The Deserted Island Getaway package from Tom Nook and co. is an ideal holiday for many. The water frothing across the sandy beach, the beautiful flora and fauna a sight to behold, and the peace and quiet of the island’s humble beginnings. This is Animal Crossing: New Horizons – a visually stunning and wonderfully immersive world in the palm of your hands.
Seven years have passed since Animal Crossing: New Leaf landed on the Nintendo 3DS. Fans were satiated for a time with Happy Home Designer and, more recently, the free-to-play smartphone title, Pocket Camp. But neither of those titles are the real deal, though the latter has certainly kept the Animal Crossing community alive and well, albeit a tad stressed with the continuous flow of events, Gulliver woes and gacha fortune cookies. But we digress. New Horizons aims to put all that aside; no more stressful moments (i.e. setting alarms so you can fish during the night or frantically asking for help at the Quarry), just tranquillity – as Animal Crossing should be.
Our 90-minute preview session took us through what island life is like when you first set up camp, following by a few weeks into New Horizons. At first look, the Switch title is everything you’d expect from Animal Crossing. You start with a small tent and a few interior items to make it feel homely. Tom Nook, the Nooklings and a couple of residents – in this case we encountered Reneigh and Antonio – were our only contact with civilization. Like the Mayor in New Leaf, your character is the ‘Resident Representative’ here and can influence the island’s native appearance and activities. The best way to do this is by accessing your ‘Nookphone’, a smartphone which is part of the exclusive getaway package from Tom Nook.
Just like our own smartphones, the Nookphone is your way of accessing up to date information on the island. Between crafting new DIY tools to keeping track of your Nook Miles (a new achievement-like feature that rewards you for doing everyday things), it’s a handy tool that’s relegated to the ZL button – and, thankfully, doesn’t take up any of your on-hand inventory space. Of course, when your character is immersed in their Nookphone, they won’t be able to move or talk to any fellow residents. Ever so slightly mocking of real life, no? Either way, the Nookphone is a – dare I say it – smart addition to New Horizons, keeping the game relevant to younger or first-time players, particularly those who no longer understand what it was like to live in a world without technology.
Accessing the DIY app on your Nookphone will give you access to a smorgasbord of item recipes, which look like simple playing cards (presumably in-game QR codes) to us. During our preview, we already had some tools at our disposal, including a flimsy fishing rod and the net equivalent. After a short amount of time, these tools will break. However, they are cheap and easy to craft, requiring a handful of branches you can find laid on the ground or simply by shaking trees. Be careful not to drop a wasps’ nest though! But, if the worst does happen, you can always run into a house or heal your injury with medicine.
After crafting a pole vault at Resident Services, as many of you will have spotted in the latest Nintendo Direct, your character can easily scale over the river and discover new resources, plants and weeds ready for the picking. You can even pole vault over the pond if you like. Pole vaulting is a huge milestone as in the initial stages of the game you won’t have access to any of the land beyond the river, since there are no bridges available. However, this is something that’s easy to fix later in the game.
Around 20 minutes into our preview session, we got the chance to go hands-on with New Horizons after we’d been on the Island for several weeks. And the transformation was sublime. Now, our character had an upgraded home with two rooms, Blathers was soundly sleeping in his natural habitat – the Museum – and there were several shops available to peruse, including the fan-favourite Nook’s Cranny and the Able Sisters clothing store.
Perhaps the most jaw-dropping element here, though, was when we were walking around the museum. Since its days in New Leaf, the museum has had a full-fledged makeover. We won’t spoil the exhibits but there is ample opportunity to explore in finite detail all the creatures that you’ve donated to Blathers’ endeavours. It looks stunning in crisp detail on the Nintendo Switch, with themed areas and interactive spots to keep adults or children entertained for more than a few hours.
After taking a stroll around Nook’s Cranny, the Resident Services building to see the adorable Isabelle (she was making tea at the time), and visiting Mabel and Sable to peruse their wares, we carved out some time to focus on our own home. When inside, you can easily access your storage by pressing ‘right’ on the D-pad. Here, instead of placing stored furniture down and moving it around awkwardly a la New Leaf, we simply pressed ‘down’ on the D-pad to access a top-down view of our house. For fans who have played Happy Home Designer, you’ll recognise this set up. Playing in the same fashion, furniture can be picked up, dropped, and rotated anywhere in the room. You can even select multiple objects at once (like a table and lamp) and move them in unison. For interior designers, New Horizons is going to be a dream.
If you fancy yourself more as a construction guru, New Horizons blends itself into Minecraft territory with the terraforming permit. Now you can mould the land just how you want it, by creating shaped cliffsides and placing beautiful stone, clay or sandy pathways for residents to use when shopping in town or wandering down to the beach. The possibilities are endless. Now, if only we could create our own houses… but I guess that would upset Tom Nook too much.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is shaping up to become what every fan wants to see. It’s a franchise that rewards your daily commitment and dedication with new, unique and interesting things – and New Horizons is no different. Who knew we’d be so excited to take out a second mortgage? Thanks to Tom Nook and co., we’re already saving our bells.
A special hands-on session of Animal Crossing: New Horizons was hosted by Nintendo UK for My Nintendo News. This is a preview of the upcoming game only.