Released: March 2020
Rating: E (Comic Mischief)
Relaxing, paced gameplay along with endless customisation options makes Animal Crossing: New Horizons the game of lockdown. AC:NH is a vibrant, rewarding experience that allows you to build your own virtual paradise. So if you’ve ever had the urge to escape the real world for your own desert island, this is the game for you.
Starting out, you arrive with two other villagers on a remote island as part of a ‘getaway package’ offered by Tom Nook — your guide and landlord. Choosing from one of three randomly generated islands, you slowly develop your own community and shape the layout and feel of your new home. The first few days of my playthrough were mostly focused on setting up the island’s shop, gathering and selling resources, and upgrading my tent into a brick and mortar house. As in-game time is the same as real-time, upgrades can often be slow; it took a while to get the necessary ‘DIY recipes’ to craft tools and really get into the game.
However, once you’ve got the essentials, the customisation options are almost endless. Unlike previous chapters of the Animal Crossing franchise, you’re able to move buildings, place furniture outside, and design your own island however you want. The level of customisation and number of craftable objects left me feeling overwhelmed at times. Just under a month into the game, it seems I’ve barely scratched the surface, only just recently unlocking the ability to make paths and terraform my island’s landscape. Unless you want to play about with your console’s date and time settings (a practice known as ‘time travelling’ in the Animal Crossing community), it will take a while to progress through the storyline and unlock total customisation.
It’s unusual to talk about a storyline at all in an Animal Crossing game, but there is a narrative and, predictably, it’s very wholesome. To make Tom Nook’s getaway package a success, you’re tasked with raising the rating of your island. This five-star rating takes into account outdoor furniture, residents, scenery, and more. It’s simple and doesn’t feel overbearing, meaning you’re mostly free to play the game at your own pace and focus on what you want to do.
Of course, there’s a lot to do outside of this. The usual Animal Crossing recipe returns, with plenty of bugs and fish to catch. I found these oddly satisfying to collect and trying to fill my ‘critterpedia’ has been a long but enjoyable journey. Some bugs and fish are seasonal or only appear under certain conditions, so you’ll be in it for the long haul. Donating one each of what you catch — along with any fossils you find — to your island’s museum will also reward you with facts about the species from its curator, Blathers. While you can skip through this dialogue, it’s genuinely educational and I found myself sitting through it. Once donated, your finds are beautifully showcased inside the museum, making your hard work all the more rewarding.
Getting to know the other residents that arrive on your island is also key; 10 out of over 400 characters can move in. Each has a distinct personality (with houses to match) and will interact with you in different ways. Talking and giving gifts will improve your friendship with them and, in turn, they’ll start bringing you ‘DIY recipes’ and other presents. If you somehow get bored of your own island, you have the option to explore others. Purchasing a ticket for a Dodo Airlines flight from your island’s airport will randomly take you to one of a variety of islands. This lets you gather more resources and gives you the chance to discover islands with unique items. I’ve become hooked on trying to find the rarer islands, having to spend Nook Miles (one of the game’s two currencies) to do so.
A Nintendo Switch Online membership also lets you travel to your friends’ islands. While the connectivity is enjoyable, the process can be tedious. Unnecessary cutscenes and limits on what you can do are frustrating although they don’t hugely detract from the overall experience. An online connection also means updates. The game has already seen an update in April, adding new shops, characters, a museum expansion, and long-awaited hedges. More importantly, it’s free. While other Switch games are charging a premium for new content, free is appreciated.
Overall, Animal Crossing: New Horizons makes you pace yourself. I’ve found myself slotting it in between work and I’m rarely glued to the screen for hours. When most of us find ourselves working or studying from home, it offers respite without sucking productivity. The game is a brilliant, much-needed escape during difficult times.
Final Verdict: 9/10
Words by Andrew Muir
This article was originally published as part of The Indiependent’s May 2020 charity magazine, which raised money for the British Lung Foundation. Find out more here.