The prayers of Animal Crossing fans across the world were finally answered last week at Nintendo’s E3 2019 conference. Not only do we have a definitive release date for the latest addition to the beloved franchise, but we also got to see a sneak preview of some gameplay, including some pretty huge changes from the rest of the games in the series. Animal Crossing: New Horizons will release on 20th March 2020, despite its original teaser from last year promising a 2019 launch date. To compensate for the delay, Nintendo showed off several new features and gameplay demos at the Nintendo Treehouse event after the conference. Here’s a run down of the biggest changes in New Horizons, and why we can’t wait to get out hands on it.
Where’s the village?
Animal Crossing: New Horizons deviates from the previous games in the Animal Crossing franchise by not being set in a village. New Horizons is set instead on a deserted island, facilitated by Nook Inc. Similarly to Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you’ll start off with a tent once you arrive in your new home, however you’ll be able to move this tent around the island whenever and wherever you want. You’ll even be able to set your tent down on one of the three beaches that surround your island. Don’t worry about not being able to place community projects next to your house anymore, as the island will develop based on your play-style and players have more options than ever before in terms of designing and placing objects in your town.
If you’re keen on developing your house instead of living in a tent, then the rest of the villagers will follow suit, or if you prefer to live out of a tent then so shall your villagers. You will also be able to decorate the area surrounding your tent with flowers, trees, dirt paths, and even furniture. The ability to arrange and place furniture items outside your home is something that could only be achieved by mods in New Leaf, but in New Horizons players will be able to properly landscape around their homes.
With new options for customising your outside spaces and organising your town, the new island setting fundamentally changes how players can interact and navigate the world. I’m particularly looking forward to my island developing along with how I play New Horizons, and to see how my neighbours respond to the creative decisions I make.
In addition to developing your island based on your preferences, players will also be able to choose several aspects of their villager when playing New Horizons. For the first time ever in a main series Animal Crossing game, players will be able to choose the colour of their avatar’s skin. This feature was included in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, but was lacking in all three main instalments in the series so far.
In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, players could tan their villagers by spending time on the island in the sun, however it was virtually impossible for darker skinned players to accurately represent themselves in the game. Also featured is the ability to choose whatever facial features and hairstyles that suits you, despite the arbitrary gender assigned to them.
Previously, this was a feature only unlocked by spending a certain number of bells in the hair salon. All hair styles and facial features are now classed as gender neutral, meaning players will not be restricted when choosing their avatars unlike previous games in the series which base your physical features on answers in a quiz. I have to say, part of me will miss frantically googling the answers to the character design quiz from the beginning of every Animal Crossing game in order to make sure I ended up with an avatar I liked, but this is a huge step forward in the series in terms of representation.
New kid in town
While multiplayer was always an aspect of previous Animal Crossing games, players were restricted to meeting on an island and playing minigames, or visiting each other’s villages and not doing much. In New Horizons, players will be able to live on an island with up to 7 other players in online co-op. They can have their own homes, and can be invited to join the game at any point using the new Nook Phone. In addition to online multiplayer, you’ll be able to share your village with up to 3 other players using the same Switch in couch co-op. One player will be nominated as the host of the session, which can be swapped to another player at any time.
Right now, it’s unclear what this means in terms of gameplay. It seems unlikely that gameplay features will be majorly restricted to the host player. Some of my fondest memories of Animal Crossing: Wild World were playing with my friends and visiting their towns, so the ability to play and live in the same town as other players online is an incredible opportunity for players to connect with their friends and share their love of Animal Crossing in a totally collaborative playstyle.
Another new system that’s been overhauled from the previous game in the series is the furniture, tools, and inventory systems. In previous games, players would have to buy furniture in Tom Nook’s store or be given furniture by other players or villagers in your town. After you picked up furniture, you could order it again in the catalogue from Tom Nook. In New Horizons, however, players will be able to craft furniture from scratch using DIY recipes. Players will discover new recipes organically or by being given a recipe from someone. It seems as though you’ll still be able to buy furniture from Timmy or Tommy in their hut on the island, but players will also be able to gather natural materials from the island and craft things themselves.
This is also the way tools work now, and you’ll be able to craft better tools after learning the recipe in the same way. Players can look at their DIY recipes on their new Nook Phone, a device used to take in game photos, call other players, look at recipes, and earn a new currency called Nook Miles.
Speaking of tools, it looks like we’ll be getting new tools used to navigate the island. The gameplay teaser demonstrated the vaulting pole, a tool used to jump over rivers so you won’t need to worry about placing bridges anymore. The new crafting mechanic fits really well with the deserted island setting, and the new mechanics such as the Nook Phone are nice new additions to make gameplay more entertaining.
The good and the bad
There are also some pretty big fundamental changes to the way the game runs. We’ll start with the good news first, which is that players can now choose which hemisphere they prefer to play in. This means players in the southern hemisphere will have their season altered to fit the actual seasons in real life. Holidays will match up with the seasons too, but it’s unclear how this will change certain holiday activities, such as ice themed furniture for December and snowmen.
Players can also earn a secondary currency in addition to Bells called Nook Miles. Nook Miles work more like XP in the sense that they are earned by completing tasks rather than selling anything. I think this is an excellent way of rewarding players for doing day to day tasks, and will also add some new challenges for players to complete.
Now for the bad news, however, as New Horizons has an autosave function now so players won’t have to go to bed and quit the game in order to save. While this seems like a good thing and will avoid unwanted progress losses, the consequences of this are devastating for one Mr. Resetti who seems to have lost his job of tormenting players every time they turned off their game without saving.
Resetti is rumoured to still be in New Horizons, but as of right now we’re not sure on what job he will have now. Also losing her job is Isabel, who will also be in New Horizons, but not immediately. Players will have to develop their island a bit before she shows up again, but currently we’re not sure how this will happen or what players will have to do to get her to visit.
The gameplay trailer and demos shown at Nintendo’s E3 conference teased a lot of new features which I think will fundamentally improve gameplay and make Animal Crossing: New Horizons a familiar yet reinvigorated experience for fans of the series.
Several features, such as the ability to place furniture outside and choose your character’s appearance and skin tone, were tested in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, and I’m very glad to see them make their debut in the next main installment. Although it’s disappointing that New Horizons’ release date was pushed back, what we’ve seen of gameplay so far is promising enough that I’m happy to wait longer so that these new features can be perfected.
There’s still a lot about the game that we don’t know yet, such as how many villagers will be included or whether or not Blathers will be opening up an island themed museum in New Horizons, but we’ve still got a long wait until we get our hands on the game. One thing is for certain, however, and it’s that the game is definitely in development and it won’t be long before the long awaited Switch version of one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises is finally here.