“A game that released at the exact right time,” were the thoughts of many people upon the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Its debut came at the time when the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic was making its way through scores of countries, with many governments around the world implementing shelter-in-place orders, people losing jobs, and schools being closed. What this meant was that hundreds of thousands of people were now spending most of their time at home and were forced to figure out a new daily routine.
Daily routines, it has been shown, are exactly the Animal Crossing franchise’s specialty! The newest instalment, Animal Crossing: New Horizons went on to outsell every past iteration in the franchise, is one of the top-selling Switch games, and as of the time of writing is the second best-selling game in Japan, ever. Animal Crossing: New Horizons brought on a cultural shift that is often likened to the one created by Pokémon GO in 2016, and provided a lot of comfort and structure to people in very uncertain real-world times.
To bring anyone who hasn’t played this game (do you even exist?) up to speed, Animal Crossing is a life-simulation franchise where you can customise your character and home, make friends with anthropomorphic animal villagers, and develop the town you live in. You can catch fish and bugs, donate fossils and artwork to the museum, and complete tasks for the villagers in your town. The game runs in real-time, seasons change as the year goes by, and the selection of bugs and fish change each month. Shops and other services have opening and closing times, and various NPCs may show up in town selling various items or offering services. You can garden, plant trees and flowers, and cross-breed flowers to get new colours.
To those who haven’t played, this sounds like busywork. Why would I want to play a game where I have to… do chores?
Well, I can’t really tell you why it appeals to everyone, but I can certainly tell you why it appeals to me: structure. I like knowing how seasons will change, when villagers will be awake, and when shops are open. I absolutely LOVE the challenge of catching bugs, fish and sea creatures, and learning new things about the animals, fossils and art I donate to the museum as well. Creating a living space that I enjoy, as well as a wardrobe I like to see on my character, is lovely. Animal Crossing, to me, is a franchise that kept me grounded in some really stressful times during my childhood, and I’m grateful for the fun it offers me while at the same time not putting any pressure on me to be perfect.
New Horizons has been both loved and scrutinised across the board. It introduced new features that give players nearly full control over the appearance of their town (which is an island this time around), by allowing players to place furniture outside and change the landscape and river layouts through terraforming. Completing certain tasks, such as catching a certain number of bugs, or planting a certain number of trees granted players rewards in the form of Nook Miles, which could be used to purchase items, among other things. Players also had the choice to find DIY recipe cards and craft furniture, as well as clothing and other items with materials such as wood and iron that can be obtained around the island.
However, upon release a lot of features were missing, as well as well-loved furniture sets that were franchise staples. Nintendo did release a slew of updates, though, in an attempt to create a more “live service” environment that would allow players to enjoy the game at the same time, instead of engaging in “time travel” to find out all the game’s features in advance.
So, how does it hold up? What was added in the past 6 months?
Note: The following experiences are written from a Northern Hemisphere perspective.
Social media was alive with the sounds of animalese and complaints about Tom Nook. Tons of people, myself included, had pre-ordered or pre-loaded this game, and the joy on the internet was palpable. People spent all their time crafting and collecting DIY recipes, trading furniture online, and popping balloons.
For people, like me, who played the mobile game in the franchise, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Nintendo included a feature where New Horizons players could link their Nintendo account to the same one used for Pocket Camp, allowing for players to purchase furniture and clothing found in the game. Depending on whether players started their New Horizons journey on the new special edition Switch released for this game or on one previously released, they received a Nintendo Switch item (sadly not playable) that they could place in their house.
Eventually as players progressed the “story”, they were able to donate bugs and fish to Blathers, the museum curator. Given that players could choose whether they wanted to have islands set in the Northern or Southern hemisphere, the seasons were different for some players. Differing seasons meant that the selection of bugs and fish were different, so Northern and Southern islanders often collaborated to help fill out their museums.
April was definitely an interesting month. New month meant new bugs and fish, which was nice! It also meant that cherry blossoms would bloom on hardwood trees for the first 10 days of the month. Cherry blossom-themed recipes would only be available in floating balloons during cherry blossom season, which was pretty stressful as the contents of balloons were random, and players could receive duplicate recipes. I remember having to engage in some serious trading on Discord and Reddit in order to obtain all of them before April 10th.
