Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the newest entry in Nintendo’s beloved Animal Crossing series, was released on March 20th, 2020 during a time when almost the entire country was settling down into their homes for a very long quarantine.
The premise behind Animal Crossing is an odd one. Essentially, the player moves to a small empty town (or in the case of New Horizons, an island town) overrun by weeds and trees with only a few humanoid animal neighbors to keep you company. The player then must build this scrap of land into something they can call home. The game even puts the player into extensive in-game debt to a tanuki (Japanese for racoon dog) named Tom Nook who supplies the player with pretty much everything they could need. From this standpoint, Animal Crossing appears to be more of a life simulator than anything else. However, looks can be deceiving, and underneath that premise lies something so much more therapeutic and fun than one might think.
Part of the game’s charm is noticeable from the very first moment. The extraordinarily cute artstyle featuring polished, smooth textures and smiling, vibrant colors mimics a warmth similar to that of a hot coffee on a cold rainy day.
Animal Crossing’s appeal also manifests itself in the game’s extensive design elements. From the avatar to the environment you inhabit, Animal Crossing: New Horizons gives the player complete freedom to create an ideal experience.
With over 30 hairstyles and 16 hair colors to choose from(excluding the surplus of wigs available) as well as a nearly endless amount of clothing, allows extensive customization options for the player. The clothing itself is an entire facet of the game as you can both buy clothing from in-game shops and design your own clothing including accessories such as hats. If designing clothes does not appeal to you, players can search the internet for QR codes created by other players and scan them with the Nintendo Switch Online App to receive other clothing.
Island customization is another key feature within the game. For the first time in the series history, players are allowed to place items outside their homes. This opens up the entire world allowing the player to set up cafe tables to chat in the morning with their animal neighbors or street lamps to light the night. This adds a more complex element to the game as the player must think of fun and interesting ways to decorate the island beyond just planting flowers or trees like in the old game. This feature also allows all islands to feel unique as no one player will design the exact same island as another with the same items.
Another special aspect of the game that makes it different from most life simulations is that it runs in real time. This means the player can watch a sunrise or sunset from their island with all their animal pals.
Speaking of your animal pals, New Horizons has over 402 animals, each with a different personality and art design. However, the game limits your neighbors to ten at a time, but animals consistently move in and out of the village when they grow tired of it. Players even have the option to harass a particularly vexing neighbor making them want to leave even faster. The process of which animals end up on your island is mostly random, but with the new addition of the Nook Mile (a new currency that has been added in addition to the games traditional Bell) players can fly to deserted islands and randomly find animals to talk to there. If the player likes the animal they find they can recruit them to be their next island resident, however, the feature costs in-game money meaning many will simply leave it up to chance.
Nintendo has even added a multiplayer functionality where players can visit each other’s island residences and hangout or collect items. While it would have been nice to have multiplayer minigames worked into the online functionality, visiting other people’s towns is still a nice feature as the player can marvel at the creations of others or collect resources that they may not have on their own island such as different kinds of fruit.
Some beloved features from previous games have returned as well. Writing letters to your island residences or friends is one of them. This feature allows the player to write loving or even harsh notes to whoever they please with a gift attachment as an option.
In a time where most of the world is stuck inside, Animal Crossing has given many a creative design outlet and some much-needed joy in a time when many are stuck at home. New Horizons allow players to craft their own game experience giving some control to the player during a time when many feel they have little.