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Lifewire / Sandra Stafford
Casual, relaxed pace
Seasonal events and festivals
Limited to one island per Switch
Unstructured, open-ended play not enjoyable for everyone
Animal Crossing: New Horizons reboots an old favorite with a lot of surprises. The game’s new setting is an endlessly customizable island with events and festivities that will keep players coming back.
We purchased Animal Crossing: New Horizons so our reviewer could put it to the test on the Nintendo Switch. Keep reading for our full product review.
Animal Crossing fans had to wait nearly seven years for a new console release, but New Horizons didn’t disappoint. Delays pushed the game’s release to March 2020, and in the year since I have dutifully tested it for over 700 hours. New improvements to the setting, gameplay, and graphics have made New Horizons the most irresistible Nintendo Switch game yet.
Tom Nook has big dreams in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. He is now the head of Nook Incorporated, a company developing deserted islands. Tom Nook is a big fan of famous guitarist KK Slider. Before he can invite KK Slider to play, he needs the island to be beautified. The human resident does most of the work on that front while their animal neighbors chase butterflies or eat sandwiches. Isabelle offers a little guidance on what kind of changes to make, but the setting is up to you.
That’s the plot of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but the fun doesn’t end after the credits roll. There isn’t much narrative guidance to the game, but you create the story while you play. Animal Crossing allows you to escape to a more cheerful world. Your neighbors might be celebrating a festival, participating in a contest, or working on a new DIY, but they’ll always be happy to see you.
The first few days in Animal Crossing: New Horizons are downright slow. Tom Nook provides a little guidance in getting residents to the island and establishing a museum and town shop. After that, the days were mine. At first, this was frustrating, but it’s setting the tone for the rest of the game. There’s no hurry, and there’s no wrong way to play.
The main feature of gameplay is customization. At first, that’s limited to the game’s DIY recipes. There are hundreds of items that can be customized to suit any tastes. Once the place is decorated to Tom Nook’s satisfaction, KK Slider visits and unlocks landscaping.
There’s no hurry, and there’s no wrong way to play.
Landscaping makes it possible to customize most of the island. I carved out new waterfalls to create a pretty vista. I decorated my island with adorable wooden furniture in little garden areas, cafes, fishing spots, and whatever else struck my fancy.
Some particularly versatile items, like simple panels, open up endless design possibilities. Custom designs can make the simple panel into a projector screen, a shelf of spices, or an overgrown trellis. When I was decorating my Christmas market, I used the Custom Design Portal in Able Sisters tailor shop to find a hot cocoa stall design.
Playing with friends adds a lot to the experience, but online play is more of a hassle than it needs to be.
Part of the fun is appreciating the creativity of others. I love running around and exploring “dreams” of other peoples’ islands. Every time I visited another island, I saw some adorable new way to decorate.
Playing with friends adds a lot to the experience, but online play is more of a hassle than it needs to be. It’s difficult to get through the airport when other players are engaged in lengthy dialogue with a washed-up pelican. Loading screens are masked behind the fly-over view of the island, but they’re still long. It’s easy to forgive that when everything else about the game is so relaxing and warm.
I didn’t decorate much in the previous Animal Crossing games, but I couldn’t resist in New Horizons. The sheer volume of beautifully detailed items simply demands to be used. Outdoor cafes, Christmas markets, flower shops: I wanted to make it all. Everything looks realistic but not lifelike. It reminds me of a dollhouse.
The sheer volume of beautifully detailed items simply demands to be used.
Leaves change their color with the season. Flowers gently sway in clear weather and rustle around during storms. Everything looks and sounds beautiful. The light and music change throughout the day. The 5:00 AM music is worth getting up early for, at least once. I’m a big fan of KK Slider, too. With his music and a selection of adorable radios, you can set the perfect mood for different areas of the island.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons commands the high price that comes with most Nintendo core games, around $60. If you become hopelessly addicted like I did, that’s less than a dime per hour of fun.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons makes concessions to multiple players, but not enough to make everyone happy. Up to four people can have houses on one island using their different profiles on the Nintendo Switch, but different players can’t have separate islands. Likewise, online play is limited to profiles that pay for Nintendo Switch Online. As long as the main profile has online play, they can invite friends over and play simultaneously with other residents. Much of the Animal Crossing: New Horizons experience is limited for secondary players in this way.
Shared or separate islands both make one thing clear: Animal Crossing is primarily a single-player game, at least for now.
The Nintendo Switch isn’t a console many families are likely to own more than one of, unlike its strictly handheld predecessors. That means most families will end up sharing an island in the ways I’ve described above. Whether or not that’s a problem depends on the situation. Some people may enjoy working together on decorating the island, and teamwork would certainly help me finish mine.
But Animal Crossing: New Horizons still has linear progression, however unstructured it may be. Secondary players can’t do most of the island upgrade quests, move most buildings, or invite new residents they choose. I can only imagine the bickering this would have caused between my younger brothers and me. Shared or separate islands both make one thing clear: Animal Crossing is primarily a single-player game, at least for now.
Families looking for a multiplayer game to enjoy together should consider Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Most of the fun is in racing itself, but people who want to unlock everything on their own can do so in separate profiles. There is a huge variety of tracks pulled from old Mario Kart games and other Nintendo series.
The tracks are full of fun details, like rupees instead of coins in The Legend of Zelda tracks and changing seasons in an Animal Crossing track. Items like Bullet Bill contribute to the chaos while keeping things fair between players of different skill levels. Kids may still find something to fight about, but Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will get them playing together.
A delightful game for kids and adults alike.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a casual game with a hint of warmth that keeps players coming back, even if it’s just to check in on the neighbors and enjoy a festival.
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