A timely getaway
Review: Animal Crossing New Horizons
In the time of COVID-19 we’re bombarded with constant updates. After a while, even the most hopeful of news items becomes a drag, part of a cycle of stress. To get away from it all seems like a good idea, but ensuring that the curve flattens and fewer people get infected is a priority that means doing so is a physical impossibility.
In this sense, the latest in Nintendo’s beloved Animal Crossing series could not be coming at a better time. The game has always had a certain wistful escapism that comes with the story of moving to a new place to start a better life. With New Horizons, this aspect of the series has been pushed to the fore, making for an experience that a broad range of players will enjoy.
Animal Crossing is a hard game to describe for newcomers, its joy better experienced than it is transferred. The basic premise is that the player makes a villager avatar and moves into a new place to get away from it all. Along the way, players get to know the anthropomorphic animal inhabitants of the in-game world, build a house, and go about daily life as part of the mew location. Along the way, the player will encounter Tom Nook, who sells them their house interest-free and allows them to pay it off over time by taking an active part in the local community. In other words, this game is all about community building, a project that the church should constantly share.
In the case of New Horizons, the player finds themselves moving to a recently inhabited island where Nook is trying to build a new thriving community. As new residents’ elected representative, the player helps decide the shape that the island will take. Players can pave walkways, plant crops and flowers, remove weeds, and help guide the decision making process about the island’s name and overall identity. The player can also design their in-game house, which starts as a simple tent but can be exchanged for a fully-fledged house as players progress, using one of the in game-currencies.
Speaking of which, bells are used to buy and sell items, while miles are accrued by being part of the community. The two currencies work to give the player a sense of daily reward.
Players can personalise their houses down to small details, and import their own photographs using QR codes in order to take this further. At the time of writing there are over 500 QR codes for in-game items.
As well as getting to know some of the charming in-game characters, players can also interact with one another in local or online multiplayer. At the time of writing, there is already a thriving community of players working on their islands and inviting other people to see their creations. This makes for a great activity among friends, who you can invite to your island from your Switch friends list or via an-in game code.
The Animal Crossing series has always had a simple, cartoon graphics style, but this is not to say that the game is not visually impressive. The series’ distinct art style is very much present here, with a degree of polish that has not been seen before. The in-game music adds to the laid back charm with acoustic guitar and the sound effects are varied and detailed.
Using the Switch’s internal clock, the game also syncs to the real world’s time, meaning it will be daytime if you play during the day or dark at night-time. The game also impressively syncs to the current season and weather pattern, so you can expect in-game rain and snow at different points (adjusted for the player’s hemisphere and region).
The Animal Crossing games are not designed to be played in long, multiple hour sittings. Instead, players are encouraged to return to the game-world daily, investing a few hours at a time. New Horizons rewards players with new surprises every day that they return. As such, players that spend more time on the game may find themselves bored at points. This is, as noted, more of a design feature than a flaw as such.
The choice to sync the game’s climate and time of day to that of real life provides the player with some impetus to check out the changing game world, but arguably at the cost of some of the escapism that the title provides (It’s a bit harder to get away from the real world for a few hours if its weather is mirrored in the game you’re playing.)
Two big games that released on the same day, Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Doom Eternal appear at first to have nothing in common. Despite being very different, both titles allow players to escape for a little while. Insights will publish a review for Doom Eternal soon. For now, Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes highly recommended as a chance to briefly get away from it all.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available now on Nintendo Switch.