A new game, a new platform, a new beginning.
Released: March 20, 2020
So a new Nintendo console generation has been upon us the past two years, and what a whirlwind it has already been.
We have seen undeniably that although there is certainly a place for it, graphics are not the be-all and end-all that it once was. A lesson that Nintendo is quick to remind us of every so often.
However, most importantly we have seen Nintendo coming out swinging with releases of their core franchises that have not just settled for the easy copy and paste approach to sequels, with most paying off with major dividends. I mean who knew that franchises almost as old as popular console gaming itself could be re-imagined with such gusto that they only remain true to their origins in name yet still stand as a master class example of their respective genres. The jaw-dropping beauty and freedom of Breath of the Wild, followed by the nonlinear explorative nature of the wonderful Mario Odyssey. Nintendo has always been one to throw away the rule book with their or IP but never before has their confidence paid off in the ways it has this time around.
With all that said, we have been graced with yet another staple franchise that is also angling to be the next top dog in its lineage. That being Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Has Nintendo been able to capture even more lightning in their Switch sized bottle? I took it upon myself to find out.
Full disclosure: I wrote the following paragraphs in a very beat for beat nature, explaining what happens in the early hours of the game, however, on reflection, I deleted it and started from a different angle.
Not just because it’s the laziest form of writing, but because these first few hours and days are something quite magical and I want you to experience these for yourself. There’s plenty of let’s play’s out there, if you need.
Characters and events will be off the table for discussion so please feel comfortable in reading on.
Simplicity at it’s absolute finest
Let's just start with the visuals. OH MY GOD, THE VISUALS!
There is some form of magic that the folks over at Nintendo command, that just seems to take the simplicity of video game artistry and just makes it shine from every pore.
The flowing of the leaves, the glistening of the riverbed on a warm spring morning, the ambient lighting in a darkly lit museum corridor. All things that are impressively rendered in contemporary games who are laser-focused on hyper-realism and ray tracing. Yet here’s Nintendo, the OG, stepping in with a game whose design could be compared to something made of Duplo blocks and my jaw is on the floor.
The environments, the characters, the light space occlusion, it's all on point here with a colour palette that will melt in your mouth. A real visual feast for the senses.
This game has a lot to unpack. It's astounding. I mean I always knew there was a lot to do in these games but man, I didn’t realise just how deep the many rabbit holes go.
I've gained a whole new appreciation for my then 10 or so year old sisters who mastered these games at such a young age.
For those completely unfamiliar, let me lay out some of the mechanics for you.
On arrival to your new village, you will be greeted by the ever-demanding but very helpful Tom Nook. An enterprising Raccoon who is a series staple. You see Tom is the mastermind behind every Animal Crossing, a trash panda with very lofty goals indeed. It's Tom who has decided to set up this Island living business that you have signed up for (unknowingly), and on arrival, he is very quick to present you with a tent of your very own, as well as a hefty loan repayment to cover it, travel, expenses and cost of land.
This is and always has been the core of Animal Crossing, mortgage repayment.
Not an original observation but one that’s incredible when you step back to think about how many kids in the current generation spent months of their lives paying mortgages for fun.
Out there grindin…
To start paying this ever-growing loan off you have several resources dotted around your map. Stones to mine stone, iron and clay form. Trees to chop wood and farm fruits. Rivers and beaches to fish in as well as pick up shells. Along with random occurrences such as buried treasures, insects and items that can be found every day.
These replenish daily as the game runs in real-time, with the day-night cycle and weather syncing up to your system clock, giving you a reason to check in every day.
All of these resources can be cashed in at the local shop, run by two other very enterprising Raccoons Timmy and Tommy (I’m sensing a pattern here) who will be happy to take any old treasures and junk you may find and offer you bells in exchange which are the game's currency.
Alternatively, once a certain long-winded Owl named Blathers moves to your town, you can donate any new item you may find to be displayed in what I can only describe as the most breathtaking museum I have seen in a video game.
All of the above however is nothing new to Animal Crossing. What is new is that these resources can now be used to craft. This is one of the key differences that New Horizons brings to the table.
You are now expected to craft all the items you need rather than simply buying them (which can still be done). Yes, that means you’ll be crafting axes, shovels, insect nets, beds, dumbbells, Hi-FI Stereos…. You name it. All in the name of monetary gain.
This is, in my opinion, a fantastic addition to the game as you have a constantly growing list of projects to undertake. Although I could certainly live without the breakable equipment...
Speaking of which, another of the new additions is the Nook Phone. A phone given to you by your island overlord with apps that track various aspects of your island life. Things such as fish and insect compendiums, crafting recipes, the games photo mode and more can all be found here.
However, the phones most noticeable feature is the Nook Miles app. Nook miles are a sort of side currency that you accumulate over time by simply playing the game, with the app giving you simple instructions on how to gain more. This is a wonderful feature as I always felt rewarded. In the times where I simply had to wait a day for a project to be completed, such as building construction. I simply whipped out the app and knocked out a few Nook Miles achievements.
These miles can then be exchanged for items, bells, items, or even to purchase plane tickets to randomly generated islands which simply exist for you to arrive and completely bulldoze every resource it holds before leaving. So satisfying!
The (not so) Lonely Island
On arrival at my island, I was joined by two animal friends. Plucky, a well to do if not a bit ditsy chicken, and Coach, an athletic dude-bro bull with a heart of gold.
I was tasked to pick out where their tents and eventual homes would go, and before I knew it I was undertaking various town infrastructure projects to encourage even more weird and wonderful critters to come to live the island life with me.
Along with town-building, Animal crossing now introduces terraforming features into the mix, allowing you to create raised plateaus, lowered pits, fill over or redirect rivers, you name it.
This sense of island ownership, along with the never-ending infrastructural projects gave me a true sense of island ownership where I always had a project on the go, with a side project in the back of my mind. Very compelling stuff if you’re so inclined.
Today in my town I have 8 residents, a general store, a town hall, museum, camping site, orchard, flower gardens. We are all very excited about an upcoming concert by the legendary K.K. Slider and island moral is at an all-time high.
Compare this to what is happening currently in the outside world and you will see why this game has been a welcome breath of fresh air 😊
So is the cast away life for you?
This game is a funny one to try and ‘review’, I mean you’re meant to play and expand these games for at least a year, right? Although, I feel with over 30 hours played I can certainly give you guys my Casual opinion.
The short answer is to buy this game. This is a franchise that has bounced back and forth between console and handheld, and I think there will be many that agree with me when I say that this game was made for both. Because of this, I put this game in my top 5 switch essentials for any newcomer to the system.
Has the franchise changed the formula in as dramatic a fashion as Zelda and Mario? No. They didn’t need to though. What this game does is tighten up what past entries brought to the table and add in some key additions that make whittling away the hours that much more enjoyable.
I for one am in love, and though I will be dialing back the time I spend on the island to pursue other projects, I will not be uninstalling this one for a very long time to come.
There are few things I have yet to try, such as inviting friends to my island (lack of Nintendo online), or the local multiplayer. However, from what I understand they are nothing to write home about. Besides, who needs real friends when you’ve got critters!
Play this game if:
You yearn for the simple life
You want to take a break from the dower and often depressing landscapes that modern AAA titles tend to present us with
You’ve ever liked an Animal Crossing (trust me, this is for you)
You just need to not think about the global pandemic for two damn hours a day!
Header image taken from the Animal Crossing Press kit here
Remaining images were captured myself in game.