Animal Crossing New Horizons Review: Fish, Build, Grow, Earn, Submit

Island Orientation

Animal Crossing is the new hotness to take the world by storm if you weren’t aware… I mean, you’re on the internet right now so I can assume you know what this game is all about. It takes the laid-back escapism and long-term reward of Stardew Valley and compresses it into its purest form. Rather than spreading thinly across multiple genres like the indie darling, Animal Crossing focuses on the cute factor and provides a collect-a-thon experience which, unfortunately for the world, could not have been timed better.

Many people have latched onto this due to the stark mirror to our own world and current quarantine situation (if you’re reading this after May, who knows what could be happening outside your window right now, this might be totally obsolete). The gameplay loop revolves around constructing your own idea of paradise, a little bit of what we all need right now, whether you like to relax with a jacuzzi bath, a music rehearsal, or simply gazing upon your kaiju figurines, it can be recreated on your own island.

So, this isn’t my usual kind of game. However, with my girlfriend recently moving in, it seemed like a brilliant welcome home present and she was ecstatic – I was sceptical. It is time to give this a fair shake, will I have a wasp’s nest fall on me, or a gorgeous kitchen appliance?


Day In, Day Out

In a world where you may be unable to escape the four walls which surround you, waking up from home, working from home, eating from home, sleeping from home, the monotony and routine might be driving you mad. Believe me – I know. Thankfully, Animal Crossing is a cheerful escape from this reality where you can pick weeds, pay off increasing debt and talk to people you may not necessarily like, but you are stuck with. Wait, escapism? That’s right. Having this diversion from the real world nightmare is a very welcome change of pace, I can work an entire day from my home office and look forward to knowing that I can tend to my island when the clock strikes five, nothing can hurt me on the island, I’m safe on the island.

In all seriousness though – this routine is the crux of what makes Animal Crossing such a phenomenon. Anything could happen, the shop can have some new lava lamp in stock, maybe there will be a travelling hat salesman visiting for the day. Most of all though, it will never be bad, it’ll never be a detriment to your progress and that is what makes it so lovely. I was hooked.


Quality of Life

A regular day in Animal Crossing entails a few daily chores, collecting materials, ticking off the daily events such as finding the recipe bottles and checking on the new stock in the many shops. Thus, begins the treacherous spiral. Fishing, crafting bug catching are all the name of the game here, these are sold for bells, which you spend on items to decorate your island home. This is interspersed with seasonal events and the ability to visit randomly generated islands in the hopes of acquiring new islanders and additional materials. It is incredibly easy to be sucked in, and once you are, you will surely obsess over finding every item to make your perfect paradise.

Customisation is the main reward here, buying new ironing boards and other mundane collectibles becomes the most exciting thing ever. There are loads of clothing options available too which let you make your islander look just like you, my islander looks just like me for example, complete with stupid hat.

This is not to say that this loop isn’t without its flaws, there are numerous things which I fully expect to be addressed, but are still a hinderance at the time of writing this review. Things like the inability to craft multiple items at once or purchase certain items in one go rather than put up with repeated dialogue over and over. Additional feedback on where items you place down will go would also be nice. A reticule to illustrate where you’re going to dig or cast your lure when fishing would also go a long way in reducing what little frustrations I had with the daily grind. These are tiny nit-picks that make it feel like more of a chore than it has to, which is ironic because a lot of the time you are actually performing chores. Don’t let it discourage you, if you want a chillout game, this is your jam.


Live Your Island Life at Your Own Pace

Needless to say, the pacing of AC is snail-like at its swiftest, but that is by design. The clock runs in real time, with in-game events being tied to the internal clock of the Nintendo Switch. This leads to a delayed sense of satisfaction as you plant a tree one day, then have to wait four whole days for it to be grown and bear fruit. This delayed satisfaction is constantly reinforced as actions performed one day aren’t rewarded until a later date, such as helping out a stranded sailor who will send you a gift in the post the following day if you choose to help him out. This constant stream of rewards and waiting is vital to the game making you feel accomplished. It isn’t dissimilar to right now, ordering something new online is alright, but due to the staleness of quarantine life, the waiting is actually exciting. AC’s main hook is the same as ordering a toastie maker and planning all the bonkers things you’re are going to fill bread with before it arrives, the waiting is almost more fun than the reward itself.

This unique pacing has its merits of course, but it also has its fair share of criticisms. This has led to many players abusing the in-game clock and effectively skipping this waiting altogether. I don’t get that. I feel like that misses the point of playing an Animal Crossing at all. I mean, you’ve spent your own money on it, play it however makes you happy, but I think that would just take out one of the things that I love so much about this title. I’ve never enjoyed waiting so much. What else have I got to do?


Sharing is Caring

As I’ve mentioned, you’re on the internet right now, you have surely seen some Animal Crossing creations or recreations already. The creativity and attention to detail some people have been able to put into some of these islands manages to tread the line between incredible and “what has gone wrong in your life?”. I think that this is detrimental to the experience in a way. The game encourages you to take your time and be proud of your progress, however, it can be discouraging when you look online and see your rose garden is not nearly as impressive as someone who has recreated the map from A Link to the Past.

Similar to fitness in the current lockdown climate, don’t take what you see on Instagram or Reddit as the standard. Just because a few people landscape their island in perfect ways and boast about it online, that is not the norm. Try not to be discouraged by these unrealistic expectations. If you’re happy with your progress, that is all that matters. Doing some sit ups, going for a run, so long as it makes you feel good, don’t let other people’s progress get you down.

My stance on Animal Crossing is that it is better enjoyed as a solo experience. Weird to say, and there is certainly joy to be had sharing items and recipes with friends. When you expand it to the wider internet though it just makes you feel dreadful, so at risk of sounding like a “Facebook mum”, only play with people you know.

Socialising with your fellow islanders is also similar to checking in on your real friends sometimes. You can check in every few days to establish that you are still there, this means they won’t leave your island or stop liking your photos on Instagram.  Some days are more involved than others, some days you might send gifts to your friends, or island companions. Some days you might just not want to talk, and that’s okay too, your islanders and friends will be there when you’re ready again.


Bells for Days

Animal Crossing has sold incredibly well, better than Mario Odyssey, better than Zelda, both of which are much more to my taste. You can’t fault the numbers though, this is what the people want, it is what they need right now, an escape.

It is clear from these staggering statistics that Nintendo is going to support this moving forward with the Easter event and the most recent stamp rally (thrilling) being a success. I’m sure we can expect to see Christmas, Halloween and all manner of things in between to keep it fresh. So it is definitely worth jumping in early if you can to make the most of these seasonal occurrences.


Go with the Flow

This review has been a directionless ramble about the game rather than providing any actual criticism and I think that is perfect for an Animal Crossing game. For me, it is the perfect side-game, it isn’t something which requires my full attention and I don’t think that it could occupy me alone. However, being able to play this in my down time and get my turnip delivery on Sunday before resuming my lie in, it is hard not to love island life.

If this sounds like it might be up your alley, chances are you already own it, but if not, don’t go out and get it, have it delivered. What are you? Stupid?

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