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Animal Crossing New Horizons initial review: Exploring every Nook and cranny

The Switch has been a revelation over the last three years – going from nice oddity to essential travel partner. There’s one thing that’s been missing in all that time, though – something quintessentially Nintendo.

For all the Marios, Zeldas and Kirbys, the Switch has lacked an Animal Crossing. There has been a hole in the game lineup roughly Tom Nook sized.

Thankfully, that’s now about to be filled, with Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the immediate, er, horizon.

It will be released on 20 March for the Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite and we had the chance to go hands on with sections of the game, saved at different progress points to see how deep and in-depth it is.

First up, we played a save game quite close to the start of New Horizons, to experience new crafting options and explore the island a bit more.

Early days

This Animal Crossing sees you transported to a deserted island with only a couple of fellow travellers and the Nooks for company – initially, at least.

Crafting is a major factor in the game this time, with recipes to be earned for all manner of useful items.

You start with a tent and basic provisions, before progressing to your own house and one of the most capable decoration and item engines of any Animal Crossing yet.

In our brief wander around in this section – which is just a couple of days into the game, we guess – we collected enough resources to build a vaulting pole in order to leap the river to another section of the map.

This is essential really, as other items, bugs, fish and fauna might be found there – that are not available at your starting location. And these could be essential as part of new crafting recipes or to help earn Nook Miles, a new currency in the game.

Nook Miles are like reward stamps on a Starbucks card. Indeed, you get virtual reward cards available through another of the new features, your NookPhone, so you can see the challenges you have to fulfill to earn them.

Basically, doing anything in New Horizons can earn you Miles and these can then be swapped for extra abilities and functionality later.

To start with though, we had a pleasant stroll (and vault) around the island, speaking to islanders and getting to grips with crafting basic tools.

If you build it they will come

Jumping ahead in time to a new section, we got to see how the game can progress when a lot of time has been invested in it.

New options on NookPhone were available to us, thanks to unlocks bought with Nook Miles. However, the biggest difference was that living quarters had progressed from tents to proper houses.

In our own home, we got to play with the new furniture placement tools, which ensure much more adaptability in where and how you can place items. It’s more like The Sims we’d say, with easy rotation and manipulation. Indeed, we could have just spent all our time altering the feng sui of the bungalow.

Another great place we got to experience was the museum. Every fish, bug or fossil you collect in Animal Crossing can be handed to Blathers for placement inside the museum – and good lord is it an impressive building.

Inside, you can explore many levels, with distinct areas for bugs – including a butterfly house – and fossils. Plus, there is a mighty aquarium wing, with the sort of tanks you’d see at the London Aquarium. Even a huge shark tank is available, with any catches you might have made.

How a lowly AC islander can catch a shark escapes us for now, but it’s an impressive sight for sure.

Another aspect of the new game we got to try out was two-player play, with another character on-screen with us at the same time. The game can support up to four-player simultaneously play on the same screen, with other islanders able to join in the fun using individual Joy-Cons and Switch controllers.

Up to eight other players can create residents that live on the same island on the same Switch and four of those can play together at any time.

One of the players is designated leader – which can be swapped – so the screen focuses on him or her, but you can do pretty much whatever you like on the island together, much as if you were playing solo.

Ups and downs

Our third play segment jumped even further into the game progression, where we got to see one specific feature that is new to Animal Crossing: terraforming.

After earning enough Nook Miles to purchase a particular permit, you can change the very landscape of the island with some nifty land-forming tools. Once your hard hat is donned, you can build up and destroy cliffs, adding height to the ground level. You can also dig out channels that fill with water – to form a stream from a water source, say, or even fill in sections of an existing river.

These tools are fairly simple to use and not quite on a Minecraft scale, for example, but enable players to customise their islands greatly, so are a superb addition to an already fun-filled game.

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