Saturday, 11 July 2020

Animal Crossing: New Horizons ★★★★☆

I’m technically an ‘Animal Crossing’ newbie. I never played the original as we didn’t have a GameCube, and if I’m honest I didn’t really enjoy ‘Pocket Camp’, the mobile version, much at all – I found it repetitive and a bit of a hassle if I’m honest. Because of this experience, I was actually quite worried I wouldn’t enjoy the new ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ for Nintendo Switch, as I could see it being similar. I went and bought it anyway, though, partly because I wanted to have an open mind, and partly because of the FOMO I was getting when seeing the AC community get so hyped about its release.

In case you’ve been living on a faraway island and haven’t heard of ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizon’ before, it goes a bit like this. You’re a human who decides to buy an island getaway package from raccoon Tom Nook, capitalist owner of Nook Inc, and are instantly transported there to start your new life away from the hustle and bustle of standard living. When you arrive the island is deserted, however through hard work and an obscene number of bells (local currency) you can make the island your own, and eventually invite more animal villagers to live alongside you.

The game is a sandbox with all of the usual suspects – foraging, fishing, mining/felling, a crafting system, and the ability to buy and sell items. You can use resources to create furniture and other items to decorate your island, or you can spend your time fishing, bug catching, and fossil digging to find things to donate to Blathers’ museum collection (once you have built it). You can even create your own designs using pixel art, which can then be put on your clothes, your face, and the ground. It’s a highly customisable game so anyone who loves customisation will be really into that – pretty much everything relies on your own design choices, and you can really make the island your own.

What makes ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizon’ different from other sandboxes is that, although there’s so much stuff to do and things to create, there’s no pressure to do any of it if you don’t want to. The first few tasks are pretty important – getting the shop, the museum, and the new villagers settled, but there’s no time limit, meaning you can mill around doing whatever you like. This felt unusual to me at first (I’m very task-focused) however I quickly settled into this new style of play. Sometimes I would go all out on tasks (as well as the main tasks, you also have tasks similar to side quests and dailies where you can gain Miles for doing so – another form of currency), and other times I’d log in just to be present on the island and do what I felt like. You’d think it would feel aimless, but it doesn’t.
Multiplayer is also a massive part of ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’. If you’re on social media then you may have noticed that the AC community is particularly wholesome and intense in some ways – there’s a lot of people in it, but generally, it’s a very positive community and everyone is really friendly towards each other. The way ‘New Horizons’ is designed really facilitates this. Each player is assigned a random fruit that grows on their island and, by travelling to other people’s islands, you can get different fruits to take back to your own. You can share your designs with each other, or just visit someone’s island because you feel like saying hi. Because the community is so important it’s recommended to get involved quick, so you can experience that shared community spirit with everyone else and be at the same stages at the same time.

Where it falls down, unfortunately, is the local multiplayer. I own one Switch, shared with my partner, and so that means we have one island together. I was assigned the manager of the island, and we were looking forward to both going on it together and helping each other with tasks. This couldn’t happen though, and it’s generally down to poor design on Nintendo’s part. For some strange reason, they’ve made it so that only the manager can complete tasks, which meant that my partner would have to wait for me to play to be able to get anything done. He couldn’t build tools until I’d unlocked them, and this really sapped his enjoyment of the game. I presume this is to encourage multiple Switches per household, but it’s pretty rubbish as we now can’t play together as we’d like.

This is a massive let-down but, despite this, ‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ is hands-down the best game I’ve played this year (just not my partner’s). With everything that’s been going on it’s been a truly wonderful form of escapism, helping me to communicate with others and forget that I’m stuck inside my home. It’s cute, positive, and if I’m honest exactly what I needed right now – it won’t be for you if you didn’t like the original game, but if you did then I can’t recommend it more. 4/5

Hannah Read

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