Animal Crossing is undoubtedly one of the most popular series developed by Nintendo. Despite being among the most "recent" ones compared to more classic franchises such as Mario and Zelda (the Animal Crossing series' journey began on Nintendo 64 and GameCube in 2001), it has managed to build a very solid and dedicated fan base in those close-to 20 years. This is partly because Animal Crossing has always offered something new with every iteration by adding changes to the original formula. This has allowed each game to offer a new and fresh experience with many important innovations.
With the launch of Nintendo's hybrid console, the Switch, in 2017, many predicted a new Animal Crossing game would release, although the wait would end up being longer than expected. Before announcing the game in 2018, Nintendo attracted Animal Crossing-hungry fans with a spin-off game for iOS and Android devices in 2017 called Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, an appetiser that allowed the company to test the market and find out if Animal Crossing: New Horizons would be appreciated. This play seems to have worked flawlessly.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons can be considered a perfect synthesis of many Animal Crossing experiences from the past while still managing to be a fully original experience. There are creative elements taken from Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer and management aspects from Animal Crossing: New Leaf as well as Let's Go to the City, and the wildest and adventure-driven aspects seem "borrowed" from Pocket Camp. In other words, New Horizons plunders the best ideas from previous games, while still creating a completely new experience that entices players in from the very start.
The first major bit of news in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the great amount of autonomy that is given to the player throughout, even when forging the new island. For example, in New Leaf, players were appointed mayors of a pre-made city before being granted the option of adding new structures and public works over time. In New Horizons, players go to a deserted and wild island, on which it's you (and Tom Nook) who contribute to the complete development of this little island paradise in the making. Pocket Camp's camping experience combined with a truly original (and sweetened) sandbox setup lets players get their hands dirty from the first moments, but above all, players will feel fully involved in shaping their own city.
Basically, starting from a blank slate, it's the player through their actions that helps it to grow, an aspect that reinterprets other more complex sim games but in more a lighthanded way. Yet despite its tender and colourful appearance, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is actually a very deep game that requires full participation from the player throughout. The development of the island, at least in the early stages, may appear a little slow. That said, however, it's actually very satisfying. The sense of fulfilment that comes from seeing one's own island evolve, populating the island with new characters and adding new structures, is truly unique.
Speaking of structures, there are several elements that return from previous games, but with a new touch. From the fascinating museum to the stylish Able Sisters fashion store, this little island gradually becomes a living city, full of things to do, but at the same time, it's all very customisable. The fact that each island is yours and yours alone and totally unique, made to measure for you, by you is nothing short of fascinating. There are several ways to go about your business in New Horizon, and it starts at the worktable inside Tom Nook's Service Center.
Here the player can build different items (from interior and exterior furnishings and items to embellish and expand the city with, to the various work tools that are now destructible) by using various materials, with specific projects that players unlock along the way. To access these projects, as well as other useful services and apps during one's stay on the island, Tom Nook offers players a smartphone at the start of the game, which can be accessed via the ZL button on the Joy-Con. Here one will also find the Critterpedia wherein one can monitor fossils, fish and insects already collected with lots of useful information available, deepening the experience.
In addition to having the ability to customise the interior and exterior of one's home and city from an aesthetic point of view, mixing existing elements from past games with the most sought after features from Happy Home Designer, the player also has the opportunity, for the very first time, to modify the structural aspect of the island. Don't like the location of a river or a lake? Close it off and create a new waterway somewhere else. Do you prefer an island that is completely flat or one that is mountainous? You can do that too by completely changing the shape of the terrain. In other words, everything that happens in New Horizons depends solely and exclusively on your choices.
But New Horizons isn't just a game where you have to work hard. Just like in the other games in the series, you still have the opportunity to go fishing, go searching for fossils, make friends with the anthropomorphic animals that pass through, and travel to other islands. What's more, New Horizons also introduces a real reward system, called Nook Miles. It's an in-game currency that you can earn by completing various tasks, and you can use this currency to purchase premium items. In fact, you can access the Nook premium catalogue within which players can unlock prizes of various kinds (clothes, furnishings, objects, etc.), but above all, one can purchase vouchers that allow you to travel.
Thanks to these vouchers, the player can, via the airport, go to visit other islands to find new fruits/flowers or new species to bring home, but it also allows other online players access to your island. Unfortunately, during our time with the game, we have not been able to test this feature, but it's one of the things that we look forward to the most as it should make the New Horizons experience even more social than the games of the past. The new entry in the series features a local multiplayer mode in which up to four people can play together (up to eight players online). The multiplayer mode is really interesting, as it allows players to collaborate on the construction of the island, although only one of the four is the actual owner of the island. In fact, players who join the game cannot own objects or resources (or create their own island) and can only contribute to the search for materials, fishing, or other things like that.
We are very satisfied with how the game looks and works on a big screen; the game is detailed, full of colour, and offers a tactile experience. From the material of the clothing to the fur on the backs of our animal friends, New Horizons has bags of personality thanks to its surprising level of detail, to the point of making it one of the best games in a series that's already exceptional, even from an aesthetic point of view. To make the experience even more engaging, there's an excellent soundtrack that goes along well with the relaxed and calm pace of the game. Although there aren't many songs, they never get boring, even after hours and hours of listening to them, but the thing we like most is that they change according to the different phases of the day and it will be interesting to discover, as the seasons change, what new tunes await.
As for the controls and menus, we're more than happy. It's true that the rumble mode is missing on Switch Lite (useful, for example, when fishing, where a vibration signals when you've got a bite), the visual clues are sufficient enough to let the player perform the activities exactly as one would on a standard Switch (this, however, won't be a problem at all for those arriving from New Leaf on Nintendo 3DS, where the rumble mode was completely missing). The menus are easily accessible by pushing X to rummage through one's pockets, ZL to check one's Nook Phone, and the D-Pad to quickly switch between tools.
Is Animal Crossing: New Horizons the complete and definitive experience that fans of the franchise have been looking forward to? Absolutely. Beyond the excellent legacy that the series brings with it, the steps forward made by New Horizons are truly surprising, offering a very satisfying experience on every front. In the weeks that have gone by since we started playing, we have only scratched the surface of a game that aims to entertain its "villagers" with new features layered in a little at a time, drawing players in as the pace grows. There's so much to do and discover, and because of that, we think it's the best entry in the series to date. Animal Crossing: New Horizons gives both old and new players the chance to enjoy a unique and original experience, pulling them in with new activities and modes that manage to keep the experience feeling fresh throughout. When you step back and put it all together, Animal Crossing: New Horizons deserves nothing short of a perfect score.