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Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is arguably the biggest game coming to Nintendo Switch this year, acting as the next entry in a beloved series. Is it really worth all the hype? Let's dive in and find out.

Verdict

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the best game I've played this year, and immediately cements itself as one of the generation's defining experiences. Fans will be playing it for years, watching as the seasons roll by and unveil the true potential of what has been created here.

Pros

  • Beautiful, adorable and a joy to look at
  • All of its systems are wonderfully deep and rewarding
  • So many exciting events and content are on the horizon
  • Builds upon and improves on everything that came before it
  • Ferociously addictive and remarkably paced

Cons

  • There’s only a certain amount of things to do per day
  • Deeper relationships with islanders would be great
  • Tom Nook

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £49.99
  • Genre: Life Simulator
  • Platforms: Nintendo Switch
  • Release Date: March 20, 2020
  • Developer: Nintendo

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons is everything I wanted it to be. This also means it’s hardly changed at all, maintaining the charmingly simple formula that made previous games so iconic.

It’s an adorable experience that constantly surprises, euphoric in the satisfaction it provides with each mechanic, no matter how big or small.

The second I arrived on Tom Nook’s deserted island I was positively enraptured, smiling widely as hours melted away in what felt like an instant. New Horizons expands what came before it, taking cues from the likes of Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon while leaving the simplistic core intact. My favourite part of the whole adventure is that things are only just beginning, with the bulk of New Horizons set to emerge across it’s long, prosperous life. 

Nintendo has crafted one of the best games on Nintendo Switch, or perhaps any platform in the past several years, truly proving it is the master of first-party blockbusters that aren’t in dire need of fancy graphics or overblown features to shine. It’s a pure, unfiltered delight that surprises at every turn. 

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Animal Crossing New Horizons

While Animal Crossing: New Leaf saw you accidentally stumble into the governmental position of a fledgeling town, New Horizons turns the tables in some wonderfully unexpected ways. Raccoon Capitalist Tom Nook has become unsatisfied with bleeding villagers dry with obsessive loans and has now settled on a new venture – luring poor souls to a deserted island where there is no escape from his deceptive schemes. 

Before arriving on the island with little more than a sleeping bag to my name, it was time to design my character. New Horizons’ approach to avatar creation is beautifully inclusive. There are no traditional gender options, so whether you’re male, female or non-binary, you can design a virtual island representative who perfectly fits your appearance. Options for hairstyles and skin tones have also been vastly expanded, and you can change things with ease whenever you like.

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After I felt sufficiently adorable, I started my first day of island life. With Animal Crossing: New Horizons playing out in real-time, the first week is relatively slow and relaxing. You’ll get to grips with mechanics as the island slowly populates with museums, shops and additional islanders hoping to start a new life away from civilization. While these tasks all sound rather boring from a distance, how you’re involved makes them anything but. 

Every islander is unique, boasting a bespoke appearance and dialogue that perfectly fits their charming traits. A green koala obsessed with body-building would constantly compliment me on my clothes and how they helped my muscles pop, or boast about the epic new exercise bench pitched in his tent. While another islander was a self-proclaimed popstar, boasting about her lofty ambitions as I passed by. 

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Animal Crossing New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is all about personality, and it’s gushing from every conceivable place. Every snippet of dialogue is exquisite, precision-engineered to mine a smile out of even the most cynical of players. My personal favourite is a Dodo working at the airport who speaks in overblown military jargon – treating a gentle island retreat like you’re touching down in a warzone. It’s hilarious and had me grinning like a fool. 

The general gameplay loop remains largely unchanged from previous entries, but it’s far deeper and more refined in nearly every respect. Nintendo has clearly been playing Stardew Valley since many of New Horizons’ more ambitious elements mirror what made that game so wonderful. While many feared the crafting system would add needless complexity to affairs, it does anything but. 

Introduced in the opening moments, crafting is the foundation to almost everything you do in New Horizons. It is performed to craft tools, furniture, medicine and structures like bridges and housing kits which will help your island grow over a vast number of hours. DIY Recipes are obtained daily, so you’ve always got a creative endeavour to strive for while hoovering up your usual laundry list of tasks. New Horizons is the ultimate carrot on a stick, with even the most monotonous of actions proving to be an absolute joy. 

I lost my mind after climbing a ladder for the first time, a new mechanic which feels small, but changes the game in so many ways. Resources such as wood, stone and weeds are normally gathered while you’re doing other things, so the act of collecting ingredients never feels like a temporary obstacle to progress. 

