Like an emergency relief plane dropping a care package, Nintendo delivered the much-anticipated first-party title, Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch on March 20, 2020. The fifth game in the series, following 2012’s New Leaf for 3DS, New Horizons didn’t arrive a moment too soon for Nintendo fans, or anyone looking for a distracting, relaxing game (e.g. the entire world). The social simulator has a rabid fan base, but can be difficult to describe, and even more difficult to review. Because of this, I’m going to describe my first week with the game rather than prepare a traditional review, so you can better understand the gameplay loop and general simulation elements.
Day One: All Hail Alarmia
I am greeted by series mainstay K.K. Slider, a blues-singing pup who strums on his guitar against a stark black backdrop. The gruff ol’ hound dog hints at the adventure I am about to embark on, traveling to a remote island that will be my new home. I create my custom character, trying and failing to make him look anything like me, and then I pick my island’s general layout, making sure to pick one with plenty of space between several rivers and ponds. After finalizing my choices, I’m dropped off at the newly-christened Alarmia Island.
After arriving, the infamous raccoon tycoon Tom Nook introduces me to my neighbors – a ram named Dom and a gorilla named Rocket – and provides me with a NookPhone and introduces the concept of “Nook Miles,” which are a sort of alternate currency to the series’ bells, and awarded for accomplishing certain tasks. It seems that my tent and amenities aren’t free after all, and I’ll have to pay off a loan in Nook Miles before I can claim them as my own. Hmph.
Now somewhat aware of my taskmaster’s sadistic methods, I set out to gather materials, which I can use at a workbench to create tools such as nets, axes, fishing poles, and shovels, which can be used to gather resources. I spend some time at the river catching fish, sneak up on bugs in the garden with my net, and chop trees with my axe to gather wood. My appropriately-named flimsy tools do not last long and have to be recrafted every so often, but the more fish and bugs I catch, the more Nook Miles I earn.
Tom Nook has decided to stay behind to provide advice, and also lets me give him the various bugs and fish I have caught. It turns out that a museum curator named Blathers has shown interest in the island and will arrive in a few days to learn more about the island. With little else to do, I go to sleep after an exhausting day.
Day Two: Nook the Crook
I have earned enough Nook Miles to pay off my loan, and now Tom Nook makes a rather tempting offer: take out a much larger mortgage – this time using bells instead of miles – to replace my tiny tent with a tiny house. I take the devilish loan shark up on his offer and leave with a new sense of self-disgust.
Blathers the owl has arrived, and he asks me to bring him any fossils I dig up for appraisal. After digging up a handful, he seems content to make Alarmia the site of a brand new museum that will be built in a couple of days. With my mortgage still in mind, I set out to collect whatever I can that can be sold to Timmy and Tommy Nook, who are Tom’s… sons? Nephews? …Clones? *shudders* Timmy and Tommy also request a bundle of resources such as iron and wood so that they can build their very own store on Alarmia.
No fish is safe; no bug is hidden; no cherry (my island’s native fruit) unplucked. All will be sold to the covetous twins for those sweet, sweet bells. But the returns aren’t coming in as quickly as desired, so I go to the airport, present Orville the dodo with a Nook Miles Ticket, which allows me to visit a small, randomized island for additional resources. I luck out and find some rare bugs and fish, and use my shovel to collect iron nuggets from large stones, which I can use to upgrade my pitiful tool set.
I am able to use the automated Nook Stop machine to purchase additional goods and services with Nook Miles. The most desirable of these are a much-needed inventory-expansion (no more dropping items on the ground!) and a “tool ring” that allows me to view all of my tools at the press of a button for easy switching. Confident, I step out into the night only to be spotted by a rather large tarantula. It raises its legs; I run; it runs at me; I pass out.
Day 3: Turnip Tycoon
I’m still alive, if a little worse for wear. Timmy and Tommy’s new store, “Nook’s Crannies” has opened, and features a daily selection of rare items to decorate my home with. Blathers’ museum is still under construction, so I begin to pile up containers filled with rare bugs and fish outside the museum site so he can appraise them when it is complete. My island now has more bugs than Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
I continue to fish, capture bugs, and visit random islands to earn more money to pay towards my mortgage, and my new pole and ladder tools now make it possible to cross rivers and scale hills! While wandering, I encounter a young warthog named Daisy Mae wandering the island. She offers to sell bunches of turnips every Sunday until noon, with the caveat that they expire in one week. Timmy and Tommy offer a different price for turnips every day, so it might be worth investing in a bunch in the hopes of making a profit before the following Sunday. At least Daisy Mae seems like a good-natured entrepreneur, unlike Tom Nook.
