Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch) - Review Extravaganza

You've wanted it, and we're bringing it. We've been with the game for a decent amount of time, and we've seen a few substantial updates which let us know what's to come in the future. This review will be very lengthy and in-depth to give our proper thoughts and experiences on the game!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons from Nintendo AU. Thoughts and opinions in this review are solely my own and have not been influenced, nor reflect those at Nintendo.

For those unaware, Animal Crossing is a very popular video game series by Nintendo, and fans have eagerly been waiting for the next instalment since 2013, or 2012 if you imported from Japan. The series first started on the N64 in Japan, and has certainly come a long way since then! New Horizons makes many changes to the series, and our review will go over what's changed, what we like, what we don't like, as well as many other things!

First of all, this is the first main series game in the franchise that has somewhat of a story behind it. The main pull here is that you've arrived a deserted island, and Tom Nook and co. want to make it a place on the map; thus it's up to you to help populate and improve the island. As the days go by and you make progress, you'll start to unlock more and more features. There is a very basic welcome tutorial which we've posted about here if you're interested in giving that a read. Something I saw a lot during the pre-release period for New Horizons was the opinion of "the game doesn't tell you how to unlock certain features" which had me worried, though playing the game for myself, as long as you keep checking in with Tom Nook and taking his advice on board, you're not going to have any issues with unlocking stuff.

In saying that, the game is very slow in the first week or two, but that mainly comes down to how you play. Personally, I find doing the same stuff over and over gets tedious, and starting out, you'll find that unlocking new features is few and far between, and there'll be days and days where you'll just be doing the same things over and over. In New Leaf, after two weeks of gameplay, you could have unlocked Kicks, The Museum Shop, Tortimer Island, Club LOL, Dream Suite, The Roost, Garden Shop, and have upgraded the Nookling's Store at least once. When you compare that to New Horizons, after the same time, you'd have unlocked The Able Sisters and Museum (both of which were available form the start in New Leaf), Resident Services upgrade, Art Museum Upgrade, Photopia, and Nook's Cranny. Of course, you'll have a number of tourists visiting the Island, including Kicks and Leif, but personally it just feels like you're making a lot less progress. I'm not someone who will Time Travel to unlock everything, but a steady pace of unlocking stuff, and having something to work towards really made the early days of New Leaf feel a lot more enjoyable than New Horizons.

To help counteract this player fatigue, Nintendo have allowed the player to have much more freedom compared to New Leaf. With the new Island Designer app, you can alter the terrain of your Island. It'll take roughly two weeks to unlock, but once you've received the app, the ideas are near unlimited on how you can alter your Island.

In saying that, it is a very intimidating tool when you first unlock it. I really didn't have much of an idea on how I wanted to design my Island, even though I'd been frantically doing my best to unlock it. There were places I wanted to design, but you have to switch between your shovel, axe, pockets, and app just to work on a small piece of land. In the end, I got too overwhelmed and just gave up. It wasn't until I started talking to a few other players that I really got into things.

Don't get me wrong, it's a really great addition, and I'm sure there are a lot of creative players out there who love it, but I just can't get the hang of it. I'm not much of a creative person myself, and I get very turned off whenever I start up the app, because I really don't know where to start. I did ask around when I first unlocked it, and was advised to just work on smaller areas of the map, which I did, and I must say, that has helped a lot, but I'm still finding my feet with it all.

I never did a proper review of New Leaf, so my gripes with that game may not be well known, but my biggest issue with the game was the amount of customization they gave you, but the lack of freedom. If that doesn't make sense, let me explain. Villagers could place their houses anywhere, but you didn't have control over where they went, unless you wanted to spend hours plot resetting. The Public Works Projects that could be placed around the Town were unlocked at random, and also locked behind certain villager personalities. These two things together really hindered my enjoyment. I didn't want to work on my town, I didn't want to spend hours on an area, only to have a Villager place their house right in the middle of it the very next day, or wait weeks until I finally got that PWP I was so desperate for.

