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  • Writer's pictureAllan Jenks

First Impressions: Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: Julia Oh

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Category: Simulation

Release Date: 3.20.2020

Price: $59.99

Note: These are only my first impressions after playing through the first in-game day of New Horizons so it is by no means a comprehensive review. All observations and impressions are limited mainly to what I’ve personally encountered while playing, or details of past Directs and trailers I happened to remember.

Hours of brainstorming, planning, sketching, and analyzing trailers has come to this moment: March 20, in the year of our lord and savior, Tom Nook, the cutest little bourgeois extortionist you hate to love. And, in New Horizons, he’s twice as endearing as his chubby belly: if you walk into the Resident Services tent, you can even catch him scratching said chubby belly, drinking a can of soda, or reading a book. Grab your headphones, put on your loungewear, but don’t touch any snacks, lest you ruin your brand-new Animal Crossing special edition console, because you’re in for a real treat!

Indecision defines the majority of my life, so it says a lot when I say the spate of early-game decisions in New Horizons is pretty easy breezy. Taking details that have been withstanding throughout the series and making them impermanent in this latest installation is refreshing, which is pretty on-brand for New Horizons. The introduction of the mirror, which allows you to revisit the character customization screen, makes creating your villager pretty anxiety free. Also, being able to remap every building and house, save for the town hall, really takes the pressure off of finding the perfect spots for your tent, your starter villagers’ tents, and Blathers’ museum.

Right from the get go, you know New Horizonsis going to surpass each and every expectation you’ve had since it was confirmed back in September 2018. The island breeze is literal, and the littoral looks as pleasant as an actual Aruban shore. The attention to detail is substantial: the wake of each fish, the twinkle of the stars, the true-to-lifeness of each bug and sea creature (seriously, my reptile brain recoiled when I saw the tarantula). Animal Crossing has yet again, and superlatively so, married cartoon and realism to give it its signature charm—giving you just enough authenticity for immersion, yet enough romance to escape.

Visually, New Horizons is a delight, in both color and texture, and I’m happy to say that its music has remained as soothing as it has been since the series’ inception. Even the base sound effects got an upgrade: the satisfying ker-glunk made when a big fish bites, the sound of the trees blowing in the afternoon breeze, the different intonations of Animalese given to each villager.

One of the things I was most worried about was running into the same conversational bits over and over again—that and recycled personalities were one of the biggest drawbacks of previous releases. I’m happy to report so far that after speaking to my starters, Bam and Canberra, over a dozen times each, I haven’t run into a single repeated bit!

And I’d say that Nintendo has gone beyond just fixing mundane conversation.

I talked to Bam five times consecutively just to see what the variety in conversation would be like. As it’s been in previous games, he got a little gloomy after being pestered so much, so just to be a troll, I talked to him once more. Interestingly, he was turned around, so he started talking normally… until he turns around and realizes it’s me, which is when he says, “Oh, sorry, I thought you were someone else,” and stops talking. Rejection has never felt so good.

On top of that, after putting on the Outdoor Hat Bam gifted me after taking it upon myself to place his tent, the next time I spoke to him while wearing it, he commented on the addition to my outfit, and reminisced on when he gave it to me about four minutes prior. It was adorable.

I didn’t think they’d be able to add more to do, more to see, and more to achieve in Animal Crossing, but here we are. New Horizons has maintained all the charm of its predecessors while building upon it with quality of life improvements and new mechanics, including a tool wheel and the grid system carried over from Happy Home Designer, which I’m sure every Animal Crossingfan is ecstatic about, as it introduces opportunities (and space) for decorating.

I’d say the foremost mechanic introduced in New Horizons is the DIY crafting system. I personally am a huge fan of this system, and think that it’s done for Animal Crossing what weapon durability did for The Legend of Zelda—although it’s probably less contentious since resources are aplenty on your island, so there’s no need to be as precious with your tools as you’d be with, say, the Biggoron’s Sword. I like the charm the DIY system adds as your villager discovers new recipes on their own. For example, when my villager fishes out her first can from the river, she realizes it can be repurposed and, voila, a new DIY recipe is discovered!

The other leading novel mechanic in New Horizons that humorously and cleverly contemporizes the series is the Nook Phone. Complete with Bluetooth capabilities, the Nook Phone houses several features like a camera (complete with filters), encyclopedia, DIY recipe book, and Nook Miles, a new type of currency you can swap for upgrades and novelties, and earn by reaching milestones and doing everyday activities. Nook Miles+, an early-game update to the standard Nook Miles, is a great addition to help keep you busy when you seemingly run out of tasks to do—especially in the very beginning when you don’t have access to the very-much-advertised pole vault, which allows you to explore the rest of your island.

Other random features and improvements I noticed and am far too excited about include stackable bug and fish enclosures and fruit serving an actual purpose in-game. The weeds even got an upgrade, and they serve a crafting purpose. Amongst clumps of crabgrass are adorable clovers you can pick up and replant. No longer must you slave over pixels in the pattern designer to get that fashionable pastoral, rustic look (although no word yet if unpicked weeds affect the perceived beauty/cleanliness of your town).

The very few drawbacks:

  • If you’re a “time traveler,” tough luck: it seems they’ve done away with the in-game clock, so if you want to time travel, you have to do so by messing with your system’s internal calendar. For those unfamiliar with the time traveling “cheat”, it used to be that you could progress through Animal Crossing’s otherwise real-time calendar by fiddling with its in-game clock so you didn’t have to wait 12-24 hours to progress through the game.

  • Now that fruit has an actual function within the game, I wish we were able to eat fruits in bulk rather than having to click, select, and eat every piece.

  • While picking weeds, multiple drops of wood, and other resources, I realized how much I would love being able to pick up multiples of the same item without having to move, pick, and pocket each individual item.

The magic of Animal Crossing is singular, but New Horizons brings the series to new heights. Not to mention during these gloomy times when many of us are involuntarily distancing ourselves from loved ones, New Horizons is a drizzle of pure joy. So, pop on some headphones, catch some fish, pop up a tent, and remember that bad times... are just times that are bad.

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