For Nook the Bells Toll: Animal Crossing New Horizons

Animal Crossing New Horizons was an interesting gaming experience. It’s different than all of the other games I’ve played. Most games have enemies to fight or avoid, puzzles to solve, a story to discover, hidden secrets, world-building lore, and an actual ending. Many times I play games for the exploration, the stories, the achievement of completing quests, and the sense of victory with defeating difficult opponents. Animal Crossing looked at all these hallmarks of video gaming and went “Nah, you don’t need all that and I’ll prove it.” 

Verdict

Animal Crossing New Horizons (Switch): ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

  I played this game consistently for a month. It came out right in March of 2020 and seemed to be a perfect solution to the first Covid lockdown. I had more time on my hands than I knew what to do with and this was the perfect time killer. Cute, happy, chill, New Horizons was fun to play. It didn’t have any pressure to progress the plot or become a higher level. I could just meander around my little island with calm music and just leave behind the tense uncertainty that was the beginning of the pandemic. Despite all the Player Two limitations and the badly designed menu system I did enjoy the game and probably at that time would have highly recommended it. Then I would remember how all of the little things and not-so-little things annoyed me. It became more common for me to get super frustrated with multiple parts of the game. Later on, I became resentful that I didn’t get the same experience that my husband had as Player One and the one with the Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Until it eventually ended with me feeling burnout. New Horizons didn’t feel like a game anymore but as a set of chores. I put it down and never picked it up again. 

When I first made this review I had it ranked a 6/10 because it is charming in its own way. It has a good atmosphere. The time mechanic, while at times frustrating, also made it unique and added to the experience. Despite all the good things about New Horizons, it ended up making me feel very burned out. I enjoyed the game initially but now I never want to play it again. This made it difficult for me to settle on a final score. 

Eventually, though it just felt that all the time I was investing in this game wasn’t worth it. Progress became too expensive to be worth my time and effort. The game itself has such a low amount of storage that it felt like it was actively blocking my progress. The main part of this game is collecting and designing your home and island. Then eventually you get too many things to store the only option was to place them where you didn’t want them or to sell them. The only way was to build a bigger house which takes a lot of money after a few upgrades. There wasn’t an easy fix. Pretty soon everything started to look cluttered and I just didn’t like it but couldn’t do anything to fix it. That’s when I realized it was just an endless cycle of get more things to create a bigger and better little world. It felt pointless and endless. That’s when I discovered the true end, the only way to win Animal Crossing New Horizons is to put the game down and never look back.  

You would like this game if

  • You dream of buying a house but know it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
  • Want the satisfaction of completing chores but don’t want to do your own. 
  • Love interior designing and landscaping.
  • You want to make things organized and pretty with fun themes and unique items but you don’t have the time, money, or motivation to do it IRL.  
  • You like cute cartoon animals.

Plotline

Does this game have a plot? Did I miss it or something? I mean as far as I can tell the only plot is you wanted to move away from home to an island. Then you collect villagers to join your new little community. Technically you do have the goal of getting KK Slider to your island to perform. Once that happens the credits roll. Congratulations, You win! Nothing changes on your island. Are these even spoilers? Because I don’t think this deserves my *Spoilers* warning.     

Gameplay

New Horizons is a game where you run around on your island with chill music in the background. You pick up weeds, catch bugs, fish, chop wood, talk to villagers, recruit people to live on your island, and develop your home and island. The controls are very simple and the game walks you through how to play. There are two currencies, Bells and Nook Miles. The main currency you use to buy house upgrades and to develop your island is Bells. You earn Bells by harvesting items from the environment and selling them. It’s a capitalism simulator! As you do activities in-game you will unlock Nook Miles. These can be used to buy certain items and upgrades.  

What sets Animal Crossing apart from almost all other games is that the in-game time is set to the calendar and clock of your Switch. Time in New Horizons progresses exactly the same as real-world time. This is a key mechanic as certain types of bugs and fish can only be caught at specific times throughout the day. Also throughout the year, some special events occur and last for a certain number of days or weeks. These events have unique items to collect and craft. Often there will be a new character that shows up during these events. Since there is so much tied to the time and date in-game there are some people who change the calendar and clock on their system to “time travel” to abuse this system. This game-breaking technique does have consequences. Weeds will become overgrown on the island. The villagers will be salty about you for being away for so long. I’ve never done this so I haven’t experienced what happens firsthand. 

Worst Parts

  • Not being able to craft multiple baits at once. This gets so annoying when you are trying to catch rare fish. You already have to go through all the trouble of finding and digging up clams then have to spend more time making it one by one! It made it very monotonous.
  • There isn’t enough storage in your home. Normally it shouldn’t be such a big deal in most games. In Animal Crossing though, you are more or less encouraged to hoard all the items you get to make themes in your home and place decor in an orderly fashion. Most items you sell can be bought again but it goes against my inner collector to get rid of them only to buy them again later. 
  • Player two not having their own island. Instead, it’s only one island per system and whoever starts the game gets to do all the “plot-important parts”. I didn’t even get a tool blueprint until a patch occurred later because I wasn’t Player one. I think this is a big oversight for families and for people who share the system.  
  • Multiplayer isn’t free. You have to have a Nintendo subscription and I don’t have one. My husband does and it felt silly for both of us to buy it. Part of the fun of this game is showing off your island and visiting other people’s islands. It’s a core of why this game is fun, visiting friends and seeing what they made. This never should have been an extra that isn’t included in the base game. 
  • The burnout I felt near the end of playing. 

Best Parts

  • I’ll be honest and say I really love the Doom Guy and Isabel memes. It’s both adorable and hilarious. Whenever I saw Isabel in the game being helpful and doing the morning announcements I always pictured her laying waste to unholy monsters with Doom Guy. Which considering how she has to work with people and keep a happy face on I think she deserves a little stress relief. 
  • The music in New Horizons is truly phenomenal! It’s very calm and relaxing. The music truly adds to the atmosphere. 
  • Animal Crossing is just very cute. All the little chibi animals, with their nonsense language UwU! 
  • Filling up the museum is satisfying. It was a lot of fun to see what you caught on display like that. Also since the game shows the name of the player who donated the specimen it was always fun to be the first one to donate something. It became a bragging right between me and my husband about donating first, especially if it was rare. 
  • Blathers is also just a really sweet character. He makes you want to donate to the museum. It’s also so much fun to see his reactions to the fossils, fish, and insects. Especially the insects, poor guy with his phobia. His factoids are always interesting too. 

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