Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review: Calm in the COVID-19 storm

I’ve never played an Animal Crossing game before. This might make me a terrible Nintendo fan. My curiosity was piqued by Animal Crossing: New Horizons in the lead-up to its launch. It seemed to offer something calming and unchallenging in a global moment of hardship and complexity.

Fans have now had over two weeks to settle into our new island lives. With the entire world in lockdown or self-isolation thanks to COVID-19, there’s honestly no better time for a game like this to arrive.

Welcome to your deserted island paradise

I love how much control Animal Crossing: New Horizons gives the player over their experience. Everything from the island you settle on to how silly you look is up to you. The placement of buildings, items, trees and flowers in the world is your decision to make. I get to choose where my fellow neighbours live, not them. I have all the power.

The level of detail within the game is super cool as well. Whenever you enter the Resident Services building, you’ll be greeted by Tom and Timmy Nook (later Tom Nook and Isabelle), and they’ll wave you goodbye when you leave. Your fellow island residents glance at you as you walk past them and sometimes they’ll even run over to say hello! Your progress very much relies on the others on the island which makes you want to keep playing.

New Horizon‘s main thrust is that veteran business raccoon Tom Nook is expanding his business. Nook has come into possession of seemingly infinite deserted islands, vacant land he is now selling to investors interested in a sea change. Your character is one of these interested parties, and takes on a zero-interest-pay-whenever loan from Nook to establish themselves and a handful of other villagers on an island of their choice. From there, you are tasked with helping Nook grow the island from a simple camp into a bustling town.

Planting seeds

You start small — flimsy tools that break easily, limited pocket space and a pokey little tent — but the pace of expansion always feels quite speedy. You’ll move from the tent to a house to a bigger house in no time at all. Before long, you’ll have a garden. One day you’ll build an orchard with all the fruit you’ve collected. One day you’ll do nothing but catch and sell fish.

There’s always an infrastructural project to complete as well. One of the first is convincing the owl Blathers and his grand museum to open on your island. Once established, you can donate one of every type of bug, fish, and fossil you find. The museum is one of New Horizon‘s most significant additions, a beautiful and tranquil space you can escape to. Later, you’ll help Nook’s sons Timmy and Tommy open their own general store, and convince the Able Sisters to establish the island’s first clothes store. As your town grows, more of these businesses will start to pop up, which increases your island’s reputation, which in turn attracts more potential residents.

Nook rewards your diligent work with Nook Miles. These are frequent flier miles that can be used to purchase items from his bespoke company store or travel to other empty, randomly generated islands to gather fresh supplies. They are awarded for hitting certain milestones like buying clothes or pulling out clumps of weeds, and you’ll earn quite a few just for going about your daily business.

Nook, nook. Who’s there?

Each day is an opportunity to add something new to the island. This is where Animal Crossing‘s design has always shone brightest; it’s a game about little victories. You pick a new task for yourself every day and get it done. There’s something very zen in that.

One of the game’s biggest surprises for new players will be its adherence to a real-time 24-hour day/night cycle. I had originally expected the game to run like Stardew Valley. I can see the temptation to ‘time travel’ (aka playing with the Switch’s internal clock) to get all the things and progress faster. As of yet, I’ve not done it. Not because I’m a goody-goody gamer girl but because I’ve got gamer PTSD. Anyone played The Sims 2 on the NDS? You’ll know what I’m talking about.

I thought the changing of seasons was a really fun touch as well, though I very much like AC:NH‘s style compared to Stardew. What can I say? I’m a sucker for sakura. Get on it, ConcernedApe. Each season brings with it different items — new plants, new housewares, new fashion — meaning there’s always a reason to log in year-round. The Bunny Day event is happening now and there is a lot of egg recipe hunting to do. I’m a bit curious as to whether the events will be the same each year or if there would be a different twist with each passing year. Wait and see, I suppose.

Pictured: Jasmin and our games editor David

The power of friendship

Since everyone I know is currently in self-isolation/quarantine, I finally bought myself a Nintendo Online sub to help stay connected. If you have been sitting on the fence with that purchase, let me tell you that the reason to buy has arrived. Playing Animal Crossing with friends makes the experience that much better. It’s a core component in the experience — visiting friends islands gives you access to new store items, new fruits, trees and flowers, competitive Stalk Market prices and more. You can catch bugs and fish that may not exist in your region.

One of the biggest reasons to visit your friends is to make the most of the Stalk Market. The Stalk Market allows players to purchase turnips from a specific vendor that only appears on Sundays. Turnips will stay fresh for a full week, giving you time to flip them for a profit, after which time they rot. Turnips can be sold to Timmy and Tommy at Nook’s Cranny, and the asking price for turnips changes twice a day — one price in the morning, another in the late afternoon. No two islands have the same prices and so checking the going rate when visiting your friend’s islands becomes a good way to make fast money.

In my experience, playing with friends makes me feel a bit competitive. I’ve not had anyone on my island as of yet (but I’ve visited others). I’m taking my time to make my little Alola the bomb before I unveil it to others.

Final thoughts

I love Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’m glad I finally got into it and I can’t wait to play more. This review went live on The AU later than other outlets, and a big part of the reason was that I couldn’t stop playing.

I’ll admit I’m a bit confused as to why everyone hates Tom Nook so much. I managed to pay off my initial debt with my Miles within a day of playing and I just wondered if everyone was blowing things out of propo– he wants HOW MANY BELLS FOR A HOUSE? I guess I can save that up. Fine. Only a couple days work and I ca– he wants HOW MUCH FOR AN EXTENSION?

Yeah, ok, I get it now.


Highlights: Perfect way to kill self-isolation time, Cute characters, Dynamic environments, Seasonal fun
Lowlights: Long loading times…and Tom Nook
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Available: Now

Review conducted on Nintendo Switch with a retail code provided by the publisher. Check out more of our video game reviews here.

Jasmin Osman

Freelance writer & photographer. Youtube enthusiast. Social media hermit (but she'll still appreciate the follows) ‣‣