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Animal Crossing New Horizons - Video Game Review

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by Marisa Quinn-Haisu (subscribe)
My name is Marisa. I am a fiction writer, a blogger, and a freelance journalist.
Published June 26th 2020
A carefree new life awaits you on an island paradise
Animal Crossing New Horizons, Nintendo Switch

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the fifth title in Nintendo's life simulation video game series Animal Crossing. It was developed and published by Nintendo on the Nintendo Switch and released in all regions on 20 March 2020. The Animal Crossing series was created by Katsuya Eguchi and Hisashi Nogami. It sees a playable human character move into a village inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. The player must then carry out various daily tasks and activities, such as fishing, bug catching, house decorating and fossil hunting. The player must also sell items in the game to raise money (which are called bells) to pay off a home loan to Tom Nook, who is a tanuki character who has appeared in every Animal Crossing game, who functions as a shop owner and real estate broker.

In New Horizons, the player moves to a deserted island after purchasing a deserted island getaway package from Tom Nook. When they arrive on the island, it is unfurnished. Tom Nook gives them a tent to set up and they are then free to explore the island, gathering and collecting items, to help craft tools and furniture which can be used to help decorate interior and exterior spaces around the island. The player can also get a home loan from Tom Nook to upgrade their tent to a house and then additional loans to expand the house to add additional rooms. As the game progresses, Tom Nook will also give the player the ability to build bridges and inclines around the island (for a cost), and the player will learn how to make paths, sculpt cliffs and create waterfalls. The possibilities to create an island paradise are endless.

New Horizons has received universal acclaim from critics and has scored high review scores. The game has been praised for its engaging gameplay, sense of escapism, customization options, and for adding new elements to the series. New Horizons was released during the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused it to smash several sales records, and contributed to its success. The game sold 5 million digital copies in its first month, breaking the record for the most digital units sold in a single month. After six weeks its total sales passed a staggering 13.41 million. I've been a fan of Animal Crossing since Animal Crossing: New Leaf was released on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013. In the weeks leading up to the release of New Horizons, the COVID-19 pandemic had me so stressed. The only bright spot on my horizon was the release of New Horizons. I was so relieved when I finally got my hands on it. I needed a distraction and an escape from the COVID-19 pandemic. I was ready to set sail to a deserted island paradise. And BOY... this game did not disappoint.

Animal Crossing New Horizons, Nintendo Switch
Start a new life on an island paradise

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a fantastic game. There is so much to love about this game. The gameplay is so laid-back and relaxing. The game gives you daily tasks to complete like plant flowers, chop wood, talk to three villagers, or sell items to earn bells. I can easily spend an hour digging up flowers and arranging them in garden beds or running around the island to collect items to craft a DIY recipe. It's hard to describe how rewarding it can be to grow a hybrid flower or to find a new DIY recipe in a glass bottle left on the beach.

New Horizons allows the player to customize the appearance of their avatar and select different skin tones, hairstyles and facial features, none of which are locked to specific genders. This is a big improvement over previous Animal Crossing games which had more restricted character customization options and limited hairstyles, facial features, and skin colour options. One of the most charming aspects of the Animal Crossing games are the animal villagers. In New Horizons players can travel to other islands to invite animals to move to their island and can use Animal Crossing amiibos to invite villagers to come and stay at their campsite.

Animal Crossing New Horizons, Nintendo Switch
Leap over rivers and use a ladder to climb cliffs to reach new heights

The crafting system in New Horizons was first introduced in the 2017 spin-off mobile title Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. I never played Pocket Camp so New Horizons was my first introduction to the crafting system. I have mixed feelings about its addition to the series. There are parts about it that are fun like collecting new DIY recipes. But there are other things about it that I find tiresome like the amount of time it takes to gather resources and the tools you can craft break after a few uses. There is also a real glitch in the game when it comes to gathering resources. A lot of the recipes in the game require different varieties of wood which you can find by hitting trees with an axe. There are three different types of wood in the game: hard wood, soft wood and wood. You can collect wood from hitting a tree with an axe. For some reason, a lot of the trees on my island have very little wood, but tons and tons of hard wood and soft wood. I have bundles and bundles of hard wood and soft wood in my inventory, but typically very little wood. It can be so annoying to want to craft something, only to check my resources and find out I don't have enough wood. I then have to spend time running around the island hitting trees to try and find some, but most of the time will end up with even more hard wood and soft wood in my pockets, and very little additional wood.

