Animal Crossing: New Horizons is undeniably brilliant. After Timmy and Tommy energetically congratulate you on your wise decision to sign up for the ultra-exclusive Nook Inc. Deserted Island Getaway Package, your initial experience at the check-in counter sees the identical twins check over your application.
Name, birthday and photo confirmed, even this relaxed onboarding process immediately starts to exuberate the unwavering charm that has seen many fall in love with Nintendo’s cherished series. Rather than assuming mayoral duties, this time around your adventure’s about turning a desolate island into your own personal paradise.
You will have the chance to not only choose your uninhabited island’s general layout but whether your new home is situated in the northern or southern hemisphere – a choice that impacts the seasonal progression that you will experience. The decision is yours to make, but the game recommends selecting whichever matches where your country (or region) is located.
With your destination selected, you arrive on your deserted island alongside two presumably randomised animal villagers – I was joined by Pashmina and Sprocket – to participate in a short orientation session. This is where Nook Inc. founder and president Tom Nook steps up to the microphone in the plaza for the first time to welcome you to your new island home.
Nintendo has done a wonderful job at making sure that your early hours with Animal Crossing: New Horizons feel friendly and welcoming. Your first task is to find the perfect spot to pitch up your tent so that you have somewhere to sleep overnight, and, if you want to interfere, you can also choose where your villagers will place theirs. Whereas preparations for the island-warming party will familiarise you with retrieving materials like tree branches and your island’s native fruit – apples for me – to create a campfire and juice drinks to help everyone celebrate.
After proving your resourcefulness and naming the island – mine’s called Cadence – Tom Nook decides that he can rely on you for other critical decisions, naming you the Resident Representative. This serves as the perfect excuse for you to roll up your sleeves and help the misunderstood raccoon redevelop the island over time.
The two weeks that I have spent with Animal Crossing: New Horizons have certainly been more than eventful. I have welcomed three new island residents in Cranston, Wendy and Skye, Blathers has opened up a Museum to house everything that I have started to catalogue in my Critterpedia, and Timmy and Tommy have opened Nook’s Cranny which, last time I checked, had a lawn mower, stand mixer, cushion and squat toilet on sale…
I’ve had my fair share of island-related mishaps, too. Whether that be an agitated swarm of wasps stinging my Villager’s face after failing to evade them or a tarantula making me faint after it caught me out, life on a deserted island certainly isn’t without its dangers.
In that time, I have also pulled up 1,270 weeds in an effort to clean up the whole island, had 32 fossils assessed, caught 18 different types of fish and 17 different bugs, and chopped 441 pieces of wood from trees. These aren’t stats that I have been tallying myself, but, thanks to the NookPhone, are things that I can track through targets in the Nook Mileage program.
While Animal Crossing: New Horizons will always grant you the freedom to make your new life whatever you want it to be, I have found that the goals that surround earning Nook Miles have leant more structure to my experience with the game.
From encouraging you to chat with your neighbours every day to shooting down gifts attached to balloons with your slingshot, you will naturally work towards these multi-milestone challenges as you play the game. Once you have unlocked Nook Miles+, you will even have rotating, short-term goals to consider aiming for as well.
You’re free to ignore looking at the goals in any particular detail, but, after using the early Nook Miles that you earn to pay off the Deserted Island Getaway Package, the broader in-game rewards that you can spend them on speak for themselves. Use the Nook Stop multimedia terminal in the Resident Services facility, and you can redeem Nook Miles for new clothes, hairstyles, Nook Inc. merchandise and other perks.
Two rewards that I have found particularly beneficial so far are the Tool Ring and Pocket Organization Guide. The Tool Ring lets you more easily switch between your tools by holding up on the directional pad to access a radial menu, whereas the Pocket Organization Guide expands your inventory space from 20 to 30.
Crafting is core to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and there are also DIY recipes that you can unlock. These can allow you to craft sturdier tools that can withstand more use, or simply broaden your catalogue of furniture and decorative items that you can make. You can expect to have the chance to create custom designs to decorate them with or use Customization Kits to change their colour.
To say that Animal Crossing: New Horizons perfectly encapsulates what Nintendo Switch is all about would be a drastic understatement. Whether curled up on my sofa at home, sat half-awake on the bus to work in the morning or spending my lunch break gathering much-needed materials, living my island life whenever possible throughout my day has been a wondrous and welcomed escape from reality.
This series has long been portable of course, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons is such a significant step up compared to what has come before. That’s not simply in the leap from 240p to the captivatingly beautiful art direction that we now gaze upon – whether that be docked or in handheld mode – but in the constant refinements that continue to round out and successfully build upon the game’s endearing foundation.
Long-standing Animal Crossing fans will know that I have only scratched the surface at what to expect in the weeks and months ahead. Bunny Day isn’t that far away now, and I can’t wait to see what happens when Jingle turns up for Toy Day later in the year. But, as I slowly repay my home loan to Tom Nook and work towards expanding and customising my humble abode, what’s important is that I remain just as excited to return to my island each day.
Above all else, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is an unbeatable feel-good experience and an essential purchase for anyone that owns a Nintendo Switch. As heartwarming as it is wholesome, Nintendo has delivered meaningful changes that help to structure your peaceful island existence. Every day has the potential to offer something new, and, thanks to that, it will be a game that many will enjoy investing countless hours (and Bells) in. Oh, and heroically leaping across rivers with the Vaulting Pole will never get old.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo