Animal Crossing: New Horizons review for Nintendo Switch

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Medium: Cartridge/Digital
Players: 1-8
Online: Yes

It?s hard to believe that it has been almost seven years since Animal Crossing: New Leaf launched on the Nintendo 3DS. I think part of that, for me at least, is due to how much time I spent with the last entry in the popular life-sim franchise from Nintendo. While other games tend to suck up my time in a more immediate manner, Animal Crossing has easily been one of the few games that can last me for a year or more, and each subsequent release just makes that statement more true. 

So it?s no surprise that I?m already feeling the same way with the recent release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch. Admittedly it?s easily been one of my most anticipated releases for this year, and now that it?s here, I?m definitely feeling satisfied with the final product. I have a few complaints, but overall I think it?s a fantastic entry in the series. 

Much like the previous games, Animal Crossing: New Horizons focuses on the day to day life of your created villager, accumulating wealth via bells and furnishings, and making a few new friends along the way. Right off the bat you?ll notice the immediate changes, as this is easily the best looking Animal Crossing game to date. You?ll also notice more options for character creation that?s not tied into a series of opening questions like previous games, giving you a bit more freedom to select the identity you want. 

From there, the changes are still apparent, but a little more subdued. You?ll still be interacting a lot with ol? Tom Nook, feeding him bells in exchange for your house and future upgrades. You?ll still be shaking fruit out of trees, digging up fossils, catching fish, and interacting with an interesting assortment of animal residents and visitors. The core elements of Animal Crossing are still in place, and if you have any experience with the previous games, you?ll feel right at home here. It?s a definite bit of comfort food in a time that kind of needs it, and I think a lot of people will gleam some enjoyment from the game strictly for that reason.

That said, there?s also a lot more going on with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The Island setting is unique for the series, giving you a land mass surrounded by water on all sides. You?ll still generally only explore the beaches on three sides of the world (the back is there, but kind of not), but the island setting looks really great and feels like it offers a significant land mass to explore and take advantage of. You can now pick where your initial house is sat, and as you advance pick where your neighbors are placed as well. Beyond that, you?ll even be able to set up the locations for shops and other locations, giving you a level of freedom in filling out your island that Animal Crossing has not seen before. 

Crafting, something that carries over from Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp on mobile devices, factors in heavily as well. You?ll craft most things that matter in the game, specifically your various tools, a lot of furniture, and other unique items. The game feels maybe a little too heavily focused on this element early on. The first three animal houses you?ll build require you to craft a number of interior and exterior items to get started, along with a number of other structures. It can feel a bit overwhelming and grindy at first, but Animal Crossing lets off the gas a little as you progress, allowing you to more or less craft when you want to instead of being forced into it for every upgrade along the way. 

Other familiar elements aren?t necessarily changed, but are certainly more fleshed out. For instance, the museum design in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is absolutely astounding. I?ve always enjoyed the presentation for the museum mechanic in these games, but New Horizons honestly takes the look of this location to a different level. Even if you?ve not felt compelled to fill out the museum entries in previous games, I?d challenge you to walk through New Horizon?s museum just once, and not feel instantly motivated to fill out every tank and display in it. It really is a marvelous work of art. 

As far as complaints, I do have a few that are relatively minor. Fo one, I?m not a fan of the tool breaking mechanic. Basically, the more you use a tool like the shovel, fishing pole, bug net and so on, it will eventually degrade and break, forcing you to craft another one. There are tiers of quality for these tools, so you can craft sturdier ones down the road, but it?s still no fun to be in the middle of catching bugs or chopping down trees and needing to stop to find a crafting location to build a new tool. I wouldn?t mind it so much if there was a least some indicator of how close a tool is to breaking, but as of now, there isn?t.

My other, even smaller issue, is with the way visitor notifications work when playing online. Animal Crossing: New Horizon supports online and local play, with up to 8 people on an island at once, which so far has worked without a hitch. However, when people start to arrive on an island, you?re forced to sit through an intro (or loading?) sequence indicating who that arriving player is that pauses whatever you?re doing. So having that happen 7 times if you?re looking to get a full island of visitors can be a bit much to sit through. Ideally this is something that could be changed, but I guess we?ll have to see if Nintendo actually feels like it?s an issue.

Outside of that, I?m absolutely in love with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Being able to play the game with family in the same household may require a bit much (multiple Switch consoles and copies of the game) but when you get it all up and running, it is a great way to spend your time stuck at home. I?ve spent hours with the game every day since launch, and have yet to come close to being exhausted with it, and seemingly never run out of things to do. So, if for some reason you have yet to pick this one up, I?d definitely recommend doing so. 

Note: Nintendo provided us with an Animal Crossing: New Horizons Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: A