I make another visit to Dodo airport, this time choosing to visit a friend’s island online. I check with Orville to see whose island gates are open, select an island, and embark on an airplane. My friend and I run around like idiots, making sure to pose for plenty of pictures while making funny gestures. His island has oranges, so I nab some to plant back in Alarmia. I write a funny post on his message board, leave some presents behind, and return home.
Day 4: Far From Lilliput
While running along the beach, I encounter a strange unconscious bird named Gulliver who washed ashore. He awakens and asks for my help in finding his lost communicator parts so he can call for help. I find all of the parts by digging up suspicious-looking spots on the beach, and Gulliver promises to send me a gift before making his distress call. After that mini adventure, I deliver resources to Tom Nook so that a bridge across a nearby river can be built.
The sky darkens and rain begins to pour, but instead of sitting indoors, I decide to fish. It turns out there are a handful of extremely rare fish that only appear on rainy days! I take out my leaf umbrella and go about my usual daily routines in order to earn more bells. As darkness settles, my eight-legged foe reappears, ready for battle. I prepare my net and inch toward him whenever his guard is lowered. I finally catch the aggressive arachnid and take about 10 screenshots as evidence.
Day 5: Bridging the Gap
The bridge is completed (sorry, no Final Fantasy crossing sequence to behold here), and Blathers’ museum is finally ready to open. I spend an inordinate amount of time bringing him the many bugs and fish that had piled up outside the museum site, and go on a tour of the newly-opened museum.
Stepping outside, I encounter a wandering camel named Sahara, who sells rare wallpaper and flooring. I buy a few random pieces and redecorate my home with them. I also display my most prized possessions to make my home look as inviting as possible. My humble abode is finally beginning to look like a real home!
Day 6: The Rich Get Richer
With my mortgage in mind, I go to Nook’s Crannies to find out how much turnip prices are. It turns out that they’re more than twice what I paid for them, so I sell every single one and walk out of the store with pockets full of bells. I finally have enough bells to pay off my mortgage, but once again, Tom Nook offers an even bigger house that comes with an even bigger mortgage. I want to display even more of my rare purchases in my home, so I take him up on his offer.
Tom Nook has another proposition: choose three spots on the island to build new homes for prospective residents, and craft furnishings for each house. I met a lion named Rex on one of the random islands I visited, and he expressed interest in moving to Alarmia. Maybe he can move into one of the new homes!
Day 7: Wish Upon a Star
I begin the day by sending postcards and presents to friends. It’s a great way to exchange pleasantries and send unique gifts as a thank you for island tours. I then begin to craft all of the furnishings for the new houses so that new residents can begin to arrive. I complete the task and am rewarded with the ability to place fencing around my property.
With all of my day’s tasks behind me, I decide to gaze at the clear night sky for a while. A shooting star catches my eye and I close my eyes and make a wish. Shortly afterwards another shooting star appears, and then another. It seems that a meteor shower is occurring, allowing me to empty my head of (almost) all possible wishes. It’s a fitting way to end my first week on my island home of Alarma.
My first week with Animal Crossing: New Horizons was wonderful, and just the sort of relaxing change of pace I needed. It paces out its content in such a way that will turn off some impatient gamers, but there are plenty of fans of the series who turn their console clocks ahead to get around this issue. I personally encourage any newcomers to try the game at its intended pace, even if it means ending an in-game day earlier than planned.
As much as I am enjoying my time with it, the game is by no means perfect. While dialogue is well-written and witty, characters prattle on and on, no matter how many times you have seen some bits of dialogue. I also wish that tools like the pole and ladder could simply be used by pressing the A button when in a spot where they are usable, but they have to be equipped before using every single time. Crafting could also be more streamlined, and I was disappointed to find out that items in my home storage could not be used as crafting materials.
The complaints are all fairly minor and do little to detract from a fantastic experience. New Horizons is the right game at the right time, and will keep open-minded gamers captivated for a very long time if the first week is any indication.