New Horizon's has completely fixed both these issues, and I couldn't be happier! First of all, you actually have control over where Villagers place their houses. Not only that, but you can also decide where the shops go. If you don't like these spots you can freely change them at any time. The only two things you can't move are the Airport, and Resident Services, which at least make sense. I'm not longer scared of spending days landscaping my Island, only to have it ruined by someone moving in. The new DIY Recipes are much more readily available than Public Works Projects in the previous instalments, but they still have some issues (more on that later).

This is where a missing feature, and an underwhelming feature really come to play - the Dream Suite and Mystery Tours. The Dream Suite was by far my favorite addition to New Leaf, and it's upsetting to see it hasn't reappeared in New Horizons as of yet. In saying that, when the Mystery Tours were first revealed, I was ecstatic, but once you've gone on a few, you've basically seen them all... There's very little variety, and those that do have some variety to them are so hard to come by it's not worth the time and effort spent looking for them. It'd be nice if you could visit Islands with different seasons and such, but since they removed Tortimer Island to stop players stocking up on out of season bugs, it's not a shock you can't. Understandably, their inclusion is likely to allow the player to farm materials outside of their own Island, but there's still a lot more they could've done with this feature.

It would be incredible to see the Dream Suite return, plus a lot more variety with the Mystery Tours. With terraforming, this would be such a great was to grab some inspiration for your Island! Plus, it's such a shame seeing all these players put all that effort into their Islands, without having a real way to show it off. If the Dream Suite ever returns, (and I'm sure it will), it'll push this game replayability into new horizons (excuse the pun). It's just a shame it wasn't included in the base game.

Something else that I think would add something else to the game is dialogue improvements to Nook, Isabelle, and Blathers. When you first start the game, Nook gives you a tonne of advice on how to help bring K.K. Slider to your island, but once he's visited, his advice just stops. It'd be really nice if he continue giving advice, such as hybrid breeding, fishing tips, and even how to collect certain materials. Additionally, with the abundance of visitors available (more on that below), it would be nice to see Isabelle announce who was visiting each day, this would certainly help with the repetitiveness of her announcing she found her lost sock each morning...

Blathers could also benefit here, too. With so many fish and bugs to catch, and how obscure some can be (the game doesn't even tell you that some fish are exclusive to the pier!), it'd be cool if Blathers gave you hints on certain bugs/fish you still needed to catch that season. After all, he's researching the wildlife on the Island, a simple line of "I heard there's a rare fish that can only be caught off the pier, the Tuna! Maybe try using bait to lure one in?" or "the Scorpion is a dangerous bug that only appears at night, I'd love to get my hands on one" would add a little more life to the characters, as well as help out those players who don't use guides.

Now lets talk visitors. There's a lot this time around - Flick, CJ, Labelle, Kicks, Saharah, Gulliver, Redd, Leif, Daisy Mae, K.K. Slider, Wisp, Celeste, and I'm sure there's a couple more I'm missing - but the rate at which they appear is very slow. Since the update that brought Redd in came out a month ago, I've only seen him 2 or 3 times. Some days there won't even by any visitors on your Island, but with a cast this large, I don't think there should be a day without one. Even Harvey will only visit the one time to let you unlock Photopia (which I forget exists half the time), it'd be nice if he just randomly appeared on your Island every now and then, especially since he's so close by. I had a look back over the weekend and made a tweet with how long it'd been since I last had Redd/Gulliver, and it's been way too long. I really hope this is something that gets fixed in the future.
But with all the special visitors that can appear, there doesn't seem to be enough new faces this time around. You've got 8 new villagers, one for each personality type, and I'll admit they're all great, but there's no new villager species, and of the new special visitors, most of them replace old characters, like Chip, Nat, Joan, and Porter. It's not a drawback by any means, but with such a gap between the series, and what's arguably the biggest title thus far, it does seem a little uninspired with the lack of new faces.

