Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a little slice of… desert island..?

Animal Crossing is a little known Nintendo IP that finally made its debut on the Nintendo Switch last month. The new game, New Horizons, has your character buying a package from the most heinous criminal in all of gaming, Tom Nook! More about this in a bit. Anyway this package takes you on a trip to a desert island, where you are provided a tent so that you can start your new life on this island. You then work to build a real home here and improve the facilities available.

This isn’t going to a normal review with a score or anything, I feel there are 2 main reasons for this. First, I don’t think this is a game that you really finish, it’s just a game that constantly sucks hours and hours of your life away forever, this Animal Crossing in particular seems to be getting plenty of support from the start with updates and events, so I think the longevity for this iteration will be greater than normal.

The second reason is that Animal Crossing games aren’t really like other games, and would be hard to judge with the same or similar criteria that you would use for other games. Instead I think it would be better to just give some information about the game and then give my initial impressions on it and leave it at that.

Now back to the Villain! Anyone that has played a previous entry in this franchise will shudder at the mere mention of his name, he has reigned terror over many innocent villagers just trying to live a happy life. All jokes aside Tom Nook always plays a pretty big role and New Horizons is no different, as the head of Nook Inc. the company that has put together your little trip you will start the game owing him some money. You will owe him money for your travel and the tent that was provided at the start. You will from this point on be trapped in an ever increasing hole of debt to Mr Nook for the rest of your life. He will also constantly ask you to help with every part of island life, you are responsible for finding building locations for services, new housing and basic infrastructure. This would be fine but you have to provide all required materials yourself at no cost to Tom, who seems to think a pat on the back is good enough to make up for the pain he has caused you.

All jokes aside I actually like this system in animal crossing, there is nothing worse in a game like this than trying to progress by improving your house but finding you can’t afford it. In New Horizons you are given your initial tent as a loan and can pay it off at your leisure, once you have paid it off you can request a house to be built. Your house is built without it costing you a penny upfront,  then you have as much time as you would like to pay this loan off before, which then gives you the option to upgrade again and so on and so forth.

AC has a pretty in-depth decorating system, this gives you pretty much free reign over the inside of your house to everywhere outside on the island. Let’s briefly focus on the decorating inside, there seems to be a lot of furniture, decorations, wallpapers, flooring, and rugs. You really get the sense that no 2 people could have the exact same layout and that each person’s own flair can be properly displayed. I currently have a switch set up on a table, with a rocking chair to play it from, and a rocket ship that I can change my clothes in because I can! You are also given a design view of your house so that you can more easily arrange your furniture and things which is much appreciated. I think that this may be one of my favourite decorating systems in a game so far.

Ok now for the meat and potatoes of Crossing these Animals, the gathering and collecting. 

There are many resources available to you, if you venture out to get them, there are branches, multiple kinds of wood, stones, iron and weeds (so many weeds!). These materials are then used for a lot of building work! 

New Horizons has a seemingly quite extensive number of crafting recipes that you will pick up whilst playing. You can take these recipes to any workbench, along with the required materials and you can make anything from tools, to furniture, to bin bags.

One of the things that you will be building alot of is tools, I don’t really like this. Why? Well, to create a tool, we will use an axe for this example, you first get the recipe and then you go and gather up some branches. Easy enough so far. You go and find a workbench and use the flimsy axe recipe to create a flimsy axe from your branches, now you can use this axe to hit trees and rocks to get materials. Eventually your axe will break and you will have to repeat this process. Now mostly this is fine, it happens in a lot of games, whatever. The problem is that there are levels of tools, so you can get a recipe for a better axe, it basically lasts longer, perfect right? Well the problem is that to create this you have to first create the flimsy axe, and you have to do this every time because you need a flimsy axe to create the better axe. Also every time you craft a single item you are taken out of the crafting menu and do a pose, then asked if you want to continue crafting or not. I think it just boils down to wasting time making tools a lot. Minor gripe but a gripe nonetheless. 

