Animal Crossing: New Horizons provides a relaxing escape for players

Illustration by Kayleigh Conroy

Josh Clinton, Contributing Writer

If you’ve been on social media, you’ve doubtlessly seen charming fan art featuring a shotgun-wielding space marine and a cute cartoon dog.

This is a result of the hype surrounding Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch, a family-friendly lifestyle game whose popularity rivals that of the legacy shooter franchise it shared a release date with, Doom.

New Horizons can be described as a zen simulator. The player designs a cute, cartoonish human avatar and is set to move into a colorful village populated with adorable stuffed animal people. From here you meet the tanuki (a Japanese raccoon dog) Tom Nook, who proceeds to offer you a place of residence. 

However, this cozy abode comes with a catch; you’re forced to pay back a hefty loan. This scenario is a constant of the series, proceeding with a central gameplay loop of exploring the town, making friends with the villagers and finding objects of interest to sell to Nook to pay off your loan.

The main selling point of the Animal Crossing series has always been its incredibly serene atmosphere. The island players will inhabit is rendered with an art style that toes the line between simplistic and detailed.

Surfaces give off a smooth appearance at first glance with many types of terrain composed of geometric shapes that seem nearly hand-drawn. However, upon closer inspection, the environments will boast a surprising amount of detail; this ranges from the granular sand to the layers of bark on the trees. 

Details such as these coupled with some comparably photorealistic bugs create a sense of playing with toys, which is fitting given the stuffed animal denizens and go-at-your-own-pace gameplay.

Sound design and music are also top-notch, creating a consistently pleasant atmosphere regardless of the time of day or weather. I’ve rarely come across a video game where meandering along the beach felt so delightful.

The game also operates on a real-time clock that operates in sync with the Nintendo Switch’s internal processor. This allows for a dynamic lighting effect that brings a pleasant array of colors to brighten up in the mornings and saturate in the evenings. 

Coupled with a weather system that will change in tandem with the real-world seasons, it’s worth exploring your island at different times.

Releasing New Horizons amid the COVID-19 pandemic is ironically serendipitous. People have been instructed to self-quarantine indoors and avoid social gatherings altogether, and New Horizons is a pleasant simulation of a perfectly happy community.

“The main selling point of the Animal Crossing series has always been its incredibly serene atmosphere. The island players will inhabit is rendered with an art style that toes the line between simplistic and detailed.” — Josh Clinton

While the game is designed for solo play, it also comes with online multiplayer functionality. After players complete the tutorial and the first full day of the game, a local airport will open up. This allows players to travel to islands on their friends’ consoles and visit their towns. 

Players can forage other towns for fruits and fish that might not be in their town and even ask villagers if they’d like to move back to their islands. Or at the very least, players can show off how much effort they’ve put into beautifying their town.

What could be considered the final goal of New Horizons is to build the happiest community under the sun. Once the player gets their bearings, all that’s left is to explore the island every day. 

The players continue to find new collectibles, meet new villagers and upgrade the various tools they acquire. They can use these tools to renovate their island; this can take the form of terraforming the island and planting trees or flowers in aesthetically pleasing patterns to furnish your town.

The player gets to live out an idyllic, peaceful life that’s free of any conflict. It’s the ultimate escapist experience.

Newcomers and veteran fans alike will be enthralled with how much there is to do in New Horizons. The enticing atmosphere and low-pressure gameplay allow for an incredibly accessible and engaging experience, making it a must-buy for Nintendo Switch owners — and a doubtless push for people to buy the console if they haven’t already.

Rating: 5/5

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