manages to improve upon the virtual lives of each player type that I can think of. For The Collector, there’s a near-bottomless bounty of bugs, fish, and furniture to gather; for The Designer, there are new tools and few limits to what you can craft and customize. But it’s the The Artists, The Decorators, and The Dreamers who should be most excited: There’s an entire island to jazz up, expanding the customizable area far beyond the walls of your house, which is all that previous Animal Crossing games allowed them to tinker with. Throw a swimming pool on the beach; add a giant kaiju statue to your garden; even literally move mountains. You can customize so much in New Horizons that it has me just as excited to see what people create as recent, lauded craft-’em-ups like Super Mario Maker 2 or Dreams.
In order to deliver a blank slate for you to customize the crap out of, Nintendo made some questionable calls that lead to a very slow start to Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Yes, Animal Crossing always starts out slow. But New Horizons is even slower: At the outset, two brave villagers and a very industrious raccoon family are the island’s only residents. Cut off from any mainland, it’s just you, trees, water, rocks, and slow accumulation of buildings and animal villagers over the course of several (real time) days. It’s a different vibe than moving to a new town already full of bustling shops and animals going about their lives, and while building a town from scratch offers a lot of customization, it takes too long to get to the good stuff. And by “good stuff” I mean the basics: The museum, shopping, and even access to parts of the island which require tools like the pole and ladder to reach, all days away from when you first load up New Horizons on your Switch.
Every IGN Animal Crossing Game Review
Like past games, Animal Crossing: New Horizons uses your Nintendo system’s real clock, which means many game goals are locked behind a “sleep wall.” Like the paywall found in some mobile games, which requires you to pay real money for resources to progress, in New Horizons you have to wait until the next actual day to see the bridge you built, or the store you upgraded, or the animal you invited to town come to fruition. There’s just not enough to do for these first few days while the sleepy island is waking up. You can’t scale cliffs or cross rivers until you satisfy requirements that span several real time days. To make it worse, resources deplete and reset daily, so outside of fishing and bug hunting you can’t even effectively farm for bells while you wait. Unless, of course, you cheat it by changing that system clock. See below for my thoughts on that…
It’s important to note that New Horizons has built-in penalties for abusing time travel, so Nintendo recognizes time travel is part of Animal Crossing, but lightly discourages it — so you can treat it like cheat codes for money in The Sims 4, or quicksaving every three seconds in Fallout 4. In the 3DS’ Animal Crossing: New Leaf, I staunchly refused to change the clock and spent the full actual year collecting all the bugs, fish, and seasonal treats available. So resorting to this was a tough decision for me, but one that I’d grudgingly recommend for the first 15 or so in-game days. After that, most of your island layout tools are unlocked and you should be good to go, and the temptation to jump through time should wane.
One way or another, eventually you will have access to the tools to make your island whatever you want it to be, and that’s where Animal Crossing: New Horizons really breaks from its predecessors — and where it shines. The customizable island is a huge advancement. I love the terraforming tools above all else: you can form hills, cliffs, land bridges, waterfalls, lakes, miniature islands, and rivers with ease. You can flatten your entire island and raise a pyramid of waterfalls decorated in skulls, if you want that Bond villain vibe. You can also build bridges and ramps to make your island’s far reaches easily accessible, and move any buildings you’d like, at any time.
Finally, you can place the things you craft and buy anywhere outdoors as well, which represents another huge leap forward in fun customization. You can make a cool beach hangout, or a zen temple on a cliffside, just by dropping things on the ground. The total freedom to create a custom island has me more excited than anything else in New Horizons, and I eagerly await fan community tributes to Zelda, Mario, and other pop culture recreations, along with original designs.
I lost myself in island decoration (partially because the act of decorating your island, in turn, unlocks more tools) and began to neglect expanding and decorating my home. But the new home decorator is better than ever as well, with a brilliant new tool to easily place everything without having to handle it, a 360-degree view, and tons of cool, interactive things you can add to your house. Projectors and lamps that you can turn on, turntables and boomboxes to play music that you collect, and even animated wallpaper. The well of things to buy, find, and now, craft, is seemingly bottomless — and may continue to expand, depending on what Nintendo’s unannounced update plans turn out to be.
A few days in I fell into a nostalgic pattern: The loop. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, my loop is a literal, counter-clockwise run around the island. I spot daily fossil digs, talk to animals, cast a line out to any suspicious fish shadows, hit the shops, talk to villagers, and joyfully juggle the tasks that inevitably pile up. These are chores, and in the field of making chores seem fun, Tom Sawyer has somehow found his match in Tom Nook.
