Animal Crossing: New Horizons — A Wife (And Husband) Review

Photo Snap
A photo snapped with the Nook Phone camera app. Corey Poindexter

My wife, Kayla, and I have never played an Animal Crossing game. Kayla is not a hardcore gamer. When she does play games, she enjoys puzzle games, mini-game driven experiences like Mario Party, and mobile games, but her hands down all-time favorite is Stardew Valley. She plans her harvests so strategically and takes great pride in her little village. 

Despite her love of relaxing casual games, my wife had never heard of the Animal Crossing franchise before. It seemed like the perfect kind of game for her; a low stress, village building island adventure. So, as I put on the recent Animal Crossing Nintendo Direct, her eyes widened. “What is this?” she asked, jaw hanging open in delight. Before the video had even concluded, she grabbed our Switch and made a pre-order.

I’m only aware of Animal Crossing as a franchise through memes and Smash Ultimate, and the general concept of it being a village building game, but that’s all. She has been excited for this game since the pre-order, and with all the bad news and illness in the world right now, it seems like the perfect time for a gaming experience like this.

As the game opened up, we saw signage for a deserted island getaway package from what appeared to be a tourism company run by two mirrored racoons with chirping, chittering, baby-talk like voices. Her eyes lit up as she shouted, “They’re so cute!” I could tell it was already a hit already. She put in her name then began to craft the digital representation of herself as a new villager on this island. Swapping back and forth between hair styles and colors, noses, smiles, and facial features, trying them all on for size, there was only one immediate given; “They don’t have a pale enough skin for me. Where’s the ‘glows-in-the-dark’ option?” It is true, we are quite vampirically pale. 

Kayla Character Creation
Kayla's character at the end of creation Photo: Corey Poindexter

The racoons helped her pick the right location for her island (which is based on where you actually live in the world, so even the seasons match up), then showed her some default island templates to choose from. The final question before departing was “If you could only bring one thing to a deserted island, what would it be?” From the options given, she chose a sleeping bag.

The screen went dark as the sounds of airplane engines filled the room. The lights came up on a montage; a beach with a villager tanning; a boy looking for bugs in the woods near a tent; various scenes with differing weather, time, and locations. She audibly cooed at the admittedly adorable Polaroids of the animal and human companions. The art style of the game is reminiscent of a children's television show. The heads are larger than the bodies, with rounded edges on many objects and characters and bright colors. It matches the baby-like simulated language. Her avatar stepped out of an airplane gate and was greeted once again by our racoon guides, who informed her their “fearless leader” will be running an introductory seminar nearby. Is this a cult? I am now skeptical of these raccoons.  

Fearless Leader
The raccoons tell Kayla she will soon meet their "fearless leader." Photo: Corey Poindexter

The fearless leader was Tom Nook, a name I am familiar with mostly through memes and the rumor that he is a loan shark. Unfounded? We shall see. He guided Kayla through the basics of getting her map and tent. She was now on her way to pick the spot that will be her new home. She wandered around, exploring the small training island thoroughly before deciding on the perfect spot for her tent, a corner of the grass right near the beach. 

Tent Placement Complete
Kayla successfully placed her tent. Photo: Corey Poindexter

She met Tammy, her first neighbor. Tammy is a yellow bear-like character with a bright magenta coat. Kayla’s face lit up more and more with each interaction. Tammy said she was struggling to find a perfect spot for her tent, and Kayla offered to help her. And so it begins, Kayla’s quest to build her island utopia, one of her own custom design. A second village companion was introduced, Goose, who is clearly a chicken. This game is built on a bed of lies, that much is clear. “Where’s the Chicken Man?” she asks, after losing track of him. “Goose?” I asked. “No, chicken f---er,” she replied. 

After setting Goose the Chicken up with his tent, Tom sent her to forage for branches to start a campfire. When taught that the Y button allowed her to pick up objects, she chuckled to herself and began to pick up anything that wasn’t nailed down. Pears. Branches. Rocks. Weeds. The frenzy of picking up the items littered around the island went on for what seemed like hours (though in home isolation, time seems to pass differently, so maybe it was more like five minutes). With the necessary 10 branches (and dozens of unnecessary items in tow), Mr Nook was pleasantly surprised our eager protagonist had skipped ahead of his busy work agenda and already gathered six pears. 