Unfortunately, there was another event that made the first half of April even more stressful: Bunny Day. The aptly named Easter event (totally not affiliated with any religion) featured a large, unsettling rabbit named Zipper T. Bunny who comes to the player’s town and hides a variety of eggs that can be used to craft Bunny Day-themed furniture and clothing. Players can find eggs in balloons, trees, bodies of water, buried underground, or hidden inside (??) rocks around the island from April 1st to April 12th. DIY recipes could be found in washed-up bottles on the beach, in balloons floating through the sky or received from villagers.
As soon as players realised that the two events would overlap, it became apparent that this would be a slog for completionists, like me. When balloons float across the sky, they make a whooooosh sound. Hunting for cherry blossom recipes meant that your ears were constantly assaulted by the sound of Bunny Day balloons. There was also a glitch that stopped all balloons from spawning after players had popped 300 balloons, that was patched not too long afterwards. Even if you weren’t a completionist, it was annoying to be doing tasks around the island and be constantly hearing balloons in the sky. All in all, the first half of April was pretty annoying, which is a shame since the game had launched not too long ago.
On April 23rd, a free update was rolled out that added some new features and patched some game mechanics. Bank interest was reduced from 0.5% to 0.05%, crushing the dreams of people who capitalised on their turnip profits netting them large sums of interest by time travelling. Bug spawns were also changed, which didn’t really affect me but other may have been making bells that way.
A welcome addition to the game was the inclusion of Leif, a sloth that first appeared in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. He brought with him the ability to buy and plant various bushes that bloomed depending on the time of the year, and hedges, which were used for further outdoor customisation. To celebrate, there was a Nature Day event that went from April 23rd to May 4th, during which Nook Miles were awarded for actions like planting trees, bushes and flowers.
For the people who were diligently working on their museums, they may have felt like the lack of art was a bit frustrating. The good news is that Redd the sneaky kitsune (fox) made a return in the April update! Isabelle warns the player about a shady character on the island, and players can find him around the town hall, where they buy their first piece of (always genuine) artwork. He then has a random chance of showing up once a week in a dingy boat at the beach on the northern side of the island. The inclusion of art provided a fresh challenge to collectors like me, who enjoy trading for genuine artwork (and laughing at how silly some of the fakes are).
May was met with the continuation of the Nature Day event, and the inclusion of the May Day event, which ran from the 1st to the 7th of May. Players could get a free ticket from Tom Nook and present it at the airport to be taken to a special mystery island, where they could meet Rover the cat after making their way through a labyrinth-style puzzle, using tools to get to the end. Upon meeting Rover, players were given a furniture item (no spoilers!). Players could only complete this puzzle and receive the item once, it wasn’t too exciting but a neat challenge nonetheless.
International Museum Day was celebrated through another event that ran from May 18th to May 31st. Blathers announces that players can go through the various bug, fish and fossil exhibits and collect stamps at booths placed around the exhibits. The booths changed each day, adding variety. After getting all the stamps, players were rewarded with a completion stamp and exclusive furniture items. May was pretty chill, I liked it.
June marked the first month of Bug-Off season, which happens once a month for four months during the summer (winter in the Southern Hemisphere). Flick, a new chameleon character who is really passionate about insects, offers insect-themed furniture in exchange for points that are racked up by catching as many bugs around the island as you can within a time limit. Flick also offers 1.5 times the amount of bells for bugs that the Nooklings do, so it’s a great way to make money quickly.
The Giant Trevally and Mahi Mahi were fish introduced in May, but for the life of me I wasn’t able to catch them until late June. These fish could only be caught on the pier, so I spent several nights, several weeks in a row going through my new routine of finding clams, crafting fish bait, going to mystery islands, using the bait to attract fish at the pier, and repeat if I got nothing. Bait can only be used four times in the same spot before no more fish spawn, and there’s only so much room to fish on the pier. They were hell to get, but I finally caught them! Sharks also made their way to the island, which was a great way for people who didn’t follow the turnip market to make some extra bells.
