Everyone’s favourite quarantine pastime…

3 things that make Animal Crossing: New Horizons great (and 3 things that would make it better)

Island life could always be sweeter

Picture the scene. My friends travel over to my place. When they arrive, we eat beautiful food together, often fruit. We go shopping. We attack the local animal residents with our tools. One of my friends sneezes on an owl.

No, we’re not the stars of the latest Netflix limited series or breaking quarantine. We’re playing the latest Animal Crossing game, released right when the world needs it most.

I’ve spent the past fortnight playing Nintendo’s latest creation and not to rub salt in the wound of those unlucky not to own a Switch but…it’s pretty bloody good. In fact, why not list all the things New Horizons does so well.

Hell, maybe I’ll include some shortcomings to keep the jealousy at bay too — my social media has been littered with people ordering takeaways while I can’t so I know exactly how you feel.

Pro #1: Customisation is everything I ever wanted

Let me be direct with you all: I cannot ever return to previous Animal Crossing titles when this level of customisation is missing from them.

No more relying on random questions to define your look. From the offset, you’re able to mould your villager as you see fit. As you progress and gather Nook Miles goodies, your options expand with cool new hairstyles and colours. I am too much of a coward in real life to dye my hair despite all my greys. In AC: New Horizons I can give myself a SoundCloud rap pink hair-do without fear.

There’s more to it than how your character looks though. Is that piece of furniture clashing with your Akira living room? Give it a fresh lick of paint. Think it would look better outside Resident Services? Or blocking the doorway of your least favourite villager? New Horizons might not encourage the latter but it lets you do both.

Improvement #1: Sort out tool durability

If there’s one message in New Horizons more frustrating than “it’s at least a C+”, it’s the following: “Oh no! It’s the end of the line for my [INSERT TOOL]”.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not detest the idea of object durability in gaming. If it encourages you to avoid becoming too set in your ways and spice things up then it’s all good by me. Most RPGs have this on some level, last year’s The Outer Worlds being a prime example.

However, this only works if said durability is signalled loud and clear with the user. Tools in New Horizons suffer from a kind of paradox. Before hitting that rock, your trusty shovel could either be a behemoth or fall apart like it was made of twigs.

Something as simple as a visual cue on the tool ring/inventory would help to ease a lot of stress. No more cutting trips around my island short because another god damn water egg cut my fishing rod’s life short.

Pro #2: Prettiest looking AC entry yet

Beauty is only skin deep but with New Horizons this idiom doesn’t hold true.

Much like how every other part of the game is oozing with charm, so too are the visuals. This isn’t only because we’re working with more powerful hardware though it does help. The water looks lush, trees move with the wind and Aurora somehow looks cuter than ever.

Speaking of my favourite penguin, remember how I said the graphical improvements aren’t just because of hardware? Your villagers all seem to have a plush feel to them, much like they did in New Leaf. This time it feels all the more realised, meaning you end up even more attached to your neighbours.

Improvement #2: Please God improve crafting

Why must something that brings me such joy also bring me such pain?

The addition of crafting to Animal Crossing is certainly a good thing, adding to the thoroughly improved gameplay (but let’s save that for later). However as good as it might be, it isn’t quite as good as it could be. If there’s one gripe most players have with New Horizons that isn’t egg-related, it’s this.

It shouldn’t be a complicated fix either. Ideally, Nintendo would drop a patch down the line that allowed us to bulk craft. Either that or give the option to remove the animation to save those precious seconds. No more wasting precious time crafting one item after the other.

Recently everyone was frantically crafting bait to reel in rare fish that would be leaving the game. A 3 to 4-second animation per bait may not seem like much. When you want to carry 10 or more bags of bait on you, it’s nothing short of frustrating.

Pro #3: Gameplay is the best it’s ever been

Recently I was trying to convince a Twitter mutual/pal on the appeal of Animal Crossing. I said the loop of playing for an hour or two daily and watching that growth happen is a dopamine hit few games provide. How fortunate it is that somehow New Horizons only made this rush all the more exhilarating.

In most Animal Crossing games there is some semblance of life before your arrival. With New Horizons you have a seat at the table, making each decision during the blueprint stage. I’m only two weeks in but already I’ve got to introduce two shops, a museum and ten villagers to the beautiful island of Twin Peaks. All located exactly where I want them.

On top of that is maybe the best inclusion in the form of Nook Miles. This is New Horizons way of rewarding you for pretty much every action you take. That can be building tools or selling weeds (I need to emphasise the plural). Nook Miles can be used for a plethora of things; tickets to beneficial islands; expansion to your inventory; special items for your house and island.

You know how health buffs live for the vibration of their Fitbit? The NookPhone notification and ring when you’ve completed a task is like that. It’s enough to make your usual hour or two long sessions double…or even triple in length.

Improvement #3: Tweak Nook’s Cranny

Before the 25 minute-long Direct, many were worried that the emphasis on crafting would take away an old favourite: Nook’s Cranny.

Being a Wild World kid, I too was part of this worried group. Thankfully Nintendo was only cruel enough to omit certain characters (for now). Ran by Tom Nook’s nephew/sons (let’s not get into it), Timmy and Tommy sell all types of goods just like the old days. As much as I’m happy to have this old shack in my life, it could be improved.

A new feature is a drop off box. This effectively means you can sell to Timmy and Tommy 24/7 at the cost of a cut of your profits. I like this idea, not just out of practicality but it also appeals to my ethical nature.

However, I don’t see why we should be punished for using this during normal working hours: getting to see your items worth as you drop them in is insightful and satisfying. Either make the smaller profits exclusive to when Nook’s Cranny is closed or use the real-time bell display when selling inside.

Also — please let us buy bait. I do not want to read the words “manilla is my favourite flavour of clam” ever again.

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Multi-media journalist over analysing and oversharing via the power of Medium. Find me over on YouTube @ liamthemusicreviewer.

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