When much of the world feels like it’s in crisis, Animal Crossing for Nintendo Switch is the care package everybody needs right now.
Few series instil the same feeling of comfort and tranquillity as Nintendo’s life sim. Performing daily chores and interacting with your island’s inhabitants delivers a warmth and charm unlike almost anything else in video games. Animal Crossing is as zen as gaming has ever been, like a warm bath on a winter evening, or a scenic window view on a rainy day.
Flying to your new town in New Horizons will be familiar to anyone returning to the series. There are bugs and fish to be caught, fruit to be picked, a town museum to be filled and an ever-growing neighbourhood of eclectic critters with pleasingly sharp and humorous dialogue.
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Visually, the series has never looked better. In the current rainy and gust-swept climate, trees sway gently, with their individual leaves flickering in the wind, and the early sunset casts pleasing shadows across the landscape. It’s subtly beautiful and further enhances the personality of the series.
All the franchise regulars are back in New Horizons, including bug-shy museum curator Blathers, meme-machine town secretary Isabelle and cash-hungry racoon Tom Nook.
The latter takes on a new role in the Switch game, having whisked the player off to an uninhabited island as part of his Nook Inc. Getaway Package. He’ll still bury players in piles of house debt, but as Nook Inc CEO he’s also responsible for relocating new inhabitants and generally maintaining the island.
However, as you settle into your routine you’ll discover that beyond the familiar there are plenty of changes to the established formula – some of the most significant since the series began, in fact.
New Horizons didn’t in all honesty need to introduce much to please its fanbase, but it was a pleasant surprise to discover just how significantly it’s expanded on its core features, in the process creating a plethora of avenues for the most engaged fans to sink their time into.
Until now Animal Crossing has 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. But with New Horizons there’s a lot more daily content for solo players to sink their shovel 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.
“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, creating epic waterways or mountainous scenery.”
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 Nook.
Nook Miles can be used to acquire new mechanics such as a handy tool equip wheel, or an expanded inventory. However, it’s most useful for buying plane tickets to random island getaways, where players are able to expand their daily fossil and weed gathering, and even collect new fruit or plants without having to visit other another player’s island.
It represents an invaluable addition for solo players, but multiplayer has seen an equally significant upgrade, with up to eight players now able to simultaneously 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.
Finally, New Horizons introduces a set of 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, creating epic waterways or mountainous scenery.
Despite the increase in daily content, New Horizons still encourages a pattern of daily, short play sessions, with items arriving via next day delivery or shops that take days to build. It’s this lack of cynicism that’s always been the series’ strength; unlike other sim genres, it’s not battling for your time or pushing you to chase some arbitrary goal.
There’s always a reason to revisit your town. Aside from the daily tasks mentioned here, there’s a seemingly endless stream of content arriving with each new day, holiday or season. Even though Nintendo gave critics a generous few weeks of review time, it’s clear we’ve not even scratched the surface in terms of the events and characters that will crop up in the coming months.
“It’s this lack of cynicism that’s always been the series’ strength; unlike other sim genres, it’s not battling for your time or pushing you to chase some arbitrary goal.”
In Animal Crossing you play for the simple pleasure of playing, rather than to reach the next level or get the best gear. Like previous entries before it, New Horizons will quickly become the first game you play each morning, and the last game you play before bed. Even if it’s just to check the Turnip prices (a sort of vegetable stock market) or water your plants.
The only real complaint is related to how inflexible the game’s save system is. Nintendo has confirmed that the game does not support cloud saves. This also means playing across two consoles is impossible, which is particularly annoying for those who own both the flagship Switch and the Lite model.
New Horizons does more than enough to build on previous Animal Crossings and easily joins the list of software every Nintendo Switch owner should pick up. At a time when the world outside can often be quite scary, New Horizons is the comforting escape everyone needs.
Nintendo's comforting life sim is a tranquil haven at a time the world needs it most.
- As soothing an experience as you'll find in video games
- Crafting, Nook Miles and land-forming are huge additions
- Seemingly endless new content
- Cloud saves are still a big miss