For this review of Animal Crossing: New Horizons; we here at VGU.tv thought to tackle it as a co-op review. On one side, Graydon Webb has experience with the Animal Crossing franchise. The other perspective includes Josh Miller playing one for the first time. Each will provide their own thoughts about the game along with their own individual score.
Josh Miller – The Animal Crossing Newbie
For years I have heard the praise of Animal Crossing while knowing very little about why people held it in such high regard. Discussion about it revolved around Tom Nook’s greedy desires, trying to locate certain types of fruit, and how weed-stricken properties became after coming back after long hiatuses. From my outsider perspective, Animal Crossing always sounded like a Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley type of game with mobile timer aspects that always left me a little weary of trying. Since the coronavirus has shaken the world, I thought what better time than now to jump into the Animal Crossing world with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Not only were my fears overblown (to a point), it has also become a perfect companion during quarantine.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is an easy game to jump into for newcomers like myself. The goal is pretty clear. Build your island and chill. That’s about it. Buildings will be added and customization options expanded as the game progresses using its real-time schedule. Every day provides something new and engaging for players to focus on whether it building the impressively large and majestic museum or expanding their house. Even on slow days where there isn’t anything more to do than wait; jumping to friends islands or using a Nook Miles Ticket to get away is a perfect way to pass the time. Gathering materials for crafting and earning Bells to purchase items is always another route to go, even if it can become tedious and dull. I’ve come to learn, Animal Crossing: New Horizons may provide long periods of play time, but it’s also great in short bursts as well.
As great as customization and expansion is, plenty of personality exudes from Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’m a sucker for dad jokes, and this game has plenty of similar comedy. Each NPC has distinct traits that make them stand out from one another. For instance, Flip is a monkey trying to get swole. Looking at ways to get buff and fit. Freckles on the other hand is an upbeat duck. Freckles’ expressions are typically over-enthused and excited and reminds me of the peppy characters from Japanese media. Add in the player-controlled designs for both the character and properties; Animal Crossing: New Horizons is nothing if not charming.
Yet, despite my addiction to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I find myself with plenty of complaints too. I absolutely loathe the fact I have to run back home to gather stored items anytime I want to craft. Why can’t crafting be tied to both on-hand and house-stored materials? Item degradation is something I can’t stand in any game, and having to re-craft items repeatedly is a bummer. Especially since you can’t craft multiples of the same item at once. Nope…have to do the same animation over and over again. I’ve moved past the real-world time limitations though I’m still not a big fan of them, but I definitely understand people who mess with the clock because of this game. Little things like not being able to pan the camera around when your fishing bobber goes out of view while fishing doesn’t help matters either.
However, of all the hang-ups I have with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the worst is visiting islands for friends. The loading it takes is abysmal. To make matters worse though is if multiple people visit the island. The game comes to a complete stop when this happens. Anytime someone new flies over, the game stops to show who it is and where they are coming from. Then it’s on hold until they arrive. For EVERY SINGLE PERSON. Then the same thing happens when they leave! WHY!? It’s so incredibly frustrating and has me actively avoiding visiting other islands.
Now that I can breathe getting those off my chest, all-in-all….I love Animal Crossing. I’m not liking it more than say the Harvest Moon of old or Stardew Valley, but it’s different enough that I can still appreciate what it brings to the table. In fact, if Stardew Valley were to take some inspiration from Animal Crossing by allowing custom designs for instance, it would be a better game for it. Regardless, I finally understand it. I finally understand the love for the Animal Crossing series. I think I’m able to say the same now as well.
Josh’s Score: 4 out of 5
Graydon Webb – Indebted to Tom Nook, 15 Years and Counting
Looking back on my experience with the Animal Crossing franchise, I came to find I’m something of a veteran. Having played every installment but the original on GameCube, I was surprised to see just how long I’ve been with the series. Looking back on memories of watching it grow has filled me with even more nostalgia while anticipating New Horizons. Thankfully, the latest game has finally arrived, and if I said it wasn’t the meatiest, most fulfilling Animal Crossing yet, I’d be lying. Unfortunately, it’s not without its faults, which do drag the game down significantly. But as a whole, island life isn’t too bad, even if a stingy raccoon is running the show this time around.
