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Escape to a deserted island and create your own paradise as you explore, create, and customize in the Animal Crossing: New Horizons game. Your island getaway has a wealth of natural resources that can be used to craft everything from tools to creature comforts. You can hunt down insects at the crack of dawn, decorate your paradise throughout the day, or enjoy sunset on the beach while fishing in the ocean. The time of day and season match real life, so each day on your island is a chance to check in and find new surprises all year round.

Publisher: Nintendo
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch (Mix of handheld & docked)

Developer: Nintendo
Director: Aya Kyogoku
Art Director: Koji Takahashi
Sound Director: Kazumi Totaka
Programming Directors:
Yoshitaka Takeshita, Hiromichi Miyake

On my first day of playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons I collected sticks, built my first tool and set my tent up on my lovely (read: empty) island that I just named ‘Destiny’. I paid the ever excited Tom Nook for my getaway island ticket and I have to be honest, I was expecting more upon my arrival but instead, he asked for 5,000 bells (the game’s currency) and sent me on my way to find out how to pay him back. Fortunately Tom Nook’s apprentices Timmy and Tommy had an abundance of bells on offer for any items I could find on the island. Most of what I sold to them in my first hours were… sticks and weeds. But I made stacks of bells and begun my island in debt with the pressure of bringing a vibrant future to this weedy mess of an island.

My second day was spent crafting more tools and getting Tom Nook to agree to upgrade my tent to a proper house – mailbox and all. My seventh day was spent hopping around random islands in search of iron nuggets. My eleventh day was spent gathering resources to build homes on my island. My fourteenth day I welcomed the first villager to my island. Currently, nearly a month into my journey, I have an island full of villagers, each with their own colourful personalities and a daily routine that includes fruit-gathering at my orchard and checking for gold underneath my rock collection.

Playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a very slow burn. It’s a rewarding one though that consistently has me excited to check in on my island on a day-to-day basis.

With my 70+ hours so far playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons I like to think about the game in two ways: ACBT (Animal Crossing Before Terraforming) and ACPT (Animal Crossing Post Terraforming). 

ACBT is the time from when you begin the game until you unlock the terraforming abilities. Terraforming was a huge part of the game’s marketing, so yes, it is somewhat shocking to learn its the last thing you’ll be able to access. When you eventually unlock terraforming, however, you’re in the post-game content where you’ll spend the majority of your time perfecting your island.

There’s a party at Able’s and ya’ll invited - image captured by the author

There’s a party at Able’s and ya’ll invited – image captured by the author

Your first week or two is a more objective-based slower slog through tasks that’ll teach you the basics of the game and get you into a day-to-day playstyle. Your first few hours and possibly days will most likely be spent gathering wood, rocks and sticks as you slowly acquire the games key tools to island life. The island life is broken up into five main areas and each requires a separate tool.

A trusty axe that can chip wood out of trees, or cut them down completely. The shovel which is used for digging up fossils, clay, and other random items. A net lets you catch bugs either floating or crawling around your island — butterflies may not fight back, but wasps and scorpions certainly will so be careful. Your fishing rod lets you turn into a pro-reeler and the slingshot lets you shoot down floating balloons in the sky which can contain an assortment of items including bells or furniture. You’ll also get a pole for vaulting across rivers and a ladder for climbing up of down small mountain ledges. 

Shaking trees can produce sticks and random objects including bells if you’re lucky. What you collect from trees and rocks will be your basic ingredients for crafting in the game. Your fish and insects can be donated towards a museum on the island, and the extras sold off for bells.

So many… - image captured by the author

So many… – image captured by the author

You’ll slowly acquire more crafting recipes as you play, but you’ll always want to make sure you have a good amount of wood, stone and sticks stored in your home for crafting. All of your tools apart from your ladder and pole can and will break. Expect to be crafting a lot of replacement shovels and axes.

As you progress further into the game you’ll unlock more extravagant crafting recipes. These can include kitchenettes for your home, or even a full suit of golden armour for yourself to wear.

All of your crafting will take place inside Tom Nook’s tent in the early days as he has a crafting bench. Presumably, you’ll either build yourself one inside or outside your own home eventually. Wherever you build one, it’s annoying that the game doesn’t let you access your houses stored items to help cut down some of the more unnecessary tediousness that comes with tool degradation. I’d be okay with the crafting bench I’ve built on the other side of my island not accessing my stored items, but the one I have right outside my house should be able to access it. I refuse to take my crafting bench inside, I’m not a damn animal.

Your first week or two will most likely be spent ACBT as you work your way through the objectives given to you by Tom Nook and you build your island from barren to bustling with villagers. 

Make friends or annoy your villagers - image captured by the author

Make friends or annoy your villagers – image captured by the author

There’s also a sub-list of never-ending objectives that award you with ‘Nook Miles’ for doing simple tasks like watering flowers. These Nook Miles can be used to redeem furniture, clothing and other miscellaneous items from Tom Nook. Most importantly, you can buy a plane ticket that’ll take you to a random island — not an online random island, simply a random island — and there you’ll be able to extend your foraging and wood gathering for the day. This is especially helpful if you’ve used up all your resources at home for the day and wish to keep playing. On these random islands, you’ll also encounter potential villagers who just so happen to be out exploring a random-island, like normal people. Speak to them several times and you’ll be able to invite them to come to visit your island and hopefully get them to stay. 

Each main objective ACBT will involve building something in one form or another. It starts with donating enough insects & fish to attract Blathers and Owl to move to the island and run a museum. When he finally arrives it takes a couple of days for the museum to be built. Later Timmy and Tommy Nook will want to build their own shop on the island and this too will take several days to be constructed.

