You sit on a train, the gentle rumble almost lulling you to sleep. A few seats away, an anthropomorphic cat with big eyes and a sweater vest asks you for the date and time and introduces himself as Rover. You soon come to establish your own name, learn about the town you’re traveling to and become aware of your own animated appearance. Are you dreaming? No, you are playing “Animal Crossing: New Leaf,” an addicting game from a Nintendo franchise that has been around since 2001.
Over the last 20 years, fans of the cutesy, calming and collectively charming games have been starved for content. The Nintendo eShop Animal Crossing Plaza was discontinued in 2014, and Animal Crossing Amiibo Festival was disliked by fans when it came out in 2015. The 2017 Pocket Camp game was limited to mobile devices but became wildly successful. In fact, one of the game’s lovable animal characters, Isabelle, even became a playable Super Smash Bros character in 2018. Now, in 2020, Nintendo fans are waiting excitedly for the next chapter in “Animal Crossing.”
Animal Crossing is an open-ended social simulation game. Since its initial release in 2001 (known as Dobutsu No Mori in Japan), it has developed a global cult following. On March 20, Nintendo released the next installment: “New Horizons.” In the game, Tom Nook, a raccoon who you owe a crippling amount of debt to, and his company Nook Inc. are offering players a Deserted Island Getaway Package, where they can transform their own untouched island into a home.
In previous games, players were able to affect changes slowly in their towns. In 2012’s “New Leaf,” they acted as the community’s mayor, which allowed them to initiate public works projects like constructing new buildings, installing landmarks and enacting town ordinances. In “New Horizons,” players are able to engage even more with the game and go several steps further.
In “New Horizons,” you start on a deserted island, with only Tom Nook and his “nooklings” there to help you. You set up your tent wherever you’d like, and build your residence from the ground up. Starting from essentially nothing, this game allows players to build their own island town in their own way. “New Horizons” introduces crafting, in which items like twigs, rocks and clay can be taken from the environment and fashioned into tools like shovels, nets or even vaulting poles. Materials can also be made into customizable furniture, a feature similar to previous games.
The game gives you a special Nook Phone filled with apps. One such app, Nook Miles, is an in-game reward system designed to inspire more gameplay by giving out miles that can be used to help pay off debt. There are also apps that allow for social interactions like calling other players and inviting them to play on your island. Others allow you to access recipes for crafting new tools and furniture.
Additionally, “New Horizons” allows you to engage with other players in a brand new way. You can play up to four characters on one Switch at the same time in “party play,” with a leader system that allows players to help each other out and explore and create together. Up to eight players can visit one island at a time, and eight are allowed to inhabit one island on one Switch.
The amount of freedom offered in “New Horizons” is easily the most appealing part of the game. Not only can you decide where you and other villagers place your homes, but you can also make choices to upgrade into fully functioning towns with shops.
One of the most notable upgrades in the game itself are the high-quality graphics. The soft, almost dreamy look has improved greatly from the now-aging, pixelated nightmare that is “New Leaf.” There’s a new attention to detail that people cannot help but notice, especially in the fluid and detailed movement of everything from fish to leaves to glistening water.
The biggest complaint people have had about this game is the lack of cloud-saving capability. One game can only ever live on your one Switch. You cannot back your game up, and you can only have one island per Switch. This has drawn some criticism from fans, who believe that the only reason to block backups is to prevent cheating. This might make more sense for other games, but many fans of “Animal Crossing” are not competitive. Rather, “Animal Crossing” is a game that encourages community-based collaborations and necessitates backup capabilities. People spend hundreds, sometimes even thousands of hours on this game and want their work to be saved. Nintendo has said that they will have a way to recover the lost data if a Switch is lost, damaged or stolen. While this is reassuring, these restrictions are still frustrating for many simply because of how unnecessary they feel.
It seems like “New Horizons” will go down as “Animal Crossing’s” best installment for those who have been begging for total freedom in the game. It’s beautifully designed, it provides rewards and incentives to motivate play and many of its lovable character personalities and design aspects remain true to previous games.