Island life introduces new challenges

Animal Crossing: New Horizons ditches the urban setting of previous installments and starts you up on a deserted island. Tom Nook, the conniving but somehow likable loan shark returns, and he’s once again your go-to guy for paying off your house.

Like in past games, you choose the layout of your town. But this time you can also choose a northern or southern hemisphere. Depending on your choice, seasons will appear at different times. Each season comes with its own activities like gathering autumn leaves in fall and making snowmen in the winter.

Your island will be mostly deserted at first, with only a “couple” neighbors as company. Slowly, your island will attract new residents, and when they arrive, you can choose where you want them to live. Stores can be set up as you progress, and notably, the museum returns: you can once again assess fossils with Blathers the owl and donate items to exhibits. The exhibits themselves are much more involved and gorgeous this time around, such as massive aquariums with aquatic life on display.

However, because you live on a faraway island now, there are dangers afoot. New Horizons will have harmful bugs and species like scorpions and wasps that can make your character collapse on the spot. It’s “best to retreat,” Nintendo explains, if things get too hairy.

Nintendo also teased the return of Wisp — a character from previous installments who looks like the Boos from the Super Mario series — lurking about. Nintendo remained tight-lipped on what the character will bring to the new game, but they urged players to “be careful” during late-hour strolls.

Here’s how multiplayer works

Visiting your friends’ towns has been a staple in the Animal Crossing series, and it continues in New Horizons — but with full-fledged multiplayer this time. Now, four players can explore an island together as well as use voice chat or text to communicate for online play, though it’ll require a separate smartphone app, coming in March, after the game’s launch. Players designate a leader, and the others follow the leader to collaboratively do activities, go shopping and so on. It’s easy for the leader to step down and let someone else take the reins too, with just the press of a button.

You can also share one Switch system and a singular island between eight different Nintendo users. This is a great opportunity to mold your island to your liking alongside friends or family.

Minecraft-like terrain molding

One of the most exciting reveals during the Nintendo Direct was that you can now directly alter terrain, which is a first for the series. This infuses a Minecraft-like influence, letting you single-handedly shape cliffs or create rivers, bringing a wider breadth of control over the appearance of your island.

To make things easier on that front, the game now includes a tool wheel in the user interface, making it easier to swap between tools — from an axe to a shovel, for example — on the go. If you’re worried about other players wreaking havoc, there’s no cause for concern: only users you label as ‘best friends’ can use tools on your island.

Nook Miles and the crafting system

Animal Crossing has long used bells as its main currency for exchanging materials into in-game money, and that’s no different here. However, New Horizons brings an additional currency called Nook Miles.

Nook Miles are acquired by completing quests, like catching a certain amount of fish or collecting bugs. Nook Miles are exchanged for different rewards, like new gear or a chance to visit mystery islands. You can keep tabs on your progression through your Nook Phone, which takes the appearance of a smartphone with several different apps.

New Horizons introduces a crafting system like Pocket Camp, the mobile Animal Crossing game from 2017. You can build furniture as long as you have the right materials and crafting recipes on hand.

NookLink connects you to older Animal Crossing games

With the NookLink feature, you can transfer custom designs you’ve made in earlier titles like Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer and Animal Crossing: New Leaf by using the Nintendo Switch Online mobile app. By snapping a picture of a QR code with your phone from a previous game, you can bring over those designs into New Horizons.

During the Nintendo Direct, for example, a user was shown drawing a pattern in an earlier game, scanning the design’s code, and transferring it onto their avatar’s t-shirt in New Horizons.

The game won’t support cloud saves, though Nintendo is looking into ways to recover your back-up if something happens, like if your console gets damaged.

Fan-favorite characters return

As your island grows, familiar stores will pop up: you can once again go to the Able Sisters for your tailoring needs and Tommy and Timmy Nook will operate their store where you can exchange goods. Joan was absent during the direct and instead replaced by a small boar with a striking resemblance to her. The sailor Gulliver made a brief appearance too, when he washed up on the island’s shore.

It also appears that Mr. Resetti, the pesky mole who reprimanded you whenever you didn’t save your game in previous installments, is coming back too. We heard his theme during a section of the Direct which demonstrated how players can call for rescue services if lost on their large island (he swoops in and respawns you back home).

Isabelle returns as well, who takes on the familiar role of helping to manage residents, changing the town tune and so on, but she’ll also have a hand in remodeling your home this time around. Interior decorating in the new game looks a lot easier and streamlined now, allowing you to grab several things on the wall at once and manipulate items with greater ease.

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