on my island whose dialogue can be a little repetitive (Eunice and Flurry), but they’re both my favourites and just so damn cute that I let it slide. I have noticed that some of Isabelle’s morning dialogue has been repeated a couple of times on my island, but I don’t mind. I’m not sure why this repetitiveness isn’t an issue for me.

Speaking of villagers, I adore their actions. I like to zip around my island sometimes and see who is doing what. I walk away if anyone is singing, but otherwise their actions will almost always bring a smile to my face. Whether it’s watching them do yoga poses in the island square, practicing their Naruto running or trying to catch a fish, they’re just so cute. Maybe I just like cute things too much??  xD    I also like how my villagers get excited to see me sometimes, then run over to show me a new Reaction. I feel like it’s an inventive method to learning more Reactions versus paying for them from the Nook ATM or reading a book or something.

Fishing is one of many activities you can do in New Horizons. Other examples within this picture include building bridges and crossbreeding your island’s flowers.

You can also experiment with giving items to your villagers as gifts, and I’ve had fun trying to figure out which villagers preferred which types of items. For example, Maelle (in the above picture) really likes flowers, whereas Benedict and Kidd will gush over any piece of fruit I give them. Sometimes you may miss the mark with your gift, but the resident will always be positive and insist that they will give your gift a try.  I’ve also noticed that if you gift some items to your villagers, like flowers, creatures or household items, you can sometimes see these items in your villagers’ homes at a later date. I think it’s a really neat touch!  Sometimes if you gift your villagers clothing they will immediately start to wear the item. Cute when it’s a nice outfit, slightly embarrassing when it’s a gaudy outfit. (I think Bangle the tiger on my island is still wearing some hideous suspender outfit and it’s been weeks since I gave it to her!)

New Horizons features some really nice graphics. It’s the Switch so the style is on the cartoony side, but I feel like Nintendo really went all out when it came to some really minor details. Some of my favourites are the glistening of water drops on watered/rained on flowers, and the shine of light on a fish’s scales as its body flops in your character’s grip. Creatures are also well-animated when you visit them in their respective wings of the museum. New Horizons came out in March so we haven’t seen detailed weather outside of rain and sun (though some thunderstorms get really powerful and I love those!), but I look forward to seeing leaves blowing and snowfalls in later seasons.

What else… actually I think my favourite thing in the game is the museum. Blathers is adorable and trying to complete the Critterpedia gives players some annual goals so they will continue playing for longer than just a few weeks or months. In particular I feel like the fish section is really well done. I have heard some complaints from other players regarding how often some special characters like Redd visit their island (or don’t, more like), so maybe Nintendo can change the frequency of characters’ visits in future updates. Which I completely understand! I want to complete the gallery section of my museum too but if I see Redd twice a month, and assuming I pick the real items each time, it would still take a really long time to finish my gallery. (I’m less finicky with how often Flick and CJ show up because they’re just about trading items for Bells.)

Cons: I too am extremely irritated with the lack of bulk crafting, especially for making things like fish bait. I would fish a lot more if I knew I could somehow bypass the same half-dozen dialogue boxes over and over again. I also hope bulk crafting is a change made in future updates, the way Pokemon Go finally implemented a way to power up a Pokemon multiple times (thus bypassing seeing the same animation repeatedly).  Honestly there should be a way to bypass all repetitive dialogue boxes, including those for catching bugs and catching fish. Maybe an option that could be toggled on/off?

Something else that bothered me was the inability to move around while my inventory screen is open. If I want to plant something, move a couple spaces over and then plant something else I have to open my inventory and do the thing, close it to move, then reopen it to do the next thing. Could some kind of touch feature be added perhaps, to allow for the use of items while moving without tying item use to a button?

OH. Don’t even get me started on tools breaking! Ugh. I get that having tools break makes sense if you want to add a Nook achievement for how many tools you break, and it feeds into the new DIY crafting system, but it’s so frustrating to have to continually remake your tools again and again. If you’re not against spending bells you can buy pre-made, specially designed tools in your Nook Shop, and these are a little more durable than your early game tools. But these will eventually break too, so then you’re back to square one in having to decide whether to buy or craft another tool. I do like that there are different “tiers” so as you become able to craft better and better tools, you will break your tools less frequently. It’s a small silver lining.

