We live in interesting times! That’s not necessarily a good thing, of course, and in order to not date this review we’re not going to go into specifics. The point is that sometimes it can be helpful to have games around that offer a little bit of chilling, a little bit of relaxation, a little bit of…chillaxing. Something relaxing, in other words. Animal Crossing: New Horizons sends you off to a deserted island where you’re going to build a new life for yourself, socially distancing from the world and establishing a settlement of your own design.
In most Animal Crossing games you’d move into a fully constructed town, establishing yourself as a new resident in a community that’s already existed. That’s not the case in New Horizons, where series favorite and ruthless loan shark Tom Nook has swindled you (?) into moving to an island without any existing civilization. You’re going to settle down there and develop a town from the ground up. It’s like Animal Crossing: Origins.
Your character will serve the burgeoning community as the Resident Representative, making important decisions that the other residents just so happen to agree with. It’s good to be King and/or Queen. That means that you’ll get to determine where shops, facilities and houses are built, though that’s mostly up to personal preference more than any sort of gameplay consideration. Later still, you’ll be able to terraform the land itself, turning your island into the perfect place for you and yours.
That includes other players, since New Horizons supports both couch coop and online multiplayer – though it’s worth mentioning that other players can’t have much of an effect on your town, since only one person is the Resident Representative. Families playing together might have a better time using the same character rather than having everybody create their own.
From a gameplay perspective, well, this is Animal Crossing. It’s got “gameplay” only in the most tenuous sense of the term, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; this is a game you come back to for an hour or two each day once you’ve gotten into a rhythm, expecting that it’ll have more to offer each time. As always, you have a home loan sitting over your head courtesy of Nook, but you can take care of that whenever and however you want.
Go catch fish, chop trees, net bugs, complete your city’s museum collection, visit other islands (both those of other players and randomly-generated deserted islands)…whatever you’d like. New Horizons has a crafting system so the resources you collect have more of an impact than just being sold for Bells, as you can create your own furniture and accessories. Then you can sell THOSE for Bells. As chilled-out a game as this is, things tend to come back to money, after all. That said, if you’re looking for a lot of action right away – or even a lot of content, really – then you might be a little disappointed. New Horizons is a slow burn right from the start and (assuming you don’t do any nonsense with your Switch’s system clock) it’s going to be quite some time before you’ve unlocked everything you can do.
New Horizons looks, feels and plays like Animal Crossing. The formula hasn’t changed all that much since the Gamecube era, including the game’s presentation. There’s a timeless, stylized aesthetic here that just works, no matter what kind of crazy furniture or wallpaper you’re looking at, and naturally all the villagers look great as well. They’re mostly adorable. Mostly. Let’s not talk about Ribbot.
At a time when people have a whole lot of time to enjoy games, Animal Crossing: New Horizons hits the sweet spot for hardcore and casual players alike. There’s just something about its addictive “gameplay” loop, encouraging you to explore your island and get to know your surroundings and neighbors, that’s well-suited for an everyday experience. Even once things are back to normal – again, not saying that anything is weird if you’re reading this in the future! – New Horizons is going to be a must-have for the Switch.