It’s hard to ignore the mainstream popularity Animal Crossing has gained through the last decade. From New Leaf, the barrage of spin-offs, and their mobile outing the franchise has gained a lot of traction and has become a big hitter in the lineup of great Nintendo IPs. New Horizons was released in March 2020 to unprecedented success and caused Switch systems to boom in sales which created a shortage unseen since the Nintendo Wii sales cycle. But, is the game that good? Is there something it brings to the table that makes it the ultimate Animal Crossing experience or does it fall just a little too short of the mark?
My history with the franchise dates back to the DS era with Wild World. I spent a ridiculous amount of time playing through that town, even if I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what I was doing and time-travelled a lot to experience everything whenever I wanted to. I remember gauging it as a quaint distraction I could just hop on and off with little consequence and enjoyed my time with the game.
Jump forward to New Leaf and it opened up the game so much simply by granting the player the ability to become the mayor of a town and building public work projects. No more were we shackled by the layout of the town upon creating a save file— we could move bridges, build buildings, statues, and other themed outdoor furniture and place them, basically, anywhere we wanted to. The game also introduced a lot of key features which are still lacking from the newest outing.
My problems with New Horizons stem from the new release model Nintendo has taken with some of their games, a few notable examples being Splatoon, Arms and Kirby Star Allies. This model is where they release the base game and then rely on content dripping through major and minor updates as the game ages to entice players to come back to play more, with customers finally having the full experience a year or two into release. This model works fine on multiplayer games like Splatoon as the gameplay grind relies on returning players to keep playing online. New content updates like weapons and stages releasing at seemingly random intervals help mix up the meta and keeps the game fresh and interesting.
With Animal Crossing being a mostly single-player experience I was disappointed to find a lot of key features missing from the game even a month after launch. Key examples of features I was excited to see return were the Roost, the night club, Katrina, Crazy Redd, Gyroids, Island Tours, Dream Towns, diving, and some of the fruit just to name a few. The lack of features and no confirmation on if any of them coming back was daunting and greatly disappointed me as I was looking forward to these features more than the new ones. And this is without mentioning the tediousness of the crafting system.
New Horizons does introduce a lot of quality of life changes that I adore, like the bigger inventory systems, furniture being place-able outside(with the exception of rugs for some bizarre reason), terraforming and instant customisation, but with so many beloved features absent from the game, and no word that they are ever coming, I struggle to feel the same longevity as I did with New Leaf. The best way I can express this is with Katrina; she is a panther that may visit the town on a random day of the week and read your fortune. Once she has visited 20 times you can invite her to move into an empty shop on main street and have your fortune read at any time. What was great about this is that it encouraged you to play every day just in case she came to town so you could slowly progress on getting her to set up shop. To me at least, long-term goals in this series are very important for maintaining that urge to play the game rather than the small events that don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.
I started writing this article in May of 2020 and for a while, I left the game to see if maybe one day the game I expected would come to fruition. Then suddenly in November 2021 a major update added a plethora of features, such as Katrina, Reese, Cyrus, the Happy Home Island expansion, and a lot more than I care to list here. For a fleeting moment I felt like, maybe at last New Horizons was about to hide its stride as a complete experience and it would get me to return to the game once more, but alas, after a few days of playing I just found myself bored and even returning to New Leaf to get what I still feel like is a vastly superior experience.
I don’t hate New Horizons, it definitely has earned its popularity with its addictive gameplay cycle, but after the last installment I was expecting so much more. I can’t help but feel like this game deserved more time in the oven to bring out the best possible experience from the start rather than Nintendo choosing the game-as-a-service model. But as it stands, the game has done exceedingly well and helped millions of people through a global pandemic and that fact cannot be understated. During unprecedented times visiting other people virtually was something that people needed and the timing for release couldn’t have been better from that perspective.
Video game completionist and 3D platformer connoisseur, Riley is a fan of the whimsical frenzy of bright and colourful characters to bless us in the late 90's. Their favourite game's are Spyro, Persona 5 and Super Mario Sunshine.