Nook Miles – which serve as both achievements and a currency – are an additional system added to New Horizons that became part of my daily routine. These are awarded for, among other things, hitting randomized daily achievements which range from hard (catching a specific type of fish three times) to dull (watering flowers). Miles can be exchanged for inventory upgrades (video gaming’s greatest upgrade!), rare island decor, major landscaping tools, or tickets to the “nearby islands” (which I’ll discuss below). The miles are, like many other systems, another grind, but checking them did scratch the daily check-in itch I play Animal Crossing for. So yes, I’ll water the darn flowers.
Crafting offers a major change to furniture, clothing, and tool acquisition in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Although you’re now allowed to customize many basic designs, it has a very grindy downside: Because every game has to be Minecraft now, the root of crafting in New Horizons is hitting trees and rocks to see what falls out. This is a slow process, made slower by your tools that you’ve recently crafted breaking down and thus perpetuating the crafting cycle.
It’s more busywork than fun, and there are no shortcuts: You whack a stone four times and then you pick up each rock. One. At. A. Time. And while you can fortify your tools to be more durable, I’ve crafted 15 or so fortified fishing rods at this point, each after the last broke at a really inopportune time. (Pro tip: You can carry your crafting bench with you at all times to make a spare tool in a pinch. No need to leave it at home.) Rather than deal with the crafting hassle, I preferred plopping down bells for weird, Nintendo-designed furniture sets and even weirder clothes in pre-made forms from shops.
What’s The Story?
Animal Crossing fans probably didn’t expect to be reading about a plot in this review, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons not only has one, but it’s appropriately cute and I loved it. Previous games in the series have you moving to a new town and paying off your bills — that’s about it. But in New Horizons, there’s an additional motivation to customize your island, recruit new animal residents, and work towards a better “island eval” rating; a five-star system that takes outdoor furniture, bridges, ramps, residents, flowers, and much more into account. The details of this motivation constitute a big spoiler, which I’ll of course spare you.
Eventually, your town will be bustling with animal residents — up to 10 can move in to housing plots you can freely place and move. And the variety of animals available is stunning! Check out all the ones we know about in the slideshow below to see what I mean.
Animal Crossing Amiibo Cards (Series 1-4)
Each animal has a personality type, and their interactions are always cute: They argue with each other, assemble to sing or do yoga, and sometimes give you minigame challenges (like a funny card guessing game) or random gifts. A cool feature of New Horizons is the ability to recruit new animals via a trip to a nearby randomly-generated island, or from the camping site which occasionally spawns a random animal in town. Even cooler is the ability to force a camper to join your campsite with an amiibo card. If you can track down your favorite animal amiibo cards, you can fill your town with only the A-listers.
There are endless lists of things to hunt, buy, horde, and display in New Horizons. Let’s start with my favorite: Bugs and fish are back in abundance with a list of 80 each to collect, some unique to various seasons to keep you hunting all year. There are a lot of overlapping creatures from previous games, but it’s still fun to find them all and sell the rest for Bells. Even more rewarding is the museum, with gorgeously rendered exhibits that come to life: Schools of fish in custom tanks, swarms of bugs breaking out of their displays, interactive exhibits and adorable photo ops. Even the less-animated fossil wing is greatly improved, with realistic fossil displays and a bizarre evolution room, demonstrating the connections between present-day villagers and ancient beasts. After 32 days of in-game play, and a brief visit to an island in another hemisphere, I had 60 of New Horizons’ fish, and 40 bugs, so I still have a ways to go.You can take a day trip to a randomly generated “nearby” island, which might have different fruit to nab, but “nearby” means the islands you visit are in the same season, so you won’t be finding rare winter fish while its summer on your island. This is disappointing, because I loved the ability to go to an offshore island in 3DS’s New Leaf. It allowed you to cheat the seasons and nab summer beetles (worth a bundle of Bells!) year round. The nearby islands of New Horizons are a dull substitute.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has several different multiplayer modes, including local play on a single switch, where your friends can join with a single Joy Con. It’s cool, but chaotic, and aside from showing off your island and taking group photos, there’s not much to do but get in the way of each other. You can also visit other islands over a local connection (you have to be really close: About five feet away. If you lose the connection, you lose all the stuff you picked up on another island.) One of my favorite things about 3DS’s New Leaf was its StreetPass mode which allowed you to passively view strangers’ houses and order furniture you saw there. There’s no convenient way to see random islands or order cool stuff from others like that in New Horizons, and that disappointingly cripples discovery. We’ll just have to share our amazing homes, fashion choices, and island designs elsewhere.
Although I didn’t encounter any major holidays during my review period with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Nintendo has announced that those are coming as free DLC updates (which means you cannot time travel to see them early; they don’t exist yet). But I did take part in some amusing special events, including a meteor shower where I collected star fragments; a selfie-taking, influencer otter who gave me a fishing challenge; and a chameleon who paid top dollar for bugs. Along with classic visitors like Sahara, Gulliver and Wisp, there’s always something going on in town.