Me and Animal Crossing go way back. I remember drooling over it when it was still known as Animal Forest in Japan. I dreamt of a game like The Sims, but cuter and with more to do outside the home. That’s not what I got, but I fell in love with it all the same.
It’s a game series I cherish, partly because it’s something that my mother shares a common interest in. Animal Crossing: New Horizons presents me with new and exciting ways to leave trash on her doorstep.
WELCOME TO DEBT. POPULATION: YOU
While Now Horizons’ premise is pretty similar, it provides a twist on the typical setup of an Animal Crossing game. While you normally play as a human moving into an established town of animals, here you’re part of an expeditionary group to a deserted island as part of a travel package. You, Tom Nook, his nephews, and two other villagers set up tents on an uncharted piece of land and get to work eking out a living.
That’s as far as things diverge. Within days, everyone will be living in houses, and soon after, you’ll have the typical store and museum adorning your island. From there, it feels like Animal Crossing. You interact with the animals, fish, hunt bugs, weed, plant trees and flowers, collect fruit, and pay off your tremendous debt.
The biggest new addition comes from crafting. Rather than simply buying all your gear, you construct it from resources obtained from trees and rocks. It’s a pretty simple but meaningful inclusion. However, with it comes a mechanic wherein your tools break after repeated use, sending you back to the workbench to craft more. Still, it’s fun to collect recipes and customize furniture in-game.
It’s hard to describe the appeal of Animal Crossing. I can only liken it to cottage living, where you remove distractions and get down to the simple life. It can be monotonous, but at the same time relaxing.
This comes from a lack of pressure. Sure, you have debt, but it’s not like interest is applied to it or payments need to be made by certain deadlines, it’s just a fund you pay down as you feel like it. You’re free to approach things as you urgently as you want.
Actually, scratch that. A common complaint I have with Animal Crossing games is the constant waiting that you have to do. When you start out, you need to help a museum get built, build a store, build houses for new residences, but everything happens tomorrow. What I mean is, once you donate enough stuff to get the museum started, you have to wait until the next day before Blathers, the curator, comes to town. You can then donate more stuff to get him to build his museum, but construction doesn’t start until the next day and doesn’t conclude until the day after that.
The worst example of this I came across was when building houses for villagers. You’re given three plots of land and have to provide supplies to each of them to get the houses ready. I took to this with gusto and before the day was out had all the criteria complete for those three houses. I even found people to move into them.
The villagers then chose to move to the village one at a time, leaving me waiting three days before I could proceed with the next task. Listen, Animal Crossing, I’m not incapable of making my own fun, but I work better when provided with a goal.
The villagers are the other facet of the game that is most compelling. Each one has a personality and a set of interests and hobbies. There’s only one conversation option to each of them, at which point they’ll spew out random bits of information, sometimes repeating themselves.
That may sound kind of lame, but every once and a while they’ll say something incredibly funny or insightful. Suddenly, one of them could drop a random tidbit about their questionable snacking habits or have a massive existential crisis when they abruptly realize they’re unwilling participants in a game. It’s the sort of thing that makes you keep coming back to your favourite villagers, wading through their less interesting discussions in search of that rare bit of conversation that leaves you reeling.
Oh, you’ll definitely have a favourite villager.
WHAT WOULD DODOS DO?
Animal Crossing is a difficult game to review, as it takes an entire calendar year to actually see everything. The game moves in realtime, so when it’s 4am on your Switch’s clock, it’s 4am in the game and the shops are closed and most of the villagers are asleep. The same goes for seasons, which gradually shift over the year.
However, this Animal Crossing is perhaps the hardest to review because it’s not even done. I mean, a lot of the content of the game seems missing, and I’m not just talking about features from previous games, though if you were to hold it up next to New Leaf it would compare poorly. There is this big dropoff in content that you’ll probably hit in about a month.
Nintendo’s strategy here seems to be to deliver content as the game proceeds. Holidays don’t exist on the base version, instead getting patched in as they approach that time of year. That would be fine, since I don’t plan on time traveling, but the lack of content extends into the rest of the game. There are few buildings that get constructed in your town before it’s all expended. There’s no cafe, no shoe store, no theatre for events or gardening shop. It’s almost like going back to the original Animal Crossing in terms of town makeup.
This means that, after a point, there’s just not a lot to do except pay down your debt and customize your town. You can go to Tom Nook and ask, “What should I do now?” and he’ll just stare blankly at you and suggest you live your best life.
This review is probably not going to age very well. My biggest complaint is the game’s lack of content, and it’s pretty obvious that Nintendo is aiming for a continuous service model that gradually builds up the game over time, ensuring that new stuff is always around the corner.
That means, right now, I’m left with a game that I really enjoy, but struggle to find new reasons to play. A year from now, however, it might be the Animal Crossing of my dreams and all will be forgiven.
Where does that leave Animal Crossing: New Horizons right now? My recommendation is that if you can wait to play it, do so. Wait until the end of autumn and check back in, I bet it’ll be an entirely new game by then. However, I can’t review a game based on hopes I have for the future, and as it stands, New Horizons just feels kind of deserted. Even still, holy crap have I put a lot of time into it? I love it, I just wish there was more to love.
It is nice to have another game to play with Mom, though.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo Switch using a digital copy of the game. The author wanted a physical copy, but the global pandemic that was affecting retail at the time of this review made it impossible. Don’t get them started. It was paid for by the author.