If you have been following any gaming news for the past few months, chances are you’ve heard of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. With everybody stuck at home due to the quarantine, New Horizons provides the perfect way to socialize with friends and family, along with just being plain fun.
At its core, New Horizons is a life sim, although extremely different from any other out there. You start out as a blank slate, traveling to an uncharted island as part of the Nook Inc. Getaway package, to start your new life. In a sharp break from past Animal Crossings, you choose exactly what you want your character to look like, instead of answering seemingly arbitrary questions that determine your appearance. You are also able to change your character’s looks whenever you want, so no more ending up with wacky hairstyles from Harriet (although I’ll admit that was part of its charm). New Horizons grants you unparalleled customization compared to past entries, from the aforementioned character creator down to reshaping and terraforming your island home itself.
This new installment features the debut of a new crafting system. DIY recipes are found through playing the prologue, bottles on the beach, or given by your neighbors. For the most part, this is a fun and engaging system. Most crafting materials are fairly common and easy to come by, so I haven’t really felt forced into crafting. However, with the introduction of a crafting system comes the worst part, breakable tools. Tools now have a finite number of uses, meaning if you want to have a long fishing session or replant a bunch of trees, you’ll have to stock up on tools. While the availability of materials offsets this issue somewhat, it’s still an annoyance to have to go shake trees again to get enough sticks so you can catch that giant fish.
New Horizons carries a number of quality-of-life upgrades. You can now jump over holes, see which fish and bugs have been donated, jump over rivers without needing a bridge, automatically stack fruit, among other things. Even the simple act of upgrading your inventory size alone will make it hard to go back to earlier games.
Your animal friends and neighbors make up the rest of your island and help tremendously with adding some life to your no-longer deserted paradise. The animals have been upgraded quite a bit compared to earlier iterations. While in past entries they were mostly just there, maybe once in a while giving you a quest or task, now they actually perform activities around the town. You might find them sitting by the river eating a donut, exercising in the main plaza, or relaxing in their house reading a book. In addition, they each have their own schedules and hobbies they enjoy. Back when I started New Horizons, I was running around late at night getting some things done before going to bed, when I saw Sheldon the squirrel walking around and started toward him so I could talk. I was shocked when Sheldon actually opened his door and went inside his house. In earlier games, your neighbors would wander around until nighttime, but you never saw them go into their house; they would teleport there when they were off screen. It may seem like a small thing, but details like that go a long way toward injecting personality into your animal neighbors.
While New Horizons is great, it is missing some important features when compared to earlier entries. To start off, the furniture. In past games, furniture was divided into series, sets, and themes. Once you found one you liked, it was a matter of waiting until the store had the pieces you wanted. This is no longer the case in New Horizons. Most pieces of furniture have multiple looks, and furniture customization exists now, which lets you change the look of many of the DIY furniture. This means that you will no longer find the Blue series at the store; you must craft each of the Wooden series pieces and recolor it. It’s the same for the Green series; it now has the same look as the Blue series, whereas before they had vastly different models. Some series seem to be missing altogether. The Modern series, one of my favorites, seems to no longer exist. There are a multitude of other missing features, including Gyroids, the Roost, Perfect Fruit, Silver Tools, and fun retro Nintendo-themed furniture. While the game has been receiving constant updates and some of these could be added in the future, decorations like Gyroids have been series staples and it’s curious not to see them from the beginning.
And of course you have the multiplayer. Right now, there are three ways to play with others: local network play, internet play, and 4 player couch co-op. The first two are great… the third not so much. One player is designated as the “leader”, and the others are “followers”. The leader can pretty much play as normal, however being a follower is not a great experience. As a follower, you can’t open your inventory, you can only perform one emote, and anything you pick up is sent to the recycle bin instead of your inventory. While it is relatively easy to switch leaders (by shaking your remote), my siblings end up fighting a lot about who gets to be leader (I have my own Switch Lite so I don’t have to deal with it). It seems like an unnecessarily complicated setup when Nintendo could’ve just added multiplayer splitscreen.
All in all, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a great game for the time we live in. It outsold its lifetime sale expectations about two months after it released. While it does need some updates to add back in some of its missing features, right now it is a great way to be with others, even if the couch co-op is more than a little bit flawed.