See how beautifully detailed the museum is?? 😀 Different creatures have their own tanks based on species or type (small tropical fish together, river fish together, deep sea animals, etc).

One more small complaint from me – I noticed that while the top-down view can be toggled 3 different ways, New Horizons still doesn’t allow for a 360 camera rotation when out on your island. When you’re inside your home designing layouts you can move the camera completely around the room, but you’re locked into a top-down, forward-to-back view once you leave your house. I hate it. Trying to retrieve an item or plant something in a cramped corner and not being able to completely see what you’re doing, instead having to guess and hope you got the target spot correctly, is a real pain in the butt. And I don’t want to move 3 trees out of the way in order to plant something then re-plant all the trees. It’s an issue that comes up usually when I’ve done it to myself, but it’s still frustrating.

…Ok I lied, one more small nuisance to mention. When shopping in Able Sisters and using the change room, you’re only able to buy, at max, one of each type of item that will fit on your person (headpiece/accessory, top, bottom, shoes). It would be AMAZING to just use the change room and buy whatever you wanted. Like everything would just go onto a list and you’d have to review and approve it before leaving the changeroom. It’d make shopping less of a pain and negate having to shop in “batches.”

Also I love the idea of having a wand to slot different outfits that you can switch to at will, but I’m frustrated that using an item in an outfit removes the item from your storage. So if you have an item you want to use across multiple outfits (like glasses), then you need to buy multiple copies of that item. Not such an issue with smaller and cheaper items, like a hairpin or some shoes, but for some fancier items (like dresses or kimonos) that can add up quickly.

As you can see I have a list of several “complaints”, but I really do love this game. I’m more just noting them in hopes that Nintendo will improve these issues in future updates.

 


 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Berry’s Final Thoughts: While I have my issues with the game, it’s easy to say that this is the best Animal Crossing title in the series so far. Like Nikolita said, the amount of customization in this game is insane. The fact that you can change your avatar’s look at any time is super appreciated, as well as the many clothing and accessory options. The best thing in this game is deciding how to design your island with the many items and recipes you have. The amount of creativity people have is astounding and it just inspires me, and I’ve been having so much fun with my decorating. And with the constant updates to the game, I can expect to put in even more hours into this game, which is already so many. So many hours. If you’re a fan of Animal Crossing, or just need a cute and relaxing game for this trying time, I highly recommend on getting it. It’s easily one of my favorite games on the Switch and always puts me in a good mood. And while I do complain about the repeated dialogue of the villagers, it still makes me smile seeing them. The chill mood of the game will do that to you. 😀

Berry’s Score: 9/10

~*~

Nikolita: I haven’t done much terraforming aside from bridges, inclines and paths, so I can’t speak much as to the controls on making cliffs and waterfalls. Overall I am in love with the amount of customization available in this game, from decorating my avatar to designing the look of my island. Yeah if you don’t have anyone else to play the game with or send you items then you might be stuck with the randomness of what’s in your shops or which items you shoot down from balloons, but then again I’m sure there are people who enjoy that aspect of New Horizons. I’ve been very fortunate to have a group of friends who play with me and they have given me many, many boosts along the way. <3

More than anything else, the two things New Horizons are for me are creativity and connection. New Horizons is a fantasy retreat where I can spend a few quiet hours changing my island’s landscape, or spend some time with friends who don’t live locally. Aside from time-sensitive events (for example, June’s event is wedding-themed), virtually everything in the game has no deadline and can be completed at the player’s leisure. I can play for an hour or I can play for several hours. (200+ hours logged so far, woot!) Maybe I get home from work exhausted and just want to work on my Critterpedia. Maybe I just want to shop, or go visit a friend on their island – or host friends on my island. The possibilities are almost, literally, endless in New Horizons.

On a side note: if you’re reading this list and wondering why I’m giving this game such a high score, know that I must love this game THAT MUCH in order to grade it so highly despite some of my issues with the title. This game easily ranks in my list of top 5 all-time favourite games.

Nikolita’s Score: 9/10

 

Berry

Unfortunately still a weeb

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