EDITOR'S NOTE: Animal Crossing: New Horizons won a "highly recommended" honor for best characters in the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 for gaming.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons introduces the player to an unproblematic world where they gather resources, catch critters and interact with anthropomorphic animals. Director Aya Kyogoku displays her vision of a peaceful universe; communicating a compelling philosophy on how the celebration of life is vital to mental health.
With its organic visuals, delightful dialogue, soothing music and laid back progression, New Horizons succeeds in being a source of relief for real-world stresses and concerns by being incredibly wholesome.
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Read our full Animal Crossing: New Horizons review to find out why this relaxing life simulator is one of the best Nintendo Switch games yet.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons gameplay
Starting island life is accompanied by a handful of difficult decisions. Creating a character is the most challenging, and thankfully, no cosmetic choice is permanent. In the case that a player regrets the way they look, it’s a simple in-game fix. Deciding the layout of the island is a bit easier as the four options are primarily aesthetic, with resources being evenly distributed.
However, picking between the two hemispheres is incredibly important, as it impacts weather patterns and seasonal shifts. In the Northern Hemisphere, the overwhelming sensation of summer heat will visit the island in July. On the other hand, July in the Southern Hemisphere will be invaded by a cold and snowy winter.
The player will then set up their tent, greet their neighbors and begin their wholesome journey. From here on, New Horizons never asks too much of the player, as every building and project can be completed at a self-determined pace.
Taking out a loan with Tom Nook comes with no weekly minimum, celebratory events can be triggered at any time and building Nook’s Cranny can be done over the course of however many days, weeks or months the player wants it to. If someone launches Animal Crossing: New Horizons and just feels like fishing, catching bugs and gathering materials, they can.
This is an incredibly important aspect of why the game is so relaxing. There’s no pressure, no time-limits and no repercussions for taking it slow, unless you're a completionist hunting for seasonal critters.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons progression
With the addition of Nook Miles, Animal Crossing: New Horizons implements the equivalent of an achievement system in which the player is rewarded for engaging in various activities. For example, catching a total of 50 fish over the course of a playthrough might grant the player 500 Nook Miles. These can be used as a currency for purchasing things like plane tickets to new islands, cute hairstyles, an expanded inventory and a tool ring.
Specific Nook Mile achievements can only be fulfilled once, but there's also a tab which will cycle through five generic milestones. Some of these ask the player to plant a tree, hit 10 rocks or take a picture. When one of these is complete, a number of Nook Miles will be earned and a new task will appear. As soon as Resident Services goes from a tent to an actual building, the amount of purchasable items that come with the Nook Mileage program will also increase exponentially.
Additionally, New Horizons has the same Bell currency as always, allowing the player to collect seashells, critters, fruits and fossils to sell with Timmy and Tommy. From these, new clothing and furniture can be purchased at either Nook’s Cranny or the Nook Miles Machine. Players can also learn recipes and craft hundreds of items at a DIY Workbench with all sorts of materials. These resources are typically needed for new tools, furniture and buildings.
These mechanics create a generous foundation for a constant sense of progression. Everything the player does will result in some sort of reward and it makes even the simplest of tasks more engaging, whether it be selling items, racking up Nook Miles, or crafting new furniture.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons museum
Animal Crossing: New Horizons possesses an expansive museum and quite the thorough critterpedia. This is essentially heaven for any completionist, as different fish and insects will appear on the island depending on the time of day and month. This means that it would likely take a full year to catch every critter in the game, as there are probably rare species that only come out during a specific month. Furthermore, the player can dig up fossils which randomly appear on the island at the start of every morning.
New finds can be taken to Blathers, the museum curator, and he’ll provide a quick fun fact about the creature or fossil. As the player begins collecting more and more, they’ll see the displays of what they’ve caught within the museum's exhibits.
