Review: Enjoy the good life in Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Cape Town - The launch of Nintendo’s new installment of its long-running Animal Crossing franchise, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, could not have happened at a more appropriate time. Now that people have hunkered down and holed up in their homes in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, the subject matter of this easy-going life simulator is a near perfect method of escapism in these serious and depressing times.
What’s less of a coincidence is how much time actually factors into whether you’ll love or hate this game. I describe it as easy-going, but there is much content crammed into this Nintendo Switch exclusive that it has the potential to swallow up your day, for better or worse.
New Horizons starts out by you filling out some paperwork and then jetting off to a remote tropical island where you can begin a new life, courtesy of Mr. Nook, a tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog) and Chief Executive of Nook, Inc. Joined by a host of different anthropomorphic residents, it is up to you to establish an idyllic community. Give the island a name, find a place to pitch your tent, build a store where numerous items can be bought and sold. As you progress, Mr Nook offers to build you a house, provided you make good on the subsequent loan at a later date. From there on, there is so much to do. You can go fishing, hunt for insects and dig up fossils, either to be sold for profit or donated to a new museum run by an enthusiastic owl. You can craft your own items and tools using raw materials sourced from your own island or others that you can visit. Everything from giant robot statues and tiki torches to furniture and light fittings can be collected, all of which is available for competitive prices.
As much as this game is very family friendly, it is also very pro-capitalism. But those undertones can be disregarded due simply to the vast amount of content and things you can do in the game. Having spent a week playing New Horizons, I have not yet grown bored and the chores haven’t become monotonous.
All in good time
One of the biggest stand-out elements of New Horizons is the fact that its world and gameplay is tied directly to the real-world clock. Logging in early in the morning, you’ll be treated to your remote island basking in the warm glow of a sunrise. Hours later, you’ll watch the sun set and the moon rise to take its place. It also features diverse weather conditions.
Tying up in your game in real time may not sound very impactful, but it does present some challenges for players who may not be suited to its playstyle. For example, setting about trying to capture and catalogue every insect and fish may take a while if some critters only come out at night (I have seen a tarantula only once and it was at 11pm).
Infrastructure expansion also takes a daily cycle to happen. If you set out plans and pay off a new bridge across a river, its construction will only be completed the next day. There are also a few instances of immediate gameplay that could stretch players’ patience even more.
Making donations to the museum and assessing fossils only happens after a large amount of dialogue between characters, during which you find yourself clicking the A-button in the hopes it will speed the interaction up.
Home is where the heart is
New Horizons’ biggest drawcard is its extensive level of customization. You can build and collect anything on the island. It may not seem to be the case at first as shopping options are limited and the item list cycles through different things daily. But even within that small amount of daily choices, you can choose everything from wallpaper and flooring, furniture and appliances, toys and novelties, to outdoor items and clothing.
A sizable portion of these items are themselves customisable. You can change the kind of wood that your bedside tables are made from. You can even change the cover of your handy smartphone. All this in the pursuit of creating an island that is unique in every way.
Nintendo is pushing ideas of inclusivity and sharing with this game. Players who have a Nintendo Online account can then access the game’s multiplayer options. You and your friends can visit each other’s homes, trade items, maybe even steal flowers from each other’s island. This is also a big drawcard that I wish was available for all players and not having access to it may impact the game’s longevity in the long term. But as someone who doesn’t have a Nintendo Online account, I’m more than happy with what there is to.
Nintendo has gone and created a beautiful game, one that can be really appreciated in current times and circumstances. It has some frustrating limitations on how much you can actually play it, and a few of the accompanying musical tracks can get on one’s nerves. But there are nitpicks in the grander scheme. Animal Crossing has never been so much fun.