What causes such a grind to the completion of the in-game tasks is that Animal Crossing: New Horizons runs on a real-world clock. When I say it takes several days, I mean several real-world days. It’s a design choice that frustrates at times, but also lets you feel more in-tune and living in on your island on a day-to-day basis. I love playing Animal Crossing this way.

Listen, I’m aware people ‘time travel’ in the game. That is, they move their Nintendo Switch’s clock forward to trick the game. I don’t do that. I won’t do that. Everything I say is based on playing the game as I believe it was designed to be played and I enjoy playing it this way for a lot of reasons.

Relax, take your time - image captured by the author

Relax, take your time – image captured by the author

There’s really no rush to ‘beat’ Animal Crossing. At every step Animal Crossing: New Horizons is designed to slow you down and let enjoy the experience one day at a time. Although there are times you just wish you could speed something up, this isn’t a grubby mobile game asking for $20 real-world money to skip the process, it’s just asking you to either relax and do something fishing, or just go do something else for the day.

Several nights I’d be brushing my teeth (in-real-life) and I’d start getting excited about checking my game in the morning. Especially if I knew a new villager was going to be arriving or a shop was going to have fresh stock for me to check out. It’s this excitement that’ll keep me playing the game for the rest of the year. The feeling of living on my island on a day-to-day basis is a rewarding one, even if it’s tedious at times.

ACPT is once you’ve unlocked the terraforming which comes when the game rolls its credits. You’re finally given the ability to truly take control of your island design by building or destroying cliffs, shaping rivers or covering them over and creating custom paths.

If you’re like me you’ll have not spent many bells paying off Tom Nook during your first couple weeks with the game. Home loans – ya! Paying off these loans, and then getting an even bigger one will not only upgrade how much you can store in your home but also add new rooms inside your house. In the post-game where the only objective is to make the perfect island, these upgrades become a lot more attractive. I’ve recently built a room with nothing but plants and if I can find a way to play relaxing rain music in the background it’d be a perfect meditation room.

If someone else’s island has cheaper turnips for sale than you, take advantage of that! - image captured by the author

If someone else’s island has cheaper turnips for sale than you, take advantage of that! – image captured by the author

My journey to build my perfect island is an ongoing one. As of writing, I’ve spent 6 days moving one villager home at a time to a new location. I’d used my new terraforming abilities to completely remove an annoying cliff section, remodelled the river and used my spade to measure out what is hopefully, a somewhat symmetrical couple of streets for my villagers to live on. You can only move one villager’s home per day, of course, so the process is slow, but again, I like how it commits me to this process for over a week to complete. When it’s all over I’ll be able to begin decorating backyards of each house, playing around with fencing, and building a local community area for everyone to do their morning stretches.

I have plans to build a new pond with a lovely area for myself and friends to star-gaze in after my neighbourhood makeover is complete. Maybe a coffee shop will follow? Or a park with a giant T-Rex? Either option is possible in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Bells in the millions quickly become necessary in all this island-renovation scheming and there are currently two ways to go about getting bells with consistent results in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The first is simple fruit growing. Your island has a native fruit — mine was oranges — which you can plant to grow more trees and so on until you have a daily intake of fruit to sell. If you have friends with different fruit to you, you can plant those on your island and they’ll sell for a much higher price than your native fruit. I currently have a big section of my island devoted as an orchard for growing, primarily non-native fruit, for around 30-40k bells a day.

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The get-rich-quick scheme for Animal Crossing: New Horizons involve turnips. Eventually, you’ll be able to buy turnips on a Sunday and you’ll have until Saturday to sell them. It’s a stalk market. Timmy and Tommy’s buy price for the turnips changes every morning and afternoon and it’s up to you to find the best time to sell. If you find a great price however, you can quickly turn a small sum of bells into millions.

You can invite up to 7 other players to join you on your island either locally or online. What you do together can be as completely mundane or totally adorable as you’d like. Jumping on a discord call while simply fishing together, or take in all the photo opportunities around the island. Everything fun in Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes from the ability to find it however you can, that said, it could be better.

Many of Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s items have simple animations when you interact with them. Others like the Ocarina from the Zelda franchise that you can craft let you create music. Pressing the action button on a basketball will trigger a quick bounce. Many of the items in the game however are sorely missed opportunities for mini-games with friends. You can build a basketball court, hoops and all, but you can’t throw a ball in. You can build a gaming room full of pinball machines but none of them let you interact with them. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has an abundance of ways to build and create your own unique island, but little ways to play with it and your friends.

EN’s Cherie showing her true colours - image captured by the author

EN’s Cherie showing her true colours – image captured by the author

One of the most tedious elements of Animal Crossing: New Horizons does come with its online features. Every time someone new arrives on an island you’re visiting or your own island, everyone has to stop what they’re doing and watch a 20-30 second video of the visitor arriving. Another shorter clip plays whenever someone leaves. It may be okay for when one person comes over to visit but having 7 people arrive in tandem is just annoying. 

There are a few user-interface choices that could make playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons more enjoyable as well and would be a nice middle-ground for some of the features that I know are bound to annoy some players. For example, adding a health metre to tools would allow players to plan for a big trip around their island, and letting any bugs/fish in your inventory show if you’ve donated them to Blathers at the museum previously would be a big help. 

I’m often accidentally picking up a piece of my fence when I’m trying to just grab fruit from my tree’s. If I could select items I’ve and lock them down from being interacted with until I manually turn the lock off, it’d make a world of difference. Similarly, allowing more finer adjustments when placing items would, I’m sure, be greatly appreciated by those of us that are annoyed when you can’t get something exactly centred.