It’s clear we need calm in this crazy world right now and with some sort of magical timing, Nintendo’s latest Animal Crossing has appeared to provide its special brand of cosy reassurance.
Those old hands will already know what special treats await in the latest Animal Crossing despite the differences, it follows the tried and tested routine of collecting items, making friends, organising your living space and exploring.
But the developers certainly haven’t sat on their laurels for the Switch’s entry into the long running series and from the outset there are tweaks big and small to give New Horizons its own identity. The first is possibly the most obvious from the outset; this game looks amazing. While the style and substance of the graphics are unmistakably Animal Crossing, the detail, animation and colour bring the series to life like never before, even in handheld mode. Shadows fall from lampposts and waterfalls splash playfully into to the streams where the fish swim ready to be hooked on to your waiting line. It’s all familiar but seen through a clearer, crisper lens.
This is also the feeling you get when playing, it’s full of the unmistakable busy work of past games but with a clearer goal and more intricate tasks. Bells, the traditional Animal Crossing currency, are now supplemented by Nook Miles, obtained by completing set tasks, very much like a set of achievements, and can initially be used to pay back your travel fees before being put towards tickets to visit other islands or more exclusive furniture.
Being a desert island, the map feels a little different than before, initially starting you off in a small tent with only 2 other companions, aside from philanthropist and long time Animal Crossing character Tom Nook, plus his 2 nephews; Timmy and Tommy. It isn’t long before your tent turns into a house, you’ve built a shop and invites new friends from your island hopping over to live on your island, though.
Daily tasks range from picking up leaves (which actually now serve a purpose) and tree branches to capturing bugs and fish, plus helping fellow islanders and growing your island. It’s often busy work but presented in a way that feels like a calming ritual that pulls you deeper into its world and it always ends with a reward of some kind. This leads to the bigger stuff such as preparing for new islanders by getting a resident services built and ensuring Blathers, the Owl museum curator has enough exhibits in order to properly open his museum on the island.
Crafting is the headline new feature in New Horizons, your tools and furniture aren’t just given to you, you’ll now have to craft them from recipes on your new Nook Phone, provided by Tom Nook (who else?!) and added to via various sources, including Nook Miles. This leads to some interesting customisation later in the game, not just for furniture but also for clothes, which can produce some pretty interesting fashion choices should you wish. Patterns for your house and other items are more detailed and have a much more in depth creator than New Leaf provided.
Growing the island and living the island life may be the goals here but there’s no real end point, it’s just not that type of game. While other casual sims such as EA’s Sims 4 task you with frantically keeping your characters alive, Animal Crossing has always been content with letting you set your own pace and the only danger is the sting from a wasp or scorpion, easily remedied with a trip to the shop for medicine.
Ultimately, every Animal Crossing is a unique experience for each person who plays it and New Horizons is even more so. Your own self enclosed pocket universe of calm is waiting for you right now, you just need a ticket to the island and it’s well worth the price.