It feels almost kind of ominous that as the world plunges headfirst into a pandemic that results in everyone being isolated, the latest Animal Crossing comes out. Nintendo has perhaps employed the services of Katrina the fortune teller and beloved, iconic series mainstay. But, none the less, it’s a great excuse to spend hours on end exploring the whimsy and wonder that only a bunch of talking animals and a realistic home loan to pay off can provide.
♫On an island in the sun~♫
So, day one, Tom Nook has prepared an island getaway for me. A new home on a completely deserted island, untouched by man and animal alike. Very touched by bugs though, there’s a lot of them and we will get to that. So, hitching a ride aboard the new Dodo Airlines (who will also control all the internet based connectivity in the game), I fly to the island of Phobos. Named because I don’t own DOOM: Eternal yet and the DOOM/Animal Crossing content has been what’s keeping me alive for the last few months.
I’m told to choose a pre-generated island (it’s purely aesthetic), pick my appearance (which can be changed at any time with 0 gender-locked features) and I’m ready to go.
Upon arrival, I meet my fellow islanders. There’s only two of them, a jock tiger named Rowan and a bright purple very cute deer named Fuchsia. I greet my fellow islanders and Tom Nook provides us all with tents, and so we can choose exactly where on the island we want to set up. I find a lovely little spot near the beach and proceed to help my fellow islanders choose where they’d like to set up their own tents.
Here is the spot where people with more forethought than I have would say to themselves, ‘ah! The perfect way to plan out my village in advance, I bet I could make so many pathways and cute/organised set-ups!’
I am not that person. I do not have a visual design bone in my body, and so I just slapped their tents down and called it a day. They seemed happy enough.
And I think that really brings us to the joy of Animal Crossing as a series, and something New Horizons in particular prides itself on, even from the short amount of time I’ve spent with it: You can play exactly how you want to play. There is no right or wrong answer.
♫We’ll be playing and having fun~♫
The first thing that really struck me about the island is… Well, it really is deserted. Where other Animal Crossing titles set you up with at least a semi-functioning village ready to go (even New Leaf was a little more ‘civilised’), New Horizons just gives you a big ol’ rock in the middle of the ocean with nothing but a designated town square and a seemingly endless amount of weeds.
Removing said weeds was my first point of call because it was unsightly and I love mindless busy-work. Also, it lead nicely into the new crafting system. While one can simply purchase their tools, it’s far easier and cheaper to just craft them. Though they will break after a period of time.
The new DIY function will actually be a huge part of your island day to day life, and as big a part of the rest of your design life as you want it to be. For example, I haven’t crafted a lot of furniture just yet, but I was delighted that I could finally use all the junk I fish out of the sea to make cute furniture and a wearable pair of boots. We’ve come so, so far.
Crafting will also be part of how you make the island a livable space. Once more islanders started arriving, Tom Nook just sort of told me that I’m the one that’s gonna have to help build their houses and furnish them, and set me to it. It’s a brilliant way to give yourself a task for the day, gathering the supplies needed to craft a nice outdoor setting.
It really helps alleviate the issue of the island feeling deserted, because there’s always something to do, or something that needs to be done, even if there’s not a lot of people to talk to.
♫And it makes me feel so fine~♫
Another big part of the Animal Crossing experience is, of course, playing with friends. Online is perhaps the smoothest it’s ever been, with Nintendo learning a lot of lessons from Splatoon and its other recent online titles. So long as you’re friends with someone on your Switch account and have access to Nintendo Online, you can play with others at any time.
Players can either open their gates, at which point any friend will be allowed to enter their island after selecting it from a list of all their online friends. The transition can take some time, and everyone on the destination island will have to pause while the new player loads in, but it’s really a small nitpick in a system I’ve so far had no trouble with.
Not friends on Switch but still want to see someone’s island? Dodo codes will allow any user that knows the code to visit someone’s island if, say, you see someone on social media whose island you’ve always wanted to visit and they put up a Dodo code, then it’s ideal.
Though at this stage, there’s not a lot to do besides trading, exploring each others sense of design and just general hanging out. Although creative players have found their own ways of making things interesting (hide and seek, anyone?).
All in all, I’ve only spent 5 days with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. And in that time, I’ve fallen in love with it, and I can see the longevity in things to do already. Every day there’s something different about the island, or my residents might have something new to say to me. I have long term goals in paying off loans and creating a really chill space to hang out, and Nintendo have said events are going to work as a service with each festival or season (Easter is coming up soon, for example) to be a free downloadable patch, so hopefully that means ensured variety for years to come.
I’ll be updating this with a sort of journal/let’s play/review in progress each month, so keep checking in to see what kind of amazing stuff the game has to offer!