These displays feel incredibly authentic, with the insect section being akin to a wildlife exhibit by having various plants, trees and bugs accompanying the scenery. The aquatic exhibit has the fish kept in tanks, but the entire area is overwhelmed by a calming blue aura, making it feel like the player themselves is underwater. The fossil exhibit is incredibly scientific and educational, with a section dedicated solely to depicting the evolution chart of the species’ within Animal Crossing’s world.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons presentation and visuals
Animal Crossing: New Horizons allows the player to spruce up their island in ways that make things more personalized than ever before. The player gets to decide where new neighbors will be staying, the house-editing mode creates the potential for detailed improvements and furniture can be customized by their color and fabric. The Pro Designs tool also gives the player the ability to create strikingly complex tops, dresses and headwear. This is an excellent feature, considering a good chunk of the premade clothing is basic. Additionally, the very terrain of the world can be remolded, allowing players to create the getaway island of their dreams.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons presents an almost utopian world, where characters are undoubtedly happy and even the presence of sadness can be heartwarming. Islanders will frequently compliment the player on what they’re wearing and Tom Nook is always celebrating their achievements. Even in the face of negative situations, everything is imbued with positivity. Characters could be stressed out, upset or befuddled, yet their outlook on the situation is moreso endearing than worrying.
For example, when someone new inhabits the island, they’ll spend a whole day unpacking and cleaning their home. When spoken to, they’ll seem exhausted and talk about how they wish they could go to sleep. However, their resolve to be productive is unshaken by their tiredness. Moments like this are inspirational, as the game’s atmosphere is one where wearisome situations become the opposite.
Furthermore, New Horizons becomes even more wholesome thanks to its presentation. The ways in which characters emote is precious, as their bursts of energy and exaggerated animations are incredibly lovable. The player has a pool of emotes in which they can execute at any given time, and if one is used next to another islander, they’ll respond accordingly.
Additionally, the general aesthetic of the game is akin to a cutesy cartoon where everything is made to look as friendly and adorable as possible. Paired with the soothing soundtrack, each and every aspect of this world is engulfed by an innocent, snuggly aura. Whether it be the adorable animations, silly puns whenever a critter is caught, or the tear jerking dialogue that reaffirms the player’s notion that everything will be okay, Animal Crossing: New Horizons possesses an unmatched sincerity in its atmosphere.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons: The bad
Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ biggest problem has to do with the tedium of re-experiencing the same three to five second animations over and over. This is especially noticeable when you’re trying to build things at a DIY Workbench since you can’t craft multiple items at once.
Attempting to interact with a Workbench always triggers a bothersome prompt that asks the player if they’re sure they want to use it. After they begin crafting the item, their character will do a three second animation of using a saw against the bench, will turn around and then lift up the item as they proudly proclaim “I made a log stake!” The player will then be asked if they want to make anything else.
If you’re working on an arduous project, this process will have to be repeated a number of times. The animations are very cute, but after seeing the same thing again and again, the desire to speed up the process is rather strong. This can be applied to every animation in New Horizons, whether it be catching bugs, digging up fossils or reeling in fish.
Furthermore, I often leave my wood, iron, stone and clay stashed away in my house as it’s encumbersome to carry. When I’m at home and attempt to build something that requires a bunch of materials, my Workbench refuses to acknowledge anything in my storage. This is inconvenient, as it means I have to dig through my stash, move them out to my inventory, and interact with the Workbench again. Couple this with the already present tedium of crafting items and it gets quite taxing.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons verdict
There are few greater feelings than coming home from a long day of class, booting up Animal Crossing: New Horizons and seeing the adorable face of my character smiling at the screen. It often sends me to a different world, one in which is uninhabited by life’s greatest troubles. Collecting seashells, catching critters, and talking to animals is incredibly therapeutic, regardless of the game’s dull moments. If you're looking for a joyful, relaxing Nintendo Switch game filled with charm and plenty of activities to keep you busy, New Horizons will fit the bill and then some.