Pears Donation
Kayla had already collected the necessary pears along with the sticks. Photo: Corey Poindexter

The campfire was lit to applause from the animal companions, a trend that would continue for many achievements, as night fell on the island. The island inhabitants voted on what to name the island. Kayla suggested “Bearadise”. The villagers overwhelmingly approved, despite some solid suggestions of their own, and thus her island was named. They toasted to Kayla and Bearadise Island. Chicken Fucker played a tambourine, and Kayla squeed with excitement. She eagerly ran to resume picking up every item on the island, reminiscent of one of her favorite pastimes in Fallout 4: collecting endless amounts of junk to determine its usefulness in the future. 

Bearadise
Kayla decided on the name "Bearadise" for her island, which probably made Tammy pleased. Photo: Corey Poindexter

The music in the background of the game so far has been great, and the soothing guitar song playing throughout the island exploration during this campfire scene is very peaceful. Tom gave Kayla her cot before turning in for the night.

As the screen went dark, we were introduced to a dog named K.K. in a dream-like scene. The guitar wielding dog is another character I recognize from memes, though I was unaware he had a name. He suggested she make new friends. Kayla is not a fan of K.K.

“That was creepy as hell, dude,” she proclaimed.

“You didn’t like him?” I asked.

Her brow furrows, “No. Not at all.” I thought he was a fan favorite, evidently, not this fan’s favorite.

KK Dream Sequence
The first sleep was interrupted with an appearance by KK. Photo: Corey Poindexter

Kayla awakened to Tom Nook giving her her Nook Phone... and a bill of 49,800 Bells, the currency of this island. Not even one day in, and she is in debt. This game is highly realistic, and clearly Tom Nook is the antagonist of this game. It is explained that she can pay off the deby with 5,000 Nook Miles, a second currency earned by completing challenges. Despite her now crushing debt, Kayla remained excited for the new adventure.

Tent Loan
Tom's loan for the initial tent. Photo: Corey Poindexter

The in-game time is tied directly to real-world time, but her second day began after the sleep cutscene. Normally the in-game day rolls over at 5 a.m. EST. She checked her mail and found two presents from Nintendo to help start her new life; a work bench, and her very own Nintendo Switch. I see what you did there, Nintendo. It even makes the iconic Switch snap sound when she places it. I’m curious if Tom will try to sell her Nintendo IP games at full retail even when they’re over a year old.

She explored her NookPhone and tried out the camera function, which included some nifty Instagram-like filters. She took a photo and exclaimed, “If they have Instagram in this animal world, I’m going to be famous!” The next phone function she examined was the aforementioned Nook Miles. This has lists of challenges to accomplish, which award Nook Miles. Nook Miles allow you to first pay off your initial Bells debt to King Nook (my words, not the game’s), before having other uses later on. She’s already accomplished a few challenges and collected her Nook Miles, which the game stamps with the date it was accomplished. The Rescue Service app allows you to be saved if you are lost or in danger. A Custom Designs app in the phone allows you to edit patterns for your furniture. There is a Passport, a card like bio of your character, and finally a Map, although another app would be added later.

Apps on Nook Phone
The apps displayed on the Nook Phone Photo: Corey Poindexter

Photo Snap
A photo snapped with the Nook Phone camera app. Photo: Corey Poindexter

Kayla entered the Resident Services tent to talk to Lord Nook and the Nooklings. They offered to sell her more goods, buy items from her inventory, and introduced the recycling bin, where items cleared during the building process can be placed and retrieved. She earned 5,340 bells for selling some of the random junk she picked up off the island ground. My wonderful scavenger wife’s digital item hoarding is already paying dividends.

She found the workbench inside the Resident Services tent and was taught how to build new items using parts she’s found, such as branches, and recipes. Her first item was a flimsy fishing road. She was given a couple of new recipes, which added a DIY Recipes app to the NookPhone. She immediately followed up her first performance with an encore of building a flimsy net for catching bugs, and a campfire. Timmy Nook sold her a basic DIY recipe book from his shop, expanding her available crafting options. Kayla’s no Hermey the Dentist Elf, she came to build. There’s also the NookStop terminal in the Resident Services, which is used for additional shopping using Bells, with a lot of cosmetic items for her character such as glasses and shoes, as well as banking, allowing her to deposit and withdraw Bells. Later, the NookStop terminal added a space for Nook Miles redemption after the initial loan was paid off.

After exiting with her crafted bug net, she was greeted by Tammy, who discussed collecting items from around the island such as weeds to craft with. There was no prompt teaching her how to bug hunt, but Kayla is intuitive. She opened her inventory, equipped the net, and pressed A near a moth, catching it. She then ran to the water’s edge to fish. She equipped the fishing rod, pressed A to cast near the shadow of a fish. It was a trial and error process, which admittedly frustrated her for a moment at first, but she was soon successfully catching bugs and fish. Who needs tutorials, anyway? 

Kayla resumed shaking trees on the island, a useful way to collect resources such as fruit, branches, and occasionally Bells. Eventually, luck turned on Kayla, and a wasp's nest fell from the tree. Without her trusty net equipped (flimsy items break after a number of uses), she was stung by the wasps. Her face took on a Quasimodo like appearance. Talking to Tom gave her the option to buy medicine to keep handy. Tom also will accept donations of unique creatures you catch on the island to send to his friend, Blathers the Owl. After five unique species are turned in, Blathers will arrive to set up shop. Er, museum. This then unlocks the Critterpedia, which catalogues the unique species you’ve caught, along with displaying their active hours and locations. You also receive recipes for your donations as well.

Moth Critterpedia Entry
The Critterpedia app entry for the moth. Photo: Corey Poindexter

After paying off her first 5,000 Nook Miles starter loan, Kayla was awarded with an upgrade: a house. But Tom, ever the capitalist, reminds us that nothing in this world is free. The loan for building the house is 98,000 Bells, forgoing the NookMiles, which now are used to unlock other items and rewards at the NookStop terminal. With the museum and home built, Kayla received recipes for the axe (for chopping trees and rocks), the shovel (used to dig, as well as move plants and trees), and the pole vault (for hopping over the rivers). She had also bought the recipe for a slingshot, which allowed her to shoot down a balloon that had a present inside.

She continued to scavenge and sell until she paid off the 98,000 bells debt, which got her an upgrade to the house and a new roof, at a loan of 198,000 Bells. Steep, even for you Tom. Kayla opened up her Passport to find that she had also unlocked some unique titles from some NookMiles achievements to further customize her unique bio card. She had also unlocked the village bulletin board, where she left a friendly welcome message for potential visitors. With that, her first day of playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons came to a close.

Home Upgrade Loan for 198,000 Bells
Tom Nook offering a third loan for 198,000 Bells. Photo: Corey Poindexter

Bulletin Board Welcome
Kayla left a friendly welcome message for villagers visiting her island. Photo: Corey Poindexter

Overall, her takeaway was extremely positive. She is a big fan of the relaxing, low-stakes nature of the game, despite (and possibly because of) the repetitive nature of the tasks. “It’s very easy to just jump in,” she explained. “It’s very adorable, fun, and chill. I like that I can’t die, just end up back at my tent. I loved the music, the voices, and that they clap for me when I make things.” When asked if there were any negatives, Kayla said, “There were a few things that I wish were better explained, or maybe I missed them. I kind of had to just figure a few things out on my own, which wasn’t bad, but maybe frustrating. Also, the aiming system takes a bit of getting used to. Eventually it became easier to place and move items in my house after upgrading from the tent, but at first it was a bit difficult. Same with fishing.” When asked if the negatives were serious enough to hinder most players, or sour her experience, Kayla answered, “Oh, no. This game is amazing. I just realized I’ve been playing for seven hours and need to go to sleep now.”

So there you have it, it’s a hit. Oh, what do I think of the game? New Horizons has delightful characters and charming music, but very repetitive gameplay and simple mechanics. It feels more akin to an interactive dollhouse with collecting aspects. I’m not necessarily sure it’s a game I would lose myself in, but if it brings my wife this much joy, I’d say it’s an early contender for my game of the year. 

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