Every Animal Crossing game brings with it some new addition that shakes things up a bit. Whether it was City Folk‘s new string of businesses or New Leaf’s mayoral duties thrust upon you, the premise is tweaked just a little to feel new while the main rule set typically stays the same. New Horizons, on the other hand, takes everything you know about Animal Crossing and throws the aforementioned rules out the window. This makes it the perfect starting point for newcomers, and thankfully for Nintendo, that’s bringing a lot of fresh faces to the franchise. New Horizons is absolutely a system-seller, and deservedly so. But for established fans, these new additions could be considered a bit of a turnoff.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons introduces a crafting system, not unlike the one from Amiibo Festival on the Wii U. If you forgot about that game, or skipped it altogether, I don’t blame you. It was a disappointing Mario Party clone dependent on the sales of plastic figurines to play a video game. All that aside, however, the crafting system in New Horizons evidently works like a charm. Does it seamlessly mesh with the Animal Crossing formula, though? I can’t wholeheartedly agree. I’ve seen my sister – a lifelong fan of the series – grow quickly tired of the need for crafting, and personally, I have struggled to enjoy the system while my tools continuously break and my material storage has resorted to covering my living room floor in iron nuggets and tree branches, so the inevitable building of yet another shovel will be easier to do. Admittedly, crafting is a brilliant concept, and with an island setting, New Horizons feels super akin to Minecraft in the best way. Unfortunately, crafting tends to take from the laid-back feel the series is used to, and for some fans I feel that revelation can be off-putting.
Strangely, the lack of serenity in New Horizons is the point I keep coming back to when talking with others about the game. Even on the Player’s Club Podcast, I mentioned how this installment brings the world of Animal Crossing from Tamagotchi territory into the realm of actual video games. I previously stated how I’ve played nearly every Animal Crossing in the franchise, however I only played them for a few months until I grew tired of them. Find me one person in this world who’s still checking in on their GameCube save file; it’s simply impractical.
What I love about New Horizons is for the first time ever, I feel more like I want to go back and play, compared to the feeling of I have to check in on my town. Especially with the introduction of Nook Miles, the game is less about upkeep and more about completing quests and getting things done. Even without the leadership role of mayor – or “island representative,” which I’ll get to in a moment – I feel like I have a lot of control over the island and what happens on it. Animal Crossing is no longer about just playing God and sending your neighbors hate mail and rotten fruit – it’s about building a life in a living, breathing world. Perhaps that’s what it’s always been about, and I’m just a jerk for the hate mail thing, but thanks to New Horizons, I finally get it.
The last point I want to make is regarding the island representative system. This is a genuine issue, and I hope Nintendo hears out fans of Animal Crossing, and addresses this problem. To all who have yet to play this game – which again, you should, because it is genuinely fun and captivating – be warned that the first person to play is automatically made the “island representative.” This means if you’re a parent buying the game for your kid, or you’re siblings splitting the cost and buying the game together, know that all progression on the island will be linked to the first one to start the game. Every special recipe given out by Tom Nook, every bridge built in town, every villager house planted and furnished – it can all only be done under the initial save file.
What does this mean for me? Well, I’ve been mining for materials, crafting new items, and going to new islands to recruit villagers… as myself. Then, I’ll jump to my sister’s save file (who hasn’t played much because crafting doesn’t interest her) and do everything that must be done to unlock ladders and terraforming and bring freaking Isabelle to my town! It’s tedious, it’s annoying as all get-out, and it’s seriously a travesty in terms of game design. Especially for a game that is so focused on togetherness and family. I love living on the same island as my sister, but please, Nintendo, let me pull my weight around the island, too.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a fascinating foray into new gameplay structure for the series. Crafting, while monotonous for some, is sophisticated, compelling, and offers up some amazing new furniture and tools that change the game completely (You can vault over water! How cool is that?) For fans of the franchise, you’ll find a lot of familiar faces in-game, including many old villagers trying out island life for the first time, as well. Customization is deep, and placing furniture outside adds a whole new layer to exterior decoration that will keep many people I know busy for hours. All in all, Animal Crossing continues to be a series for people who want a relaxing experience, but this time around, new additions – or should I say, New Horizons – make for an even more enticing game for those who called for more substance in their world of anthropomorphic, clothes-wearing, capitalistic raccoons.
Graydon’s Score: 4 out of 5
Final VGU Score: