Travel to New Horizons, one DIY tool at a time.
The wait for the new Animal Crossing game has been maddening. Ever since its announcement at E3 2019, it feels like Nintendo has taken us for a rollercoaster ride. New Horizons was barely discussed, with the September trailer basically repeating everything said during the Nintendo Treehouse E3 segment. As a new decade dawned, the company's attitude slowly started to change, with smaller bits of information slowly coming through the door. With a Nintendo Direct and PAX East in the rear view mirror, I was invited by Nintendo to check out the game and get my first taste of the island's green pastures.
The demo was split into three parts, with each highlighting some specific elements. The first save started us at a pretty early point in the game. The player is still in a tent, and wildlife still has a strong grasp of the island. Immediately when stepping out, there is a sense of wonder about your new home. In previous games, the environment already felt established, and you were basically molding the island just a teensy bit. New Horizons immediately gives the idea of a rural world that needs to be shaped. There are plenty of trees, weeds, and rocks to remind you of this fact. Even more so, there isn't much in the way of flowers right from the start. There are weird rock formations, no bridges, and places that are too high up to explore. This island is basically a massive playing ground for Animal Crossing fans and newcomers alike.
The second thing that really stood out is how absolutely stunning Animal Crossing: New Horizons looks. The subtle things like the tree leaves moving in the wind, the weeds jittering ever so slightly, and the far more expressive characters all captured my attention. But let’s pause on the characters for a second, shall we? For me, they are the series' most important feature, and that hasn't changed a bit here. Immediately after leaving the tent, I ran into Katt, who is one of the tougher cats within the Animal Crossing realm. In the previous games, it was showcased how she was a character who is very much into rock music. While we won't see Katt's house until way later in the game, the outfit she was wearing fit her to a tee. It was a rocker jacket with a red shirt and chain underneath. Most of the characters now have clothing that fits their personalities, which is such a lovely touch.
The various special characters play their part as well. During our demo, we got to chat with the Nook family as they make their start within the simple Resident Services tent. As the island grows larger, their newly obtained functions will slowly see them drift apart. Tom Nook will eventually bring in Isabelle, allowing you to make decisions about building and town affairs within Resident Services. Then there are the special characters that just wander in on random weekdays. Kicks the Skunk will sell you shoes and backpacks, while Gulliver will randomly arrive on your shores. Once you get him to wake up, you will have to help him fix his NookPhone in exchange for a nice reward. The number of guest characters is a question mark at the moment, but hopefully we will know more once the game releases.
There is a freedom to the gameplay, even more so than in past entries. In the previous games, the tasks and opportunities felt limited in the beginning. There was a gradual build up to the game, which ended up with you closing the game off for a spell and coming back the next day. In those immediate moments, I was kind of overwhelmed with what I wanted to do. My first instinct was to go to the DIY workbench and craft some stuff on the fly. The demo provided us with plenty of materials, so I just immediately went ham and crafted any tool my heart desired. The materials needed didn't seem to push the envelope in the first demo, but that might be where the build-up takes place. Your assortment of DIY recipes is also on the lighter side; I was only able to craft tools that easily break or wooden furniture. It’s clear that this task will require a lot of wood chopping work to get the ball rolling!
The second demo showed us what kind of DIY projects could end up in your menu. I was immediately attracted to a wooden-block stereo, of which the look was incredibly fun and charming. Interestingly, it requires you first to make the wooden-block toy on the same bench, before you can make the stereo. Even then, you aren't quite done as you can also customize your new stereo. Through Customization Kits, most of the furniture comes with five options to give your items a unique look. Immediately, I gave my stereo some fresh pastel colors and dropped it into the player's house. Now that is what we call style!
Another way in which the game shows its freedom is with Nook Miles. This programme gives you access to a variety of tasks to complete, which will grant you the necessary miles to pay off your debt or exchange for nifty rewards. I immediately, without fail, felt the appeal presented by these tasks. I can easily see myself hopping into them after my daily routine to see what I can do to get in another hour of playtime. This is even more once you get the Plus upgrade for the program, which gives you five tasks at a time in order to earn additional tickets. The first five will give you a multiplier bonus, but you can keep trucking way beyond that. Because of this, it never really seems that the rewards in the programme are out of reach. There are constant ways to keep earning miles that it simply becomes part of the gameplay loop.