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Animal Crossing New Horizons

While chopping down trees for wood I’d find myself constantly distracted by fellow islanders or creepy crawlies simply begging to be bought and sold. There’s always something to do, and the most exciting part is that the true meat of New Horizons is yet to even show its face. Much like previous games in the series, New Horizons is split into seasons which abide by a real-world calendar. So right now, it’s spring – coming with all the weather, wildlife and events you’d expect. 

Summer will bring forth festivals as we party into the evening, while autumn will chronicle the falling of leaves from trees, all culminating in the winter where the building of snowmen becomes commonplace as Christmas approaches. Nintendo has confirmed that special events will be held regularly, providing you with an incentive to keep playing beyond the opening weeks. I can’t wait to see where this leads since even after only a couple of weeks with the game, I’m itching to discover what else is on the horizon.

Nintendo is aware that all the new features that come packaged with New Horizons might feel overwhelming, so it’s devised a mechanic to make things simple – The Nookphone. It’s a smart device which houses all the information you’ll ever need concerning the island, and it even comes fitted with a customisable case. Once again, it imbues an unexpected yet eternally welcome level of charm that had me smiling each time my adorable avatar pulled it out to check their quests or receive a rare call.

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Animal Crossing New Horizons

Your phone incorporates a new form of currency with Nook Miles. These are earned by completing a constantly evolving list of quests that reward you for the obvious achievements of catching certain fish and bugs to surprise foils like shooting a present down from the sky only to have it land in a river. There’s also a neverending list of rotating missions, ensuring you’ve always got something pushing you forward once a day’s activities have dried up.

Since Animal Crossing is designed to be played over an entire year or more, growing bored after a handful of hours can leave you desperate for more, but there’s often no choice but to wait it out. Quests alleviate this problem to a certain degree, but my impatience is more a testament to the game’s overall brilliance than a distinguishable flaw.

Every new day in New Horizons brings with it a thrilling development or adorable surprise, pushing you to poke and prod at every little thing with the glee of a child. There’s a sense of wonder throughout Animal Crossing that is unmatched – there’s simply nothing like it. Purists will be happy to learn that iconic characters like Blathers, Isabelle and The Able Sisters return, slotting into island life with ease. I refuse to spoil how they come to arrive and what their purposes are since that’s something I want you discovering for yourself.

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Animal Crossing New Horizons

When you aren’t greeting villagers, completing quests or growing the island’s infrastructure – New Horizons is all about crafting your own identity. Home is where the heart is, and you’re expected to pour everything into how your living arrangements reflect who you are. I did this by wearing frilly dresses and prancing about the island like the fabulous princess I am or filling my house with furniture I customised with different colours until it gelled perfectly with my aesthetic.

I’ve probably seen less than 10% of what Animal Crossing: New Horizons has to offer across all its systems, and even after 20 hours I’m so, so entranced that I cannot wait to see more. It’s infectiously brilliant, having me waking up at 6am to fit in a solid handful of hours before work. Island life combats the stress of reality, acting as a comfy blanket you can sink into whenever you want. It’s also something you can share with friends by visiting their islands of inviting them to your own, which is surprisingly easy despite Nintendo’s infamous reputation for online functionality.

Getting a handful of characters together for an impromptu photography session is brilliant, and there’s even a special island you can visit with a Photo Studio. Here you can spawn several props and characters, the latter of which appear once you’ve scanned the relevant amiibo. It’s a cool bonus, but not one I see myself returning to much. Outside of my island, I had the most fun with Nook Miles Vouchers.

Once given to the airport, they whisk you away to a randomly generated island ripe with loot to scoop up and characters to meet. Animals found here can even be coaxed to become permanent residents of your island. Because I’m evil, I left the mingers hanging while inviting all the cutest animals to live with me. It’s a far cry from New Leaf’s Vacation Island, which grew repetitive after only a handful of visits. Here, every excursion is a new adventure.

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Animal Crossing New Horizons

Verdict

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the best game I’ve played this year, and immediately cements itself as one of the generation’s defining experiences. Fans will be playing it for years, watching as the seasons roll by and unveil the true potential of what has been created here.

Alongside the implementation of future updates and content created by players themselves, it’s only going to evolve into something greater, which is a triumphant achievement given the foundations are already that of a masterpiece. If you own a Switch, what are you waiting for?

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