If Nintendo games were board games, Mario Kart would be a run-around-the-board game like Sorry. Mario Party would be a control-the-board game like Monopoly. And Animal Crossing, the company’s adorable life sim, would be a bonsai tree. As a series, Animal Crossing ignores many common video game aspects, such as competition and challenge, letting specific goals float in the background as you simply enjoy and interact with your environment. It’s one of the most relaxing, friendly game series there is, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons ($59.99) for the Nintendo Switch is no different. It adds some new features like crafting to the mix, but it still offers the same low-pressure, Zen-like experience of its predecessors.
Not a Particularly Deserted Island
Instead of moving to a new town, Animal Crossing: New Horizons puts you on a “deserted” island. You’re a customer of Nook Inc.’s Deserted Island Getaway Package, where you and two random animal friends settle on an uninhabited island. This means you start with tents instead of houses, and you can craft items instead of simply buying them.
Of course, Tom Nook and his nephews are still there to help you get used to your new life on the island, so you can sell fish, bugs, and seashells, and buy tools from them. It’s a hint that the twist on the Animal Crossing concept isn’t perhaps as significant as it first seems. In fact, after a few days on your deserted island, the tents are replaced with houses, the Resident Services tent is supplemented by the classic Nook’s Cranny shop, and you’ll have a full-fledged museum where you can donate unearthed fossils. That’s right, you aren’t on a deserted island. You’re in an Animal Crossing town.
If you’ve played an Animal Crossing game before, you’re familiar with what you can do. If you haven’t, you might be confused by how this even counts as a game. Animal Crossing: New Horizons, like other Animal Crossing games, is largely a freeform experience. You can walk around your community, fish, catch bugs, collect seashells, dig for fossils, and interact with your neighbors. As you do this, you accumulate money, which lets you get a bigger house and fill it with decorations. You can also customize the island with tools and objects, growing an orchard or clearing trees to make a playground.
Everything takes place in real time. When you play during the day, it’ll be daytime in the game. When you play at night, it’ll be nighttime. The seasons also change with the year, though you can choose to live on an island in the southern hemisphere for reversed seasons. There’s even weather that, at least for the time I’ve been playing, has mirrored my local weather pretty closely. The items available in the Resident Services tent and eventually the Nook’s Cranny store refresh every day, providing variety. You can only collect so many pieces of fruit from trees or minerals from rocks on your island per day, but you can fish and catch bugs as much as you want, since they constantly reappear. If you’re eager to build your island, our Animal Crossing tips is a good starting point.
Work at Your Own Pace
The closest things to goals the game has are paying off Tom Nook’s home loans. He’ll build you a house for a no-interest loan of several thousand bells, the game’s currency, and after you pay it off, he’ll offer to expand your house for another loan. Eventually, you can get multiple rooms and even a basement. There’s no pressure to pay off the loan on any time frame, so you can build up your house as much or little as you want.
Besides bells, you can also rack up Nook Miles, a second currency you get through completing in-game achievements. There are dozens of static achievements that reward you with Nook Miles, such as, for example, catching a certain number of fish, watering a certain number of flowers, or doing virtually anything else on the island a certain number of times. There are also rotating Nook Miles+ achievements that give you five short-term goals that get replaced as you complete them, ensuring you won’t run out of those points even if you do everything in the game. It’s an extra way to get useful items while incentivizing specific activities beyond finding things to sell.
The deserted island environment gives you a few additional tasks, which you can accomplish by collecting and crafting items. You’ll have to find specimens for a museum to open, collect materials to open a shop, and eventually build different pieces of furniture to entice new residents to move to your island. The rewards include new tools and customization options to let you further explore and build on the island.
That brings us to the biggest new feature in Animal Crossing: New Horizons—crafting. You can use Tom Nook’s crafting table (or make your own) to build tools and furniture from materials you find across the island. Collecting wood from trees and minerals from rocks lets you make a variety of useful objects and upgrade your initially flimsy tools to sturdier versions.
Eventually, you can customize the furniture you craft, along with some pieces of furniture you buy, giving them new color schemes. It adds a new dimension of item collecting to a game that’s already built heavily around it. No longer are you limited to the stock of the local Nook store or random items you find floating by. Now you can make your own furniture!
You need to learn the recipe for everything you make, though, so ultimately you still need to buy or find (often from bottles on the beach) those recipes to make those items. It’s another step of busywork, which would be frustrating in a game with structured goals and pressure to complete them, but in Animal Crossing it just feels like another angle for getting nice surprises to play with.
Visit Other Islands
You aren’t limited to your deserted island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. While you can only build your community on a single island, you can visit other islands at your leisure through Dodo Airlines. You can fly to friends’ islands, where you can chat in-game and see how they laid everything out. Certain tools like axes and shovels are restricted on friends’ islands unless you’re on that player’s Best Friend list, so you can’t do much damage to the ecosystem while you’re there (though you can pick fruit, fish, and catch bugs).
You can also use Nook Miles to get Nook Miles Tickets that let you fly to deserted mini-islands, where you can find more resources and meet new in-game characters you can invite to your island.
Nintendo and Chill
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is fun, relaxing and simply very chill. You won’t feel pressure while playing, and you probably won’t get much of a sense of competition. If you’re looking for structured goals and a distinct progression towards a specific end, you won’t find it in this game. What you will find is a big island you can customize and develop and trim to your heart’s content, with plenty of things to build, buy, and place wherever you’d like. Like a bonsai tree, rather than a board game.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (for Nintendo Switch)
The Bottom Line
Animal Crossing: New Horizons brings the most laid-back game series ever to the Nintendo Switch, putting you on a desert island where you can just chill out, fish, catch bugs, and decorate.