Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review — First Impressions

As of this writing, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been out a full week. I can hardly believe it’s even real—we’ve waited nearly a full decade for a new mainline entry to the series, and when the Nintendo Direct debuted on February 20, 2020, hype levels were off the charts. Thanks to that, I was obsessed with the game before it came out, going so far as to design my island with a fan-made web app. But now that it’s here, it’s time to judge whether or not it’s lived up to the hype.

Turns out, that’s not an easy assessment to make after only a week. The nature of Animal Crossing is slow-paced—and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s one of the main appeals to me as a fan of the series. But to some, this may feel like a hassle. Many of the game’s features remain unlocked in my version of the game, because the game follows real time. In other words, if it is 2:00pm in real life, it will actually be 2:00pm in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

The game uses this technique to recreate the feeling of a virtual world, where life is progressing just as it is in real life—the only difference being that instead of humans, there are animal villagers walking around and enjoying life.

Villagers Walking Around in Animal Crossing New Horizons

Other life simulation games tackle this challenge in different ways. For instance, in The Sims, you can fast-forward time, so you don’t have to wait around while your Sim takes care of tedious tasks, like eating or going to work. In Stardew Valley, every real-time minute is one hour in-game.

But there are pros and cons to each of these approaches. For example, Stardew Valley can feel stressful, because you have so many things to do, and if you slack off, the whole day is done and gone—but you can play as many days as you want with no “end” to the game, which eases that anxiety. Whereas, with Animal Crossing, it can feel like torture waiting for a new building to finish, but the real-time method delivers a more immersive feeling overall.

This is a long way of saying: I don’t know what Animal Crossing: New Horizons has in store for me when it comes to the full package just yet, so this will merely be a “First Impressions” review—a quick look at the first week of the game. A few months down the line, or maybe even next year, I’ll return and do a “Final Impressions” review that factors in my entire experience with the game.

Regardless, this first look should be enough for you to gauge whether or not you should pick up the game—for both fans of the series and newcomers. So, without further ado, let’s dive in.

Enjoy Your New Life on a Deserted Island

Describing the appeal of Animal Crossing has always been a challenge. I’ve been playing the series for nearly 20 years, and it’s still a struggle to explain why it’s fun to newcomers, but I’ll give it my best shot.

For many, the appeal is simply living in a peaceful virtual world. Especially in today’s world, where a global pandemic is looming over everyone, there’s something beautiful about being able to set aside the worries, stress, and anxiety of real life and enter a deserted-island paradise.

Timmy and Tommy in Animal Crossing New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons does exactly that: It offers the player to start a new life on a deserted island—a fresh beginning where you’re in charge to create the life of your dreams. There’s no pressure to save the world or fight impossible enemies, as in many other video games today. If all you want to do is sit on the beach and enjoy the sunset, sipping on some pineapple juice, then you absolutely can.

For fans of the series, this feeling is understood, but what’s really impressive about this new title is just how beautiful the world is—the developers went above and beyond to make every aspect of the game’s visuals stunning, from the clothing items and furniture to the island aesthetics and the villagers themselves! This is the face-lift Animal Crossing deserved, and you will be in awe just admiring your surroundings in the game. It makes my heart hurt (in a good way!) to look at how cute everything is.

Animal Crossing also gives its players something to look forward to every day. Yes, waiting for a new building to be built or new tools to unlock is not easy, but it always leaves me with the feeling of: I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow and see what that building looks like and what else I can do/discover! When it comes to mental health, I honestly think this can help a lot of people—giving yourself something to look forward to, even if it’s small, can go a long way to healing and maintaining your happiness and joy in life. I know Animal Crossing has certainly done that for me.

Collect Everything the Island Has to Offer

When it comes to the gameplay, there are two core mechanics that drive the fun of the experience: collecting and designing. Fans of the series are likely familiar with both, and this game does not disappoint in either category.

