Escapism really is a funny concept isn’t it? The very idea of wanting to ignore the world around you and try living in a seperate reality for a short period of time to help improve your mental wellbeing just sounds like something that if you said many years ago would get you locked up in an asylum. Nowadays with how the world is looking many people are desperate for the idea of idyllic escapism, and thank goodness we have Animal Crossing for that. This game series has always been the kind of experience that bathes you in relaxing vibes and helps you forget the terrors of the real world, but how does this entry hold up compared to previous games?
The story is… well, Animal Crossing is the kind of experience in which you make up your own life story really. The premise is simply that resident business owner and anthropomorphic raccoon Tom Nook has started up a ‘Deserted Island Getaway’ package for people to travel to a completely empty island and set up a new settlement from scratch. This differs from the previous games as instead of you joining an already built up community you are the one creating the town yourself meaning that every building, bridge and patch of dirt is yours to customise. The premise sounds like a great idea and a natural progression of how the series has been going thus far so it makes sense as to why they chose the deserted island aesthetic for this game. It also leads it to feel a bit more like a tropical adventure than usual which provides a nice new type of atmosphere for you to enjoy. This leads it to be a slower paced adventure than usual with your gradual build up of a community over time but ultimately will lead it to feel more goal orientated and satisfying by the end. I actually encourage taking pictures every day just to see how much your character and the island has developed thanks to your help, makes you feel almost nostalgic.
The presentation as you might imagine is considerably relaxing and beautiful, especially during the night when looking into the sky. Everything is incredibly colourful and has a warm, pleasant atmosphere which helps to really hit home that casual play it at your own pace type of gameplay style. While everything may still look rather cartooney the detail on each and every object in the game is stunning and while it may cause strange visual clashing every so often I still felt as though it all fit right in which due to customisation being such an integral part to the Animal Crossing experience was a very important thing to get right. The music too is, as all the games seem to be, fantastic and has a great mix of new tracks, remixed classics and helps to bring a jaunty or peaceful atmosphere to whatever situation you happen to find yourself in. The animal resident’s gibberish speech is still cute as ever and I really enjoyed the amount of humour they were able to inject into the game through clever writing and perhaps the highest concentration of dad-joke puns ever in a video game. Truly if you’re looking for a game that will massage your visual and audio receptors then you absolutely can’t go wrong with this game.
Gameplay is your standard Animal Crossing affair with you not having a ‘lose’ state and the closest thing to a main quest is paying off your house debt and developing the island to allow for more services and residents alongside the days running in real time. One of the biggest additions to the game is a crafting system which allows you to make brand new tools, clothes and furniture simply by bringing materials to a DIY bench. This makes sense for the initial survivalist/camping aesthetic the game starts with and it allows you to really open up the amount of items you can get your hands on as long as you have the correct recipe and supplies. This also helps to create a better sense of progression as the game goes on due to you getting access to more and more tools and abilities simply by getting the correct DIY recipes for them. This game also introduces local multiplayer which can allow up to 4 players to play together at the same time which can really help with multitasking and gathering resources. Aside from those and the build-up of the town over time (including the ability to edit the terrain itself eventually!) it’s still the same old Animal Crossing gameplay that you love. From that statement alone I think you will already know what your feelings are about the game, the formula isn’t massively shaken up aside from being slowed down at the start of the game so if you like this style of game then you will indeed like this title too.
There are however some problems which I feel are worth mentioning. Firstly as I stated before due to the island starting off completely barren there really isn’t that much to do for at least the first few days of gameplay. I’m aware that Animal Crossing is the type of game that you need to take slow and let the days just roll by but if often leads to you playing for maybe one hour and after that just having to turn the game off as there really isn’t too much else to do. This also locks away some important features until later on such as (and this is the biggest problem this system creates) the different overworld music which is locked until you upgrade your residential services. This is one of the most integral part of the Animal Crossing experience and it’s a damn shame as the music really is fantastic but due to it being locked behind a progression barrier I feel as though a lot of people simply won’t enjoy the game enough to keep playing until that moment. Hopefully that isn’t the case and the game is still enjoyable for people up to that point but it’s still something that I feel could have been handled better. I also felt as though the local multiplayer while a nice addition is severely missing on certain features. I bought this game to play specifically with my partner however due to only one of us being designated as ‘Island Representative’ the other was not able to complete important quests, get key items or even edit important features of the town. It means that if (for some reason) the profile that holds the title of representative stopped playing then the game would effectively stop as there is no way to transfer the title over and the other residents are simply stuck not being able to progress at all. It’s a shame as while I wanted to experience the game together it’s been more along the lines of one person playing through the actual game and the other following them around. Hopefully this is something they will fix in future patches as especially in a family environment I could see this causing issues.
Aside from those problems however I still do love this game. Me and my partner are still logging on daily to get into our routine and make our lovely island as good as it can be which is an achievement for a game to make. There are little niggles that bring the game down a bit but if you’re looking for a casual experience or simply a relaxing game with no real pressure or issues then Animal Crossing: New Horizons may very well be the game for you. Now if you don’t mind, I need to go find out how to catch a Whale Shark…