Animal Crossing New Horizons, Nintendo Switch
Craft items and tools using a work bench

One thing that I love about this game is how creative the online community is. New Horizons gives players the ability to design clothes, create wallpaper and flooring and to customize paths, panels, and some pieces of furniture. Due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide stay at home orders, the Animal Crossing community has been hard at work for the past few months, creating some truly amazing original designs that can be downloaded and used in the game. One thing that I like to do is go online to check out some of these designs. If I like something, I can download the outfit in the game and customize my character with it. At the moment my avatar is wearing a blue and white flowered patterned kimono that was designed by another player. If you would like to check out some of these designs there are lots of fan-affiliated websites online devoted to cataloguing them, like Nook's Island.

In addition to designing fashion, players have also been hard at work customizing furniture in the game. Two of the most ingenious items in the game are a market stall and a simple panel. You can customize these items at a crafting bench. I wish I had some of the skill other players had at coming up with patterns to customize items. I have seen simple panels transformed into barn doors with realistic horses painted on them and market stalls transformed into ramen stalls. You can download these patterns and use them in your own game to customize items. A good place to look for ideas is this Animal Crossing subreddit.

Another good website to check out is Nookazon which is a place where players looking for a particular DIY recipe, tool, clothing, fruit, furniture or dinosaur fossil can post an online "auction" where they can sell items or ask for an item in return for bells, gold, or other goods. You can also use this website to "buy" a villager you might have your heart set on. How it works is people can post villagers up for "sale" who are about to move off their island. Another player can buy the villager from them and then can visit their island to ask the villager to move back to their island.

Animal Crossing New Horizons, Nintendo Switch
Explore the island and gather supplies

Animal Crossing: New Horizons would be a masterpiece of a game if it wasn't for a number of small, irritating little flaws. I've already spoken about how the crafting system annoys me. The biggest flaw of the game is how it does not support cloud saves and how it restricts you to one island per Nintendo Switch. The lack of cloud saves means that players have no way to recover their game data if their Nintendo Switch is stolen, lost or damaged. This has angered fans. Nintendo has said that cloud saves will be coming at "sometime in the future".

Nintendo has been criticised for restricting players to just one island per Nintendo Switch system. The game supports up to four players locally and eight players online to occupy a single island at any given time. How the game works is the first player with an account to start a game will become the "island representative" who will have the ability to name the island town, invite Blathers to the island and choose the museum location, build Nook's Cranny and choose the location, build the first bridge and choose the location of villager homes, invite the Able Sisters to the island and choose their shop location, build a campground, sell land for villager home plots and move existing buildings. Additional players can join the island as villagers but will be restricted from doing any of these things. They will be limited to harvesting resources, cutting trees, breaking rocks, picking and planting flowers, crafting DIY recipes, buying and selling items, donating fossils, contributing funds for bridges and inclines, upgrading and moving personal homes and collecting and redeeming Nook Miles.

I don't know what Nintendo was thinking when they came up with this idea. It's so annoying. I have two Nintendo Switch consoles, a lite and a main console, which can be docked. I first started playing New Horizons on the docked console. When I tried to transfer the save file to my lite to continue playing on there, I discovered that I couldn't. The game considered my lite a separate console, so I had to start a new game. I hope Nintendo considers fixing this with a patch in the future.

Animal Crossing New Horizons, Nintendo Switch
What sort of island paradise will you design?

Another issue I have with the game is how the Nook Miles tickets work. A Nook Miles ticket is an item that a player can purchase for 2,000 Nook Miles at the Nook Shop. A Nook Miles Ticket allows the player to go on a mystery tour to a nearby deserted island and search for crafting materials, unique flora, meet new villagers, fish, chop wood, pick fruit and catch bugs. Every island in Animal Crossing has a unique fruit. My island's native fruit is pears. I have purchased numerous Nook Miles tickets in the hope that the island I might be able to find a new fruit to bring back to my island. I've lost count with how many Nook Miles tickets I have purchased to try and find new fruit because almost every single trip I have taken, minus one, has taken me to an island that has only pears. I could go online and find someone willing to trade me oranges, cherries, or peaches. But I don't want to do that. I want to find them on an island. I am utterly exhausted with how difficult it has been for me to find oranges, cherries or peaches. Come on Nintendo. It shouldn't be THIS hard.

Animal Crossing New Horizons, Nintendo Switch
Meet some new friends!

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a fantastic achievement from Nintendo. The game has its flaws, but it is still a lot of fun, and well worth the price. I am so grateful that I had this game to distract me these past few months. I hope Nintendo continues to support it well into the future and maybe considers ironing out some of its flaws.
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Why? Animal Crossings: New Horizons is a life simulation game that sees a player move to a deserted island and be given the tools to transform it into a paradise.
Cost: $60 - $79.99
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