For one, it is jam-packed with collectibles. There are a ton of bugs, fish, and fossils to collect, including some new ones, and the sense of satisfaction you get from checking those off your list feels just as good as ever. To make it even better, the game has a new and improved “Critterpedia” that showcases a picture of each bug and fish, along with the time and place in which they are available. They’ve also added a way to see whether you’ve donated each to the museum—a very welcome quality of life update. Otherwise, the fishing, bug-catching, and fossil-digging function the same way as they always have in previous titles.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Tiger Butterfly

While we’re on the subject of the museum, the developers have made two great changes here. First, they’ve given Blathers his personality back! In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Blathers didn’t tell you fun facts about each donation you made, which made me a little bummed. But in New Horizons, he’s come back with a fully fleshed out personality. He’ll give you a short presentation about each donation—but only if you want to hear it. I love that they’ve made this optional. Personally, I love hearing Blathers go on and on about each donation, but I know others just want to donate their stuff and be done with it. I also like that you can ask him about anything, even after the initial donation, to hear his presentations.

The second change made is a MASSIVE update to the museum. It looks absolutely stunning in this game, and I’ve already found myself just slowly walking the halls to admire the exhibits. The museum is a staple of the series, and it finally looks as grand as it should. It makes me happy, especially for old Blathers!

The Butterfly Exhibit in Animal Crossing New Horizon

Beyond that, Animal Crossing: New Horizons features an amazing amount of furniture, clothing, and other collectibles—everything from K.K Slider tunes to seasonal items. The furniture and clothing, in particular, look incredible. In the old games, some furniture sets were lackluster, but this game has SO many beautiful sets and items. You can mix and match, and it will all look intentional. You can even place furniture outside, which helps make your island more unique and personalized.

The same goes for the clothing. It’s incredibly easy to pick alternative colors for each clothing item (once you get the Able Sisters shop, that is, which doesn’t happen in your first week), and the sheer variety of styles is mindblowing. If you can’t find what you want, you can always design your own outfit or pattern, which you can apply to clothing, signs, select furniture items, and even your phone case! The possibilities are endless.

Design Your Perfect Paradise

The infinite creative potential is the philosophy behind the “design” aspect of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. More than ever before, you really are the creative force driving the decisions on your island. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you were the mayor of a town, and you could build new public works projects, but you didn’t really have the final say over where villagers moved in. In this new game, you control it all.

As the “Island Representative,” the islanders look to you for the decision making. When you meet a villager, you can invite them to move to your island and pick where their house ends up. When you need to place a new building, like a shop, you choose where it goes. And when you need new furniture…you can make it!

Animal Crossing New Horizons List of DIY Recipes

The biggest feature added to Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the crafting system, hands down. In the game, you can find, receive, and learn “D.I.Y. recipes.” These recipes can be new tools or furniture, and each requires a certain number of materials to build. To gather these materials, you can hit rocks for stone, chop trees for wood, or do a variety of other activities.

So far, I have learned a TON of different recipes, and I’m curious to see if it’s possible to collect them all. It adds a really fascinating depth to designing your home and decorating the island. It feels like you are truly responsible for making these things with your own hands. It also gives you a great sense of progress as you learn recipes for better tools and more items.

Additionally, it gives you something to do when you’ve run out of other stuff to do. Talked to all your villagers, found all the fossils, and don’t know where to turn? Gather some materials. This is something past Animal Crossing games have struggled with, but New Horizons takes this challenge head on in another way, too, with Nook Miles.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Nook Miles Example

Nook Miles is a reward program that gives you incentives to do activities on your island. For instance, if you plant flowers on your island, you will be rewarded for your beautification efforts in the form of Nook Miles, which you can then spend at the Resident Services kiosk for various rewards, like new clothing or items.

The Nook Miles activities are plentiful, and they have a few rotating activities that get swapped out as you complete them every day. This is a great way to keep you playing—you’ll find yourself saying, “Oh, I can do that real quick and cash in my Miles.” It’s a clever way to extend the gameplay, and it’s satisfying to watch your own progress as you complete more and more.

Just one quick aside: The fellow islanders in Animal Crossing: New Horizons feel more alive in this game, too, mostly thanks to new animations. Your villagers will keep themselves busy throughout the day. One minute, they are fishing, and the next, they are sitting underneath a tree and eating a sandwich. They have a variety of new items to interact with, and it gives me such glee to see them doing something new. The first time I saw my islanders singing, my heart melted.

Invite Your Friends Over to Visit Your Island

Before we dive into multiplayer, I wanted to underline that you can only have ONE island per Nintendo Switch in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. You can have multiple characters per island, as long as each person creates their own account on your Switch (no Online required), but they’ll all live on the same island, and there will only be one “Island Representative.” The Representative is ultimately the one who makes the final decision on where buildings go and what not, so just a heads up there. For me, this hasn’t caused any issues, but I know it’s a sticking point for others.

