This article contains opinion.
In these frustrating and lonely times, Nintendo came to the world’s rescue Friday with the release of the much-anticipated “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.”
This is the first mainline “Animal Crossing” game since “New Leaf” came out all the way back in 2012, and the fanbase has been foaming at the mouth for some new content for eight long years.
The game starts with Timmy and Tommy Nook talking the player through a “deserted island getaway.” During this time, you can design your character – a first for the mainline games. In previous games, you answer some random questions to determine eye shape, hair color and style, etc. This made changing your hair later on pretty difficult, and I will admit to seeking out spreadsheets for haircuts in “New Leaf.”
There aren’t any specific gender options, which makes a nonbinary person such as myself very happy. Technically speaking, you can choose between apparent “genders” that take the form of short or long hair markers, but from what I’ve seen, I don’t think the option actually changes your appearance or how villagers refer to you.
Another first for the mainline games: You can change your skin color. That option should have been implemented much sooner in the series, if you ask me.
After designing your character, you choose one of four island layouts. I think all islands are unique, which is a nice little touch. Then, you take a plane to the island. There will be two random villagers, a boy and a girl, that also arrive with you. My first neighbors were Tank the rhino and Tammy the bear (I think, anyway.)
Then, you meet the infamous Tom Nook. He asks that you choose a spot for your tent (which will later become your house) and then requests that you help him gather materials for a bonfire to commemorate your first night on the island. Each island will come with one native fruit; mine was pear. Tom will ask for six of the native fruits to make juice for the bonfire.
Once the bonfire kicks off, you will be faced with a very important decision: what to name your island. I named mine “Sneepytown,” a reference to how some friends intentionally misspell the word “sleepy.” I miss y’all; please visit my island.
Then, you should go to bed for the night. The one and only K.K. Slider, guitar-playing doggo and ultimate Good Boy, will visit you in your dreams, and his speech hits a little too close to home for these socially distant times.
“Being by your lonesome can grind on the soul. You’ve gotta make friends along the way. Rambing this crazy world is squaresville without some pals.”
It doesn’t take a lot for me to tear up at video games, but man, that really got me. I desperately miss my friends, and video-chatting on Discord can do only so much.
Anyway, back to the game. When you wake up, the game will be in real time. So, what sets “Animal Crossing” apart from similar games like “Stardew Valley” is that a day cycle actually takes 24 hours. In “Stardew,” days last around 13 minutes.
What that means is if you want to build something, it will take an actual day for it to be completed – unless, of course, you manually reset the time on your gaming device. That’s cheating, though, and the game can actually tell when you do that.
“Animal Crossing” is not meant to be speedran (yes, I did Google how to conjugate “speedrun”); it’s meant to be played a bit each day. This actually helps in quarantine, as making and sticking to a schedule can help you to not slowly drift into complete depression. I like making a bagel or something portable for breakfast and playing a bit while I enjoy my first cup of coffee of the day.
From the first real day, you’re kind of on your own. If you’re just starting out and are not sure what to do, this guide will help you with your first week: www.polygon.com/animal-crossing-new-horizons-switch-acnh-guide/2020/3/20/21182290/first-week-daily-goals-how-to-unlock-museum-steps-farming.
Crafting sets “New Horizons” apart from the other mainline games. You can (and should) gather resources on your island to complete projects and make furniture. You should also catch fish and bugs to sell and donate to Tom Nook for the upcoming museum.
This game also introduces breakable tools. In other games, the only tools that could break were axes, but now, all tools can (and will) break after some use. Some guides will tell you to not bother making more durable tools for the first few days to save resources for other projects, but honestly, the better tools last much longer and therefore can help gather even more resources.
I actually kind of like the breakable tools. If I fish so much that my fishing rod breaks, that’s a pretty good sign that I should try doing something else for a while.
This article isn’t a guide or walkthrough, though. Every major video game outlet has written detailed guides, and I have been playing since only Friday. With that said, let’s get into some things I’m not super jazzed about.
First off, I wasn’t aware that each individual Nintendo Switch can handle only one island, no matter how many profiles are on the machine. My brother, Sam, and I share a Switch, and he wanted to try playing “New Horizons.” Since I had started the game before him, he can be only a resident on my already existing island.
I understand that this was actually a selling point for the game, as two people can play at once if there are two controllers connected, but Sam and I wish that there were an option for other players to make their own islands.
Speaking of multiplayer options, “New Horizons” allows players to connect with friends over the internet. The temptation of having your friends visit your island is almost too much to bear, especially in an era of forced isolation, but actually getting your friends to visit is complicated to say the least.
It requires a subscription to Nintendo Online, which isn’t very cash money – in fact, it costs cash money. You can sign up for a seven-day free trial (just make sure to turn off automatic renewal), and then see for yourself if it’s worth a couple bucks a month to hang out with your friends.
My last (small) complaint carries over from other mainline games: fishing. Since the camera is static, it’s hard to judge exactly where fish are in the water. You really can’t tell if those shadowy fiends will see your lure until it’s in the water. Granted, this is coming from someone who actually enjoys the fishing mechanic in “Stardew Valley,” which apparently I’m alone in feeling. Adding Joy-Con Drift to the equation makes fishing more than a little annoying, especially for someone with poor depth perception such as myself.
“Joy-Con Drift,” much like death and taxes, seems to be inevitable. The problem plagues the Joy-Cons, the detachable controllers of the Switch. The analog sticks in one or both Joy-Cons can glitch, causing your character and/or camera to move on their own. I just replaced my Joy-Cons during winter break, and I’m already getting some drift. Nintendo has given some really vague responses on the issue, and there are about 1,000 articles about this that were written by people much more familiar with the problem than I am.
These grievances are very, very minute compared to the joy this game brings me, though. The developers streamlined a lot of things since “New Leaf,” so “New Horizons” feels more intuitive than the older titles in the franchise.
For example, if you build a wardrobe for your house, you can change your clothes right then and there. If you wanted to do so in “New Leaf,” you would have needed to take your clothes out of storage and put them on manually. It seems like a small change, but it makes the game that much more enjoyable.
Speaking of clothes, you can make your own through the “Custom Designs” app on your Nook Phone. You best believe I’ve spent a good chunk of my time creating a bunch of queer pride outfits. I have a gay pride tank top with stars, an asexual baseball hat and an aromantic sweater. I plan on getting only gayer from here.
The villagers also have a sort of fuzzy quality to their character models, making them look very soft and huggable. Let me hug my neighbors, Nintendo. You cowards.
I actually find gathering resources to be very soothing. Plucking weeds is brainless work that makes you feel very satisfied by the end of it, and you can sell those for a pretty penny or use them for crafting.
Collecting wood can be treacherous due to wasps hanging out in random trees, but here’s a Weaver Pro-Tip: before you go swinging your ax, first shake trees with your net equipped. Try to stand off-center in front of the tree. That way, if a wasp nest falls, you can catch them instead of being stung. Your character will automatically face the wasps, so take the moment of shock to mash that A button and catch those awful bugs.
A lot of guides will tell you that you should do X, Y and Z in order to have the “perfect” island, but that line of thinking is antithetical to the whole series. Do what makes you happy. It’s not about having a perfectly laid-out neighborhood or making tons of bells; it’s about having fun. It is a game, after all.
So, do some fishing, catch some bugs, collect some iron and beware of tarantulas – seriously, I think everybody has been bitten by at least one so far. But above all, be kind to yourself and others, both in-game and not.