Animal Crossing: New Horizons – The Game the World Needs
Animal Crossing is practically impossible to review. I’m not saying all those outlets that put 80 hours in before release to be able to slap a number at the end are wrong. However, I am saying that this game does not conform to the kinds of experiential boxes videogames are usually scored on. There are no discernible levels or stages, no pressing goals beyond the player’s own pacing, no new game plus or tech trees or cheats or anything really beyond gardening tools and the ability to shake trees. Okay, so Animal Crossing is deeper than that, but it’s not a genre that easily lines up with other interactive offerings. The scoring conundrum is deepened by the fact that the actual content of Animal Crossing will only become apparent as the seasons roll on in real-time and new events are added to your island, slowly building on your individual cultivation of weeds, cherries, bugs and fish.
As such, I approached this review a little differently. I won’t claim hundreds of hours or guru-like knowledge of Animal Crossing. I received my code three days after release and since then have been playing between one and two hours each day, logging in across the day in order to find the shop open or discover certain insects that only appear at particular times. This is a casual review, if you like, although one could argue that Animal Crossing is meant to be played this way, not binged for sixteen hours at a time, paying off loans at ridiculous rates and powering through the museum list. But hey, if that’s your way, go for it. I’ll be enjoying my casual visit to a friend’s island, laughing at his toilet paper shrine and scooping up a coconut or six to plant back on my island – phew, what a day!
It also doesn’t help that New Horizons is a deliberately slower Animal Crossing title. It takes several real days for you to get a proper house and for the museum and shop to appear. And everything that does slowly unfurl is directly related to how quickly you churn through the list of DIY projects and fulfil jobs for Tom Nook, such as helping choose the sites for construction of new residents’ houses. Everything you do now unlocks Nook Miles, a kind of achievement mini-game that you work through slowly. So, having more items in your house or crafting things or even selling stuff will gain you hundreds and eventually thousands of miles, and you initially pay off your first plot of land on the island this way. Later, you use miles to buy special items like one-use tickets to random islands that may or may not contain cool things that yours doesn’t.
After that, you then you incur debt via subsequent mortgages, to be paid in bells, Animal Crossing’s currency, which you earn by selling things that you have found and crafted. And then the turnips come into the equation – a kind of mini root vegetable stock market. You get the idea – there’s always some new carrot dangling in the distance (the new horizon hah!) to lure you back each morning, lunch break and evening. Because, of course, the store won’t open until after 8 am in the real world. And also, certain bugs only appear during certain real-time hours. Much of the Animal Crossing experience therefore, becomes about slotting play sessions into your actual life routine. I mean, I can justify to my wife my being glued to the Switch while we are Netflixing each evening by claiming it’s review work, but what happens in a week’s time? In a month?
There are some issues with New Horizons, but they aren’t too major. My main gripe is with item degradation. It can be frustrating to have a task in mind – such as assaulting all of the island’s rocks – only to have your spade break in the middle of a streak. However, once you unlock better tools, I must admit that they do last a lot longer and it doesn’t take much to craft more. A second frustration is with inventory space. I am constantly running out of room in my pockets. I guess there’s no real solution to this other than using your house storage for all but essential items and looking to unlock larger inventory space as soon as possible.
At the time of writing, the Bunny Day event is in full swing in anticipation of Easter. There are eggs everywhere – in the trees, in the ponds, the ground and the sky. I made an egg uniform and a Bunny Day floor rug. I’ve dressed my guy in egg-themed garb. I have to get more sky eggs to craft all the bunny stuff because the murderous-looking bunny who lurks on the middle part of my island told me there would be some kind of reward. It’s probably just a fluffy bunny toy or something, but it doesn’t matter, I need to get it or else it will be a year before this event rolls around again.
Animal Crossing is a drug. You get your hit in the morning. Then you think you are done, but you remember it’s Sunday and you didn’t buy turnips. So you go back a few times during the day. And at night. Then one last furious tree-shake before sleep! Animal Crossing makes me forget about COVID-19 and the fact that I haven’t seen my real friends in weeks. I can visit their islands instead! We can sit on tree stumps and compare museums. We can walk along the beach looking for squirting clams. We can wave goodbye at the airport and promise to do it all again soon. My God, what have I become? This game is not a game. It is life. It is an escape. And it is brilliant.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with code kindly supplied by Nintendo Australia
It is said that Dylan Burns has no shadow, or if he does that it portents a shifting of the elder signs that govern the floating curses of the universe, gathering their power and directing ill intent and misfortune to all game developers that enact post-release patches. Consequently, Dylan’s shadow curse finds itself working overtime, permanently engaged, thus the propagation of legend. When not guiding the swirling forces of evil, Dylan enjoys writing (evil) fiction, taking menacing walks, and lurking behind bus stops with a general demeanour that suggests malevolence.