In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you have two multiplayer options: local and online. When playing locally, you can have up to 4 characters on the same Nintendo Switch, and it works with just one Joy-Con each. It’s actually really fun to play with someone else locally—my girlfriend and I play together every day, and it’s a great experience. We work together to build new projects and share resources. If you have young kids, it’s a great way to get them into gaming, and you can help them by playing right alongside them.

But the experience isn’t perfect. There can only be one main player, aka the “leader.” The other characters playing at the same time can’t access their menu and will get interrupted anytime the leader does something, like enters a building or opens their tool belt. You can cycle through your tools, but you have to do it by going from one tool to the next, which is cumbersome and slow. I’m not sure why they had to restrict the controls for tool cycling, but it’s a real pain.

Another small annoyance: Every time you pick something up when you’re not the leader, your character shows it off to the screen and then it goes into the recycling bin in Resident Services. It’s a bit time consuming to watch your character show off a shell you’ve picked up dozens of times, but it’s not the end of the world.

Animal Crossing New Horizons at Nighttime

That said, the online multiplayer is great, which is surprising for a Nintendo game. You can very easily and quickly open your airline gates, allowing any of your friends to come visit your island if they’re online. You can also restrict to your “best friends” or send a private code, if you don’t want to add them to your friends list.

You can also play with up to 8 people at once, and there’s no worry about anyone ruining things in your town. They won’t be able to chop trees or destroy flowers, unless you give them “best friend” access, which is a real relief. And this might be the first Nintendo Switch game that uses the Nintendo Switch Online app in a way that actually makes things easier. You can use Voice Chat and even text messages through the app, instead of using the mega-slow keyboard in game.

A small feature I love is the ability to send letters to your friends in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I love sending my friends gifts or joke letters, and it adds an extra layer of fun to the multiplayer that hasn’t existed in past entries.

Overall, while the multiplayer experience isn’t the smoothest, it can be a lot of fun, and a great way to bond over the game with someone.

Look Forward to Seasonal Events on Your Island

In the long term, the developers have made it clear that they will be updating Animal Crossing: New Horizons every so often with new holiday and seasonal events. The first event will be Bunny Day, featuring Zipper T. Bunny, and they’ve also teased an Earth Day event, bringing back Leif, an older character.

I love the events in Animal Crossing, and I often find myself returning to the old games just to celebrate with my villagers, so I’m glad they are expanding these for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It also makes me hopeful that further updates are coming.

I’m also curious to see what else the game has in store for me. For one, I am hoping the villagers have even more things to do and say. So far, the villagers haven’t asked me to run errands, like delivering items to other islanders or bringing them a requested object, as in previous games. I’m wondering if that will change as time goes on or if they’ve removed that entirely.

I’m also hoping there are more community-driven mini-events for the islanders. For instance, in the original Animal Crossing game, the villagers would wake up early on certain days for morning aerobics class. It really made the town feel real, and I hope that sense of community comes to Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Already, I think there is a bit of that, but I won’t say no to more!

I’m holding out hope for more buildings and shops to come in the future, as well. As I mentioned, I’m only in a week and have been trying to stay away from spoilers. But I would love to see some older characters come back, like Brewster, Kapp’n, Reese and Cyrus, Digby, Lyle and Lottie, and so many others. Maybe they will show up, but if not, I hope they are added in with future updates at the very least! I love all the Animal Crossing characters and want to see them appear in some way, shape, or form.

Sit Back, Relax, and Soak It All In

All in all, I love Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I had such high expectations, and it delivered on all of them. I just love being in that world. The attention to the smallest of details is simply amazing and makes the title really shine.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Fish Exhibit in Museum

I think it’s a great place to start for newcomers, too—as evidenced by my girlfriend, who had close to no interest in the game until I convinced her to make a character. Now, she’s downright obsessed and debating whether or not to buy her own Nintendo Switch!

I’m incredibly excited to continue playing this game every day. It feels like the perfect Animal Crossing game, and I hope the developers realize all that potential with future updates to make it better and better over time. We don’t need another game; we can keep playing this one for years and be satisfied, especially if more content is added along the way.

At the end of the day, I can wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone looking for a fun, relaxing experience. If you haven’t picked it up yet, now would be a great time, too. The first seasonal event starts on April 1!

Have you played Animal Crossing: New Horizons? If so, what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!

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