From what we've seen within the Nook Miles terminal, the direction the menu will take is memorizing. There will be big DIY projects like fences, drinking fountains, robots, and so much more. In addition, you will be able to directly purchase furniture that will have immediate effects on how your town is going to look. Speaking of the terminal, this is how you will get some shopping in from an early point in the game. While the Resident Services Building and the dedicated Nook's Cranny stores do have options, the Nook Shopping network gives you a random assortment of items that can't be beat. A few pieces of furniture, clothing, and even a song can be purchased here every single day. These will take a bit to arrive, but in the end, it is a big help in the early stages of the game. When there are simply no services on the island, a little help is never a bad thing.
The shops and services reach the island eventually. Nook's Cranny, Able Sisters, and the Museum don't seem that hard to obtain. The services themselves are absolutely beautiful with updated buildings and a richer palette of options. The biggest of them all is clearly the Museum, which has never seen such a major overhaul. Every section feels like a playground in itself, with spots to profoundly see creatures roaming about. The fossil side of things has bigger displays with dynamic camera angles to revel in every bit of the splendor. The breathing space in the rooms is super lovely, allowing you to really take in the sights.
Speaking of fresh perspectives, I really appreciate the effort put into the Able Sisters. These tailors immediately give you more options right from the start, with full outfit options available at the left-hand side. You can pick up one item if you want, or snag them one by one to basically copy a look wholesale. Naturally, there is a wider selection on display as well, so you can freely mix and match. Finally, a dressing room at the right allows you to go through all the options, and see how they suit your character. Nook's Cranny has a similar set-up, with a few items on display plus more available in a specific cabinet. Something I was very impressed by is that you have multiple wallpaper and flooring options to choose from, which was far more limited in the previous games.
Another thing I was impressed by was the local multiplayer option. Before playing the build, this wasn't something I particularly cared about. Obviously, it is cool to split tasks between friends or family and get some work done, but I was wondering if I could get my loved ones into Animal Crossing. The free flow of the game, plus working together on a singular island, might be the ticket in making this all work out. While I do think that four players on one screen can be super chaotic, I can certainly see myself playing this when a friend is over. It would make tasks like collecting wood, or finding specific critters that much simpler and more refined. You are always tied together in some fashion, so you only need select tools to get a session going.
In the last demo, we got a sneak peek at the Island Builder elements in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. While we aren't sure when you obtain these tools, it would certainly take a while to obtain that oh-so-important license. Once available, there are three important things that you will be able to do: road building, terraforming, and river-sculpting. The road building is entertaining, but I wasn't a fan of how it felt. You have to go piece by piece, and it is extremely easy to do the same space twice. Once you do get the hang of it, the option really allows you to make the town your own. There are a lot of different materials to choose from, so you can customize the look of the island as you see fit.
The latter options are on a completely different level. Basically you can create rivers, land, and different land floors completely from scratch. You can form the town to your liking, and make the world flow your way. These are powerful tools that will enable players to create something outstanding. It took a bit to learn the ins and outs, mostly the river-sculpting, but the tools leave nothing up to chance. You also have to take into account that services and housing can be moved to make up the flavor up the week. While the land plans in my head can't be realized for quite a while, I have some great ideas for my eventual town layout, which is something I'm extremely keen on doing. This, and putting furniture everywhere across town, really gets my creative juices flowing.
There is so much more I can write about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but my point is this: this game is making some incredible plays. After the highs of New Leaf, the series needed a new direction, and it seems to have achieved just this. The free flowing aspects of the game make it an entertaining romp that is unparalleled by anything that came before. While it will be a while before the full potential can be realized, Animal Crossing fans can rejoice that the aspects they love are still here. There is indeed a daily routine with fishing, bug catching and exploring a burgeoning town. That daily routine has been sharply enhanced with Nook Miles and the ability to build up a new town as you so choose. New Horizons celebrates the strengths of the previous games, and brings them full circle. My bags are packed and I’m ready for my desert island adventure!
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