Series stalwarts will know the bittersweet feeling all too well: getting your hands on a brand new Animal Crossing game, excitement at fever pitch, only to discover there’s not actually much you can binge on in Nintendo’s laid-back sim.
Until now Animal Crossing has always been more social sim than RPG, encouraging players to play a little bit each day – check the shop, water your plants, avoid the annoying neighbours – as part of a long-term commitment to your virtual township.
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New Horizons still encourages that sort of relationship, with items arriving via next day delivery or shops that take days to build. But the biggest surprise is how significantly it’s expanded on virtually every series feature, in the process creating a plethora of avenues for super-fans to sink their time into.
The first major addition is the introduction of crafting and decay, which for a game essentially about collecting and hording items is about as impactful as you can imagine. Suddenly collecting rocks, tree branches and weeds is a meaningful pursuit, because you can use them to craft a new axe to replace the one you just crumbled on the trunk of a rather large tree fern.
Arguably just as impactful are Nook Miles, a sort of Achievements system (accessed via your new phone) for planting trees, catching bugs and the like, which not only creates a ton of meta-objectives within the game itself, but also powers a new economy within which players can use their miles to purchase special gear from raccoon Tom Nook.
Finally, there’s the introduction of fully fledged multiplayer mode, allowing up to eight players to explore the same island. Players can either run free and explore, hording fruit and kidnapping all wildlife, or – in a nice touch – a leader can tether every other player to them, which feels like a great addition for those playing with young children.
In a recent hands-on preview, we were also able to try out the revelatory land-forming mechanics, which allow you to terraform the game island itself. With the donning of a hard hat, Animal Crossing is transformed from social sim to city builder, with players able to shape their own rivers, paths and even the landmass itself (in took about 20 seconds before somebody in our session had handcrafted – of course – a grassy penis).
It’s clear from our introductory hands-on that there are yet more twists on an established formula waiting to be explored, such as the fact that eating fruit now actually has a benefit, and the simply gorgeous and gigantic museum. Look out for a full exploration in our review, to be published ahead of March 20.