There are two excuses for the tardiness of this review. The first is that the world has been turned upside down so adapting to working from home means the novelty of writing about fun things from my home desk has been ruined by necessity. Second, is that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is so damn wonderful and soothing that for the first week after its release, every time I tried to squeeze in some time, I found myself falling asleep, probably smiling, like a happy little weirdo.
Like every other review on the planet has said a thousand times before this one (well except those taking part in review bombing because apparently even in a global crisis, we still can’t have nice things), Animal Crossing: New Horizons has arrived at the perfect moment; an innocent balm for uncertain times where turnips, not toilet roll, are our most treasured items.(“6ft away at all times Frank…that’s what the judge said!”)
When the world has all but stopped functioning as we know it and many of us are isolating ourselves in our homes, there really is nothing more appealing than hopping on a plane to a remote island, collecting fish and butterflies with tools made of tree branches, and digging for fossils for a friendly owl – actually, he’s a bit of a know-it-all – to display in his museum.(“I hope the next thing that opens is a cloning facility!”)
You create your big-eyed islander from scratch – a new feature for the series and all options are gender neutral – and are flown to a deserted paradise for you to call your own (or Spice World, if you’re anything like me and our town motto is to “Spice Up Your Life”). You can play Animal Crossing: New Horizons at whatever pace you like, which is how it started for me, slowly collecting fruit, leisurely waiting for that big catch. Two weeks in and I was angrily groaning when I couldn’t find one last damn piece of clay to make a vase for one of my neighbours.
You start with an introduction to the townsfolk. First, there’s Tom Nook who’s running the show yet doesn’t seem to do much other than stand at the town square sipping coffee and getting you to do all the legwork. Then there’s Timmy and Tommy who look after the buying and selling of items to populate your village. You’re first tasked with finding spots for your new home, and those of two other villagers. Once settled, Tom starts assigning you with tasks and the small matter of paying off your loan for your humble abode.(“It’s a family racket!”)
The town functions on ‘Bells’ and ‘Nook Miles’ (imagine real-life airline miles), which can be earned by selling items discovered around the island and completing milestones, like selling shells or chopping wood. Sometimes, the money even grows on trees.(Money, money, money,moneeeey…MONEY!)
When you arrive, the only landmark on the island is a ‘Resident Services’ building, and it’s up to you to flesh out the rest of the town with a museum, shop, and new neighbours to populate it. While you’re reminded that there’s no sense of urgency in this paradise, you’ll soon learn there are some milestones you need to achieve in order to access new levels or open up possibilities and many of these are timed-gated.(“The pubs don’t open until tomorrow!”)
As the game functions in real-time, handy tools like ladders and bridges are not available to you upon arrival and you’ll have to spend a few days on the island, talk to the right townsfolk and tick off a few things on your to-do list to get them. It can be frustrating having to have to wait for new items to appear or to upgrade but it’s only a minor hindrance and I appreciated that these things couldn’t be skipped or sped up with monetary transactions. Meanwhile, I was genuinely excited about checking in on my island every day, shaking trees to find new items (there are two pieces of furniture hiding here every day), chatting to my fellow islanders just to appreciate the sweet dialogue told in sped up gibberish, and hoping to find some rarities.
Although there are no clear goals set, I never found myself bored or just wandering around with nothing to occupy myself with. The day to day collecting and crafting keeps your islander busy and those miles and bells topped up. There’s also mini tasks to seek out like helping someone with a lost item or a giving a hand to a startled ghost to find all the pieces of their spirit. Told you it was cute. Failing that, you can always hop to another island should you fancy a change of scenery. This can be done by visiting friends via online or local play, or by purchasing a Nook Miles ticket to an unknown location.
Initial character customisation is pretty limited but as you’ll later discover, collecting Miles will allow you to open up new upgrades like cool hairstyles and funky bellbottoms. In fact, customisation is one of the most fun things about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. You can makeover your home with crafted furniture or special items which change daily in the store or switch up your colour scheme with easy customisation kits. There’s also a design tool which allows you to make your own patterns to wear or display. Want to make yourself a replica of your favourite t shirt? With a steady hand, you can.(“Yaaass Queen!”)
Honestly, my only real complaint is the current ‘Bunny Day’ theme. My island has been taken over by eggs as a special Easter nod. My god, the eggs. So many eggs. Every rock I hit, tree I shake, fishing line I throw, ends up with another flipping candy coloured egg. Easter Sunday, when all of this is over with, cannot come soon enough.(“They’re everywhere!”)
While in my real life I’m stuck indoors, I’m finding comfort in how lived-in and wholesome my island feels. Though not little is going on outside of my actual window, I like that when I come to check on islanders each evening they all feel as though they’ve lived a day, with new things to say and random acts of kindness – even if my cat friend keeps calling me ‘silly’, I know she means it in an endearing way. Perhaps it’s also comforting to know that much of the world is doing and feeling exactly the same right now as we try to find comfort during a challenging time. Having never spent much time with any previous Animal Crossing instalments, I can only speak subjectively when I say Animal Crossing: New Horizons now really is my cosy tea and biscuits fix-all.
If you like life simulation games, cute creatures, wholesome activities, smiling, joy, happiness, get Animal Crossing: New Horizons.