Much-needed island getaway: “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” review

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Photo courtesy of Nintendo

by Akie Kasai, Reporter

From the random Animalese babblings of the villagers and other characters to the consistent cartoony art style that a passionate fan base loves, the Animal Crossing series is one of Nintendo’s most successful franchises with “Animal Crossing: New Leaf” selling over 12.45 million units, making the game one of the top-selling titles on the Nintendo 3DS. The latest of the series, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” released March 20 and received “universal acclaim” from the review aggregator website Metacritic, but many users initially criticized the lack of local multiplayer support. Despite these criticisms, this game is the perfect vacation for veterans and incoming fans. Players can enjoy this laid-back island vacation with updated graphics and fun mechanics that was well worth the delay.

Slow start

Explained by raccoon businessman Tom Nook in the Animal Crossing: New Horizons Direct, the player receives the “Deserted Island Getaway Package” to live on a peaceful island with two randomly selected animal villagers. The player is given complete control in where they can place the villager’s homes — a freedom that didn’t exist in previous games. This blank canvas of an island allows a creative player to customize areas beyond the walls of the player’s home.

In “New Horizons,” however, the player now needs to unlock buildings that were pre-established in previous installments, like the museum and clothing shop. The game restricts access to certain parts of the island for the first few days of gameplay since the player needs to craft tools in order to hop across the river and climb up cliffs. This artificial block makes the player engaged in the game and improves the game experience as a whole. Nevertheless, the deserted island setting stands out from previous games where the player moved into a new town already full of shops and animals going about their lives. This new take is a breath of fresh air to the stagnant series of games. 

Game Mechanics

“New Horizons” doesn’t deviate from the core gameplay mechanics of the series. It maintains a laid-back life simulation where the game progresses in real-time and the player has no in-game objectives. There are various types of players: from the collector who wishes to find all the fish, bugs, and fossils to the decorators who truly benefit from having a fully customizable area beyond the walls of the player’s home. The game accommodates all sorts of players, especially with the new mechanics. 

New mechanics such as placing furniture outdoors to terraforming let players customize their island. The stunning creativity that comes from players allows users to share designs and play together.  Giving players tools to create has been a recent trend coming from game-creation systems like “Super Mario Maker 2” or “Dreams.” However, players need to join the Nintendo Switch Online paid service in order to access other people’s designs. These creative tools are a step in the right direction but Nintendo took a step back with the paid service to access other people’s designs.

Graphics

As Polygon pointed out, “New Horizons” is the first full Animal Crossing game to have HD graphics. This visual improvement is a drastic change from the 240p Nintendo 3DS screen in “New Leaf.” While a small pillbug looked like a black pixel on the 3DS, the Nintendo Switch console offers higher detail on even the smallest insects. The game designers created impressive objects that interact with the environment like this fan blowing air on plants. Even though these visual details are purely aesthetic, they all combine to make the environment feel alive and vibrant.

Multiplayer

One common complaint is the “one island per switch” feature. This feature locks one save file or island to one console. If another individual wanted to live on their own separate island, they would need their own console and copy of the game. This is strange considering the Nintendo Switch has one of the best profile systems of any game console. Each player can have their own profile, and game saves are kept completely separate. 

However, “New Horizons” circumvents this feature because only the first player receives the title of “Island Representative.” Up to eight people can play on the save file; yet, the other members wouldn’t receive the same benefits as the player who started the game. This may be a problem for those people who share a Switch, but this shared island experience with multiple human residents in one village ultimately helps to improve the “Animal Crossing” experience.

Taking a step toward a “New Horizon” 

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” found new life on the Switch, similar to other series that made a comeback on the Nintendo Switch such as “Pokemon Sword” and “Pokemon Shield”, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” and “Super Mario Odyssey”. The game has already sold over 1.8 million physical copies in Japan during the first week of its release, making it one of the fastest selling Switch games. This fun sandbox game with few flaws deserves this success, making Animal Crossing just as significant as other Nintendo series like “Mario” or “The Legend of Zelda.” 

“New Horizons” comes with updated graphics, quality of life improvements and brand new customization options that attracts old and new players. Upcoming special events such as the free Egg Day update increase the longevity and replayability of the game. While the cycle of crafting, fossil hunting, fishing and bug catching may not appeal to everyone, it is much needed during this stressful time