Of course, these are all just some small quality of life improvements that I'd love to see, which they really don't hinder the gameplay all that much. On the topic of that though, Youtuber Nick Ha has created a lovely fan-made video that goes over a number of QOL updates that'd be incredible to see in the game. Check it out below!

Outside of the major feature updates, Nintendo have really listened to fan feedback and sent out minor patches to help improve gameplay. With any game there's bound to be glitches at launch, and Nintendo have been quick to fix those. The plot glitch and duplication glitch were both quickly patched not long after they were first discovered, and the "Egg-pocalypse" and Balloon glitch which affected gameplay, were also promptly fixed. It's great to see a company care about their fanbase and swiftly fix any issues that came up. 

Finally, let's talk about crafting! Crafting is one of the new additions to the series, and one of the major selling points, which seamlessly blends in with the whole deserted island aesthetic, but it's got its drawbacks to it (though a lot of these could be fixed with the above QOL improvements!). The main issue left here is how DIY Recipes are obtained. There's so many in the game (over 500!), but it gets very cumbersome to collect them. You'll find you'll have a lot of duplicates (right now half my beach if filled with doubles), and I understand this was done with the intention of trading with friends, but there are some people out there who either can't, or prefer to play alone. A nice fix would to either add a dedicated special character who you can buy/sell/trade your extras with, or simply add 2 or 3 into a daily rotation at Nook's Cranny.

However, the bigger issue I have with crafting is it's hindrance to furniture customization... Now we don't have Cyrus and his customization corner, if you're after a piece of furniture in a different color or style that you didn't craft, and instead bought from Nook's Cranny, the only way to get the style you're looking for is to either wait until it appears in the shop again, or trade with another player. Again, I totally understand this is to encourage online play between users, but it's one of those things that just feels like a set back from New Leaf. I half half the Rattan series in white, the other half in brown, and a handful of pieces in black. I just want to place these in my house in the same uniform color, but I can't easily change them without going through a few hoops first.

Over the years, there's been a number of additions to each instalment, and there are two glaring omissions that I feel should've been in the game since the start. One I'm very confident in returning, the aforementioned Dream Suite, the other. the other, not so much - the Shopping Card. For those unaware, the Shopping Card was an item unique to City Folk which allowed the player to purchase items without the Bells in their inventory, providing they had the funds in their ABD via the card. There was also a gold version which granted players a 20% discount, though just the standard edition would suffice.

So many items in New Horizons have had their prices changed, a good example being the laptop. In the previous titles, it was only a small 2,000 bells, but now, try 70,000, and there are many more items like this. I'm not going to complain about the prices, but I really feel in a game where it's very easy to spend bells, the Shopping Card would be a most welcomed addition, though it seems to be lost in the Wii era...

Though, the best thing in the game, is just how alive it feels. Animal Crossing is a game that's always ran on a real-time clock, but New Horizons makes the world feel much more immersive. Villagers can be exercising, drinking, eating, observing the environment, it all feels very natural, like a living, breathing world. Furthermore, the spawn rates and times of certain bugs and fish have been tweaked from previous series. I remember way back playing Wild World, and during the Winter, barely any bugs spawned. You had your cockroach, fly, bee, mole cricket, dung beetle, ant and pill bug; honestly, it made the world seem dead and depressing. Now that those in the Southern Hemisphere have just come into the Winter months, there's now butterflies and dragonflies in the air, rather than leaving the colder months bare bones and baron. To some, that might seem like a minor change, but to me, it really adds to the realism of the world, making it feel much more lively ecosystem. Just by looking at it, you can tell the developers really cared about putting out a beautiful piece of art in video game form.

I know a lot of this review seems negative, but that's not the case at all, and originally I had a lot more written, but due to some technical difficulties, that all disappeared. This really is the best game in the series to date, and with the many future updates it's bound to receive. I adore and love this game and it's certainly been a saviour during these past few months. There's always something to do, whether it's participate in one of the many on going events, or work on developing your Island, you'll find something. It's sure to be an enjoyable game for many more years to come.

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