Lickiwrath's Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review
Animal Crossing is a very fun game, but that statement comes with an asterisk. It's a very slow-paced game. The only thing you really do in this game is mingle with your animal neighbors and build up your island from a deserted disaster into a bustling town.
It is undeniably charming due to the writing, the interactions with the characters, the visuals, and oddly enough the user interface. Everything about it is super cute.
But the game also straddles the line between relaxing and tedious. There isn't much to do; I wasn't exaggerating when I said this game is just talking to animals and building your town. It's a life simulator that takes place in real time, meaning that throughout your time with the game there will be multiple instances where there is nothing to do, and you have to wait hours or days for things to naturally progress.
That doesn't stop people from advancing time forward by manually changing the Switch's internal clock, but the point is that it isn't exactly brimming with content. The game tries to hook you, giving you more of the experience little by little to keep you playing as long as possible. I think it's successful in this regard; the charm is enough to make me enjoy my time, and the long term work of decorating your island, expanding your home and filling out the museum is super satisfying. But I do wish that there was something else to fill the time, some sort of alternate objectives or maybe some mini games (Nook Miles sort of address this issue, but those aren't exactly unlocked quickly or fun to do).
New Horizons also makes a lot of quality of life improvements to the series: placing furniture outside, using materials to craft items, an improved interior decoration mode, terraformation, moving building around, etc. These are very welcome advancements, but they make a lot of the rest of the game feel dated by comparison. There are still a ton of inconveniences that require a lot of patience from the player to overcome, like the amount of repetitious texts in dialogue and menus, the fact that you only have one terminal to access new items and abilities, the inability to craft multiple items at once, etc. It's sort of a weird balance, because if there aren't enough conveniences the game will feel tedious, but if there are too many conveniences it sort of defeats the purpose of being a life simulation. Overall, New Horizons handles that balance decently well, but it could be a little bit better.
I think my biggest problem with the game though is that it's lacking a lot of features from previous games. Specifically, I miss main street from New Leaf. I played a lot of New Leaf as a kid and absolutely loved it. Oddly enough, despite how much I played it, I don't remember much of it, but main street has always stuck in my mind. When you move into town in New Leaf, main street is pretty run down. The buildings are abandoned and boarded up, and there aren't many stores that are open. But as you progress, you slowly reopen these buildings and unlock a lot of new features and upgrade them until main street is really lively. It was a great visual indicator of progress; as soon as you start the game you have a vague idea of what your town might look like. New Horizons doesn't have anything like this; rather it is up to the player to build their island how they see fit. It allows for a lot more creativity, but it also means that it's harder to get players invested without an image of something to work towards.