Video Game Review: “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”

Animal Crossing: New Horizons” brings back a beloved franchise onto the Nintendo Switch.

It is, without a doubt, that “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” was one of the most anticipated games of 2020. Slated for a 2019 release, it would have been six years since the last mainline entry in the series, “Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” The delayed release date of March 20, 2020 only intensified anticipation and excitement for the game. After years of waiting, I can say with full confidence that the wait was worth it.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, “Animal Crossing” is a series of life-simulation games. The recurring plot features the player as the sole human character, moving into a town with adorable animal villagers. The general goal is to pay off your home loan while taking care of your town, collecting fish and bugs, and befriending your villagers in the process. However, with such an open-ended plot, the games offer an insane replay value. As seen in the case of the grandma who logged over 3,500 hours into “Animal Crossing: New Leaf”, this franchise is beloved by a wide demographic, and it’s easy to see why. It is in part a collectathon, a designer’s dream, and an escape from reality. Over the series’ 19-year history, fans have fallen in love with “Animal Crossing’s”’s laid-back nature. The games give the player the option of progressing at their own pace, a playstyle that’s always welcome in today’s hectic world. 

So what does “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” have to offer? This time around, the game is set on a deserted island. It’s up to you as the “Resident Representative” to create an island suitable for living. Unlike previous games, “New Horizons” brings new concepts to the table. A new crafting mechanic has been added, allowing you to make new tools, furniture, and other in-game items. You can now get rewarded for completing tasks via the Nook Miles Program, which can be used to purchase more goods and the ability to travel to other islands to gain more resources. The Island Designer feature is the biggest change yet, as it lets you terraform and reconstruct the landscape to your will. Veterans and newcomers alike will constantly have something to discover, whether it be characters to interact with, customization options, or do-it-yourself DIY recipes to make.

Additionally, the visuals and soundtrack are fully immersive, and perfectly lend to the game’s goal of making a captivating island paradise. The polished HD Nintendo Switch graphics allow for the series’s charm to shine through more than ever before. Everything is incredibly detailed, from the texture of the trees to the toe beans of the villagers, all while maintaining an endearing cartoon aesthetic. The ambient soundtrack makes use of ukulele and ocean sounds to transport you to a getaway with a little sunshine, a lot of beaches, and all the cuteness that one game can muster up. 

However, the game is not without its faults. While “New Horizons” has implemented the most changes to the series so far, some of them overstay their welcome. I found the crafting mechanic to be fun at first, but the constant need to build tools proved to be frustrating. There were many situations where I needed to catch a bug or fish, but my tools would break without warning and I would have to run to craft another. A possible solution would have been to implement a durability meter, so that players could at least be prepared for when their tools break. The progression of the game is quite slow, as it can take a day or more for construction projects to be completed. You can cheat the in-game clock by manually changing your system’s settings, but “Animal Crossing” has always prided itself on being a life simulation to the fullest, and what better way to simulate life than making people wait several days for something to be completed, out of their control? I didn’t mind waiting too much, since it felt like the game was rewarding me for my hard work by giving me a break, and not pushing me towards the next task at hand. All in all, these problems were rather small, and didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment of the game. 

As fate would have it, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” was released in the midst of a global pandemic, giving people all over the globe the chance to live out their fantasies of going to the beach whenever they want, making an income off of selling fruit and unwanted furniture, and socializing with their neighbors. The series has garnered a massive following over the past couple decades for giving people an escape from the stresses of real life, and its return to the gaming scene has achieved this again, only on a much larger scale. Online play between fellow players has opened up new avenues for socializing in an isolated world, whether it be from sharing custom clothing designs with friends or celebrating a virtual wedding. “New Horizons” also gives players a normal amidst the abnormal through tending to their island, and its wholesome energy is more than welcome during these trying times. Seemingly menial tasks like picking weeds and watering flowers offer a sense of calm and order amongst the chaos of the real world. The game’s lighthearted nature has people flocking to it for comfort, and it’s easy to see why.

With a stellar atmosphere, abundant innovations, and constant cheer, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” truly lives up to its name as it takes new and old players alike to a destination worthy of escaping to hours on end. 

Grade: A
Rating: E
Release date: March 20, 2020
Director: Aya Kyogoku
Producer: Hisashi Nogami
Company: Nintendo

Art by Susan Sun for the UCSD Guardian.

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