I actually think that in Minecraft they handle the tools better, they work similarly, however not only is the crafting process quicker, you don’t have to make the weaker version of each tool before you make a better one. For example, if you want an iron axe you just make an iron axe, there’s no need to make a wooden one first.

The recipes are pretty far ranging, my favourite collection so far is Trash, literally. New Horizons gives you the opportunity to travel to other even more desert islands, where you can gather more resources, sometimes you will find other potential residents for your island and other times, life that you haven’t seen on your own island. I went to one of these islands  and did a rather large amount of fishing (more on fishing later), I was surprised when all I was hooking was different pieces of garbage: used cans, tires, and old boots to be specific. As I was continuing to fish I started to be awarded with different recipes like a pillar of tyres, a garbage bag and some trash wallpaper. Most people would find this weird and unnecessary, I however see the pure beauty and genius in this and applaud Nintendo, good job sport!

As mentioned above you can craft a selection of tools, 3 of them are important in helping you build your collections. There is a net, fishing rod and shovel. These are each used to fill out one of your main collections of fish, bugs, and fossils.

Let’s start with the fishes. You can fish in Animal Crossing. Fishing is simple in AC, this is good for me because I am not good with fishing minigames very often. As you take leisurely strolls across your island there will be much water around, surprising but it’s true, pretty regularly you will see little shadows in the water, if you walk over to them and then if you have a fishing rod equipped you can cast you line to try and attract this shadow take a little nibble. When the shadow pulls the float underwater you can start to catch it, I think by tapping the ‘A’ button repeatedly (honestly I don’t know if it tells you to do this or not, I just always do. Maybe I’m wrong) and then eventually you will pull up your catch. There is plenty of fish, crustacean and rubbish to catch.

Next is bug catching, using your net you can go up to a bag, swipe with the net, and catch any bug that you find. This sums it up for the most part, so far I have found a few different cases to this but most have been like this. The other cases that I have found are, some are found on flowers but you have to sneak up slowly to nab them. Other ones will hang down when you shake down a tree. There are different bugs that appear depending on time of day and weather, like snails in the rain and moths at night. One time a spider chased me in circles before biting me and made me pass out, god knows what that was about! Then finally those goddamn wasps! Try to shake trees before hacking at them with an axe is all I’ll say. The point is that there is quite a lot of variation which is nice. All of these bugs also go into the museum and you can go to a wing that has all of these insects flying around, now I will say that if you really don’t like bugs this may not be the place for you. You can still collect them all and either not give them to the museum or just never go to that wing.

Leaving the best for last is the fossils! Love me a dinosaur bone! In Animal Crossing you can use a shovel to dig up fossils, these fossils can then be assessed and could turn out to be part of a dinosaur skeleton or a prehistoric creature. The fossils are very nicely hidden under the ground with star shaped cracks. My highlights for fossils so far are: a spinosaurus, stegosaurus, and a mammoth. Now I’ve not completed any of these as they are sets that require multiple fossil parts. Same as the previous 2 fossils have their own wing, I very much like the dinosaur room that has large displays for all of the dinosaurs, I cannot wait to start finishing these skeletons.

As mentioned, all of these collections can end up in a museum, curated by a dozy Owl. The museum may be one of my favourite parts of New Horizons, it’s so vast and well designed, giving you a section for fossils, fish and insects, that can each be accessed from the entrance hall. The fish area in particular is gorgeous, there are many big tanks that can be filled with many types of fish, these fish will just casually swim around doing whatever it is that fish do. I think that it very closely captures what a real aquarium looks and feels like, which I find to be pretty impressive in a game like this.

I think that overall I have got the idea across of what a lot of your time will be spent doing in AC, I think the best way to describe this would be with the title “My First Sandbox Game”, it feels like a baby version of Ark: Survival Evolved (it technically also has dinosaurs in it), this is by no means an insult. It is much more accessible, chill, cute, and generally pleasant than Ark and if you’re just looking to kill a couple of hours without having to think much, I feel like there are few games that are better than Animal Crossing: New Horizons at that.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons First Impression
Written by Kyle Munn

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