Another June event was Wedding Season! Players could head to Harv’s Island from the 1st to the 30th of June and arrange a photo studio with a married llama couple from New Leaf, Reese and Cyrus. They ask the player to help them re-create their wedding ceremony and wedding reception in various styles, giving the player 100% creative license. In return, players received heart crystals which could be exchanged for wedding-themed furniture and clothing. Though it became a bit of a slog toward the end, I did enjoy the furniture rewards very much!
After the chill month that was June, July was pretty exciting! The first half of a 2-part summer update was rolled out on July 3rd, which included a long-awaited mechanic to return from New Leaf: SWIMMING! Players could swim in a large portion of the sea around the island after donning a wet suit, and dive for deep-sea creatures after seeing their shadows move across the ocean floor.
Pascal, a beloved otter NPC also made his return in this update. Should the player find a scallop while diving, there is a chance that Pascal will appear and offer to take it off the player’s hands in exchange for an item. These items can range from new mermaid-themed DIY recipes, pearls used for crafting mermaid furniture, and mermaid-themed clothing. I loved adding diving to my daily routine, as I was always excited to see what Pascal would offer me each day. He won’t leave without blessing the player with some “deep truths”, which were always super charming.
Gulliver, the seagull who always seems to be falling off his ship and washing up on your island, had been available since the game started. In this update, though, a different seagull seems to be washing up. His name is… Gullivarrr. Definitely, probably, not the same bird. Gullivarr washes up after falling overboard, but his handy dandy communicator seems to have been lost in the sea. Should the player find his communicator while diving, he will be able to reach his crew and thank the player with a new pirate-themed item the next day.
There was another update on July 30th that brought back Luna the tapir, overseer of the Dream Suite, but I’ll be including it in August since that’s when most people were really getting into it. Players now had the option to lay in bed and “dream”, where they were brought to a misty place that was home to Luna. She allowed players to upload a “dream” copy of their island to the internet, which could be visited and explored by players around the world without having actual ramifications in the “real” town. Players could also enter Dream Addresses obtained by other players to explore new towns to their heart’s content. One feature that I wish was in the New Horizons Dream Suite is the ability to visit towns with certain names, or visit random towns without having to input a Dream Address each time. I admittedly haven’t used this feature much due to that very reason, but I do see a lot of people turning their towns into themed puzzles and environments for others to enjoy!
The August-exclusive event that has been around for several games is the Fireworks Show, which happens every Sunday in August. Luckily, we got five Sundays this year, which meant more fun! Players could receive glow-in-the-dark headbands from Isabelle and participate in a raffle hosted by Redd to get balloons, fireworks, and party favours to play with. It was super cute to hang out with friends but given that there aren’t any minigames in New Horizons like there were in New Leaf, I didn’t see much incentive to invite friends over other than to take pictures.
Seasons finally changed on September 1st for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, with the grass immediately sporting a more yellow colour. Pine cones and acorns can now be found in cedar and hardwood trees respectively (although it does take a LOT of work to get the buggers out of the trees) which can be used to craft autumn-themed items! The DIY recipes needed for these items, similarly to the cherry blossom recipes, can be found in balloons floating across the island. This time, however, we won’t be plagued with annoying Bunny Day balloons and their whoosh noises.
I have mixed feelings about this game’s handling of updates. I feel like certain mechanics, such as swimming, should have been available from the start. I understand that Nintendo didn’t want time travellers to spoil the game’s contents to people as soon as it released, but Animal Crossing is about freedom. While I don’t personally time travel, I know that some people have schedules that don’t allow them to play during the daytime, or even every day. On the other hand, I did get excited when I saw a new feature, and it allowed me to have fresh content when I felt a bit bored with the game. At the moment, I feel like New Horizons slightly falls behind New Leaf, simply because of the lack of multiplayer options. New Leaf had Tortimer’s Island, which featured scores of minigames that could be played both locally and online, at several skill levels. After showing your friends your town and taking pictures, there isn’t much to do with friends in New Horizons, except catching creatures and trading. I do appreciate the customisation features, and the terraforming mechanics, but I can’t help but feel like I’m running out of furniture options sometimes. With furniture sets being added in updates, I can’t help but wonder if they’re purposefully holding back furniture to roll out in updates, which makes me kind of sad.
What about you? How has your experience been with this game? Which Animal Crossing game is your favourite? Let me know in the comments!