Animal Crossing has always been one of those franchises that either clicks with you or it simply doesn’t. While it might seem strange that such a purposefully tranquil experience can be so immediately polarising to the public, I firmly believe that when it comes to paying off your mortgage and building up your idyllic town, carefully populating it with friends and fruit trees you either adore the experience or you utterly detest it.
Truth be told, I get it. I understand why so many people scoff at the mundane tasks Tom Nook provides. Planting flowers, fishing, giving presents to strangers and just…existing in a world with no threats or obvious hazards isn’t exactly the experience many people want from their video games. So bear that in mind if you’re considering getting in on Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Don’t expect excitement and adventure in setting up your own island away from civilisation because that has never been the point of Nintendo’s adorable life simulation. What you can expect is a thoroughly relaxing, cathartic and unfathomably pleasant game that maybe the world really needs right now.
Firstly, let’s establish that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game that has not been made to convert anyone to the franchise. If you’ve always steered clear of the series, you won’t be headed towards this one either as it more than doubles down on what Animal Crossing is mostly known for: Building your house, growing your town, making friends and just hanging out in a virtual space that’s honestly just far more appealing than reality.
If you’ve played any of the previous entries in the series you’ll know exactly what to expect because the formula hasn’t evolved much at all, for better and for worse. One of the positives is that all the familiar tasks you’d expect are in the game and they’re just as satisfying as they were in previous games. Collecting fossils, fishing, catching insects and growing all the fruits and flowers you could want will never fail to be satisfying. While I would say that it’s difficult to improve on already perfect systems (that’s right, I dropped the “p” word in a review) one could fault New Horizons for seemingly resting on its laurels because while the game remains as fun and enjoyable as ever, there’re plenty of things that feel like they should have evolved for this latest iteration.
For a game about collecting many different things and lugging around a small tool shed of utensils, the menu system in New Horizons can be clunky, sometimes feeling that there are just too many clicks involved in the process of selecting what you need at any given time. While it does grow better once you purchase some upgrades, I have an issue with games that purposefully create an irritating system in order to encourage you to play and solve the issue.
That’s not satisfying, that’s a cheap excuse for difficulty and while New Horizons isn’t the worst at this it’s certainly present. The same thing can be said for museum donations. Why do I need to select the fossils I want to have assessed only to immediately select them again in order to donate my stack? Small little inconveniences like that certainly don’t ruin the game, far from it in fact, but I do have to wonder why annoying little problems like that made it into the final version of New Horizons. Other issues that have plagued the series since the very first game are also still present such as the elevated camera making the landscape a little tough to see at times or some characters speaking just a little too long, making for some dragged out conversations you won’t feel guilty for skipping.
Having said all of that and gotten all of my concerns finally off my chest, I think Animal Crossing: New Horizons also deserves a solid gush because, quite frankly, this latest chapter just may be the most relaxing and cathartic game I’ve ever played. The addition of a crafting system, while dubious to some, goes a long way to making your new island home feel more personal.
While items and decorations in previous games could only be bought or found, it’s immediately so much more satisfying to craft that bedside table you’ve been saving up all day for. As with most games that feature crafting systems it can feel slightly irritating to have impermanent tools as they continue to break, especially in the early game. Yet New Horizons throws enough resources at you that crafting a new shovel with which to plant my peach tree never felt like a chore. There’s also just so much to do with the game’s customisation and task systems that have expanded outwards exponentially. While I often found myself running short of things to do in previous Animal Crossings, New Horizon never has that problem as the constant string of busy work and collectables means that you’ll always have something to do.
Which is basically just the best way to describe Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The game is just one long chore, but it’s a gentle labour of love that you can’t help but adore. A task that doesn’t demand to be completed immediately but just ushers you along, telling you to take it all at your own pace. That’s the best part about a franchise that has established itself as a game built on the foundation of completing mundane activities: There’s never any rush to it all.
While other life sims often place things on a timeline, barring you from doing too much in a day because of limitations like energy meters, Animal Crossing just leaves you be to do whatever you want to do. Having the game take place in real-time makes everything you do feel like it was done on purpose and ensures that you’ll always be back to see what’s been happening in your little town the next day. New Horizons is an almost endless game that wants you to keep playing it for weeks and weeks but it doesn’t do that through cheap microtransactions and dumb paywalls. It does it by being utterly pleasant in almost every single facet of its design. You won’t come back to Animal Crossing: New Horizons because you feel like you have to. You’ll keep coming back because you want to.
Last Updated: March 16, 2020