Animal Crossing: New Horizons has the resources to please even hard-core gamers
By BRIAN BOWERS | Stars and Stripes | Published: March 30, 2020
If Animal Crossing: New Horizons is one of the hottest games around, Nintendo can probably thank COVID-19.
The game was released just as restrictions were starting in my area. When I went to pick up a copy, all that was left was downloadable code — not my preference for a game on Nintendo’s Switch, since the console has relatively little memory for game storage. I soon discovered that Switches were even more difficult to find than physical copies of Animal Crossing. In fact, a check of my usual online sources revealed that Switch consoles had doubled in price over the previous few weeks. When I asked one retailer the reason, he said, “As soon as the governor closed schools, parents bought them up to keep their kids quiet.”
However, I suspect there’s more to the game’s popularity than that. The franchise has droves of loyal followers and gains new converts all the time. On its face, it’s a cute and friendly game about building a community. But it’s actually a deeply engaging game that’s adept at camouflaging the fact that all you do is grind for resources. The challenges are fun and the rewards are dealt out slowly but surely to guarantee that you want to keep going.
The last installment of Animal Crossing I reviewed was 2008’s City Folk on the old Wii console. I’ll admit that my shunning of the franchise probably has something to do with the fact that it contains absolutely no assault rifles, swords, lasers, aliens or zombies. So, I decided I might need a refresher before getting my hands on the new edition. I broke out the old game with its motion-sensitive controls and sat down to play for about an hour. Then my wife arrived and took control — literally — for the next few hours. She ended up with soreness from the motion controls, but she was hooked again.
Within days, my house became an animal crossing of sorts, with my wife, my sons and their girlfriends gathering to play together — thanks to a second Switch. I have to admit that I had as much fun watching them as playing myself.
The game begins with your character — looking like an 8-year-old human — joining an effort to colonize a deserted island. Unless you play with friends, everyone else on the island is an animal. They are led by Tom Nook, a racoon and a dedicated capitalist. You quickly discover that you’re in debt to Tom and need to pay off your loans by gathering and selling resources.
This launches your career of fishing, wood-cutting, fruit-picking, bug-catching and fossil hunting. You can sell these items to pay off your debt or to buy new items, or you can use them to craft tools and furniture for your home.
Since you’re a pioneer at the beginning of the game, you start in a tent. However, you’ll soon want to build a house, and then expand it, and then add a room, and then more and more. All of which lands you deeper in debt ... a good way to teach your kids about real life.
As you reach certain benchmarks, your community expands. A museum is built to house the fossils and critters you’ve gathered. A store opens. Others arrive to join your colony. Itinerant merchants arrive to sell a variety of goods — most notably turnips, which you can buy and then sell at the store for a profit.
If you want a change of surroundings, you can visit another island. You can hop to a random island filled with collectible resources, many of which are unavailable on your own island. Or you can hop to another player’s island and play cooperatively. Chat is available if you’re connecting online, but we found it thoroughly enjoyable to play side-by-side using separate screens.
All players who use the same Switch are placed on the same island. That means that you’ll compete for resources but also cooperate to build your community. You can also play cooperatively on the same screen, though with limited control options.
The controls are efficient and easy to learn. The graphics are cartoony, pretty much standard for Nintendo games.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons promises plenty of fun for families and novice games — and, admittedly, for some hard-core gamers too.
Bottom line: A
Rated: E for everyone