“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” couldn’t have come at a better time

The latest installment in the Animal Crossing series, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” was released on the Nintendo Switch on March 20. Long-awaited by fans, “New Horizons” offers the ability to explore virtual islands while most of the world is quarantined.

Similar to its predecessor, “Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp,” “New Horizons” begins with players setting up camp on uninhabited land. However, players are then expected to civilize their island by building infrastructure and securing permanent residents, which harkens much closer to the gameplay of “New Leaf.”

Bug-catching and fishing remain essential trades to get Bells, the primary in-game currency. However, “New Horizons” introduces Nook Miles as a secondary currency, used for paying off certain loans and getting exclusive items. Nook Miles are garnered by completing assortments of prompts within the game, diversifying the tasks players take on and incentivising daily play.

One of the biggest improvements in “New Horizons” is its use of crafting, or DIY-ing. Animal Crossing has always had some level of creation, namely in tailoring clothes and umbrellas, but players can now make their own items using the island’s materials. This function was first featured in “Pocket Camp,” where you would collect materials and bring them to a craftsperson to make furniture and infrastructure. “New Horizons” builds on this by letting players themselves be the craftspeople. The ability for one’s character to learn DIY recipes is a new asset, and game progress is directly related to which tools you’ve learned to make. This new level of customization engages players by encouraging them to make their islands more uniquely their own.

Like many “Animal Crossing” games, “New Horizons” is multiplayer, with as many as eight players allowed on one island during a session. With a Nintendo Switch Online membership, players may host and visit each others’ islands. This has quickly become a popular mode of socialization during the pandemic. Players may even mine resources from friends’ islands, which greatly accelerates gameplay, further motivating cooperation between players.

Along with local and online multiplayer, “New Horizons” is the first of its series to introduce multiplayer off of one device, dubbed as party play. Up to eight Switch users may register to play, but all share one island, and four users may play together on their island at once. Nintendo offers a good first attempt at co-op here, but this function has its faults. During co-op, one player is the leader while the remainder are followers; leaders are the only players with access to their inventory and tools, and leaders are the only ones able to enter buildings. In addition, the first Switch user to play reigns as Resident Representative on the shared island, which means that other Switch users have slightly limited function in comparison.

Classic features of the series remain intact, including staple characters of the game. Tom Nook, Timmy and Tommy accompany the player to the island, while fan favorites such as Blathers and Isabelle arrive when the player reaches certain milestones. Few new villagers make an appearance in “New Horizons,” and little has changed in the way players interact with them. This consistency is what appeals to long-time players, who might have grown up playing “Wild World” or “New Leaf.”

Under the shiny new graphics, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” uses the same old “Animal Crossing” formula. It manages to keep the same emphasis on exploration, creativity, and connection through the inventive use of recycled and updated features. “New Horizons” provides the Nintendo community a moment to unwind during a time of international panic.

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