Animal Crossing New Horizons launched on Nintendo Switch March 20, 2020. It launched roughly seven years after New Leaf launched for 3DS in Japan. New Leaf introduced so many concepts never before seen in the Animal Crossing series, such as public works projects, the dream suite, bushes, diving, more clothing options, etc. And New Horizons took things a step further introducing terraforming, the ability to place furniture outside, and deciding where neighbors move. With these new features, some features from New Leaf have been lost, even features that have been a staple throughout the Animal Crossing series. Something I have come to ask myself is, is New Horizons really better than New Leaf?
New Leaf launched with hundreds, if not thousands of hours of gameplay (depending who you are, of course). I myself have well over a thousand hours invested. This was the first (and only) time you were the mayor of your town! Shops were now placed in an area called Main Street, with the exception of the new Retail store. Similar to the City in City Folk, but much less annoying to get to. Granted, City Folk’s City had a lot of more minor stores (and Shampoodle, the hair salon run by Harriet) in the City, while New Leaf’s main facilities reside there in Main Street.
The new Retail store was similar to past games’ flea markets, run by alpaca Reese and her husband Cyrus. Cyrus would allow you to customize furniture, a series first. Reese would offer more bells for items you sold than the Nookling Shop in Main Street – Tom Nook’s store now run by his nephews. Speaking of Tom Nook, he now runs a real estate store. He’ll upgrade your house and also redesign your exterior, another series first. On top of these facilities, there are facilities for clothing, changing your hair and eyes, a shoe store, a place to have your fortunes told, and a club with mostly unfunny jokes. Run by the Able Sisters, Harriet, Kicks, Katrina, and Dr. Shrunk respectively. Also for the first time, the post office is separated from the Town Hall. I would have preferred if they stayed connected because it would be much easier to run to the Town Hall instead of having to run to a whole new screen just to send a letter. Or heavens forbid, store letters.
New Leaf also introduced bushes and swimming/diving. Bushes are small shrubs that can be planted next to each other, but no more than 12 can be touching each other at a time. They can also be planted next to trees. Swimming allows you to swim in the ocean (not lakes sadly) and pressing Y would allow you to dive can catch sea creatures. You need a diving suit in order to swim now, but previously a glitch allowed you to swim without one.
Public Works Projects was another big feature. You could place landmarks and other objects around your town, such as benches, a lighthouse, windmills, fountains, the campsite… Even The Roost, a cafe could be placed later in the game! Bridges could also be moved or removed entirely (though you have to have at least one bridge in your town) through this system. Sadly, you can only have 30 Publics Works Projects at a time, and some projects could not be demolished.
The Dream Suite is another Publics Works Project that takes the form of a building on Main Street. The Dream Suite allows you to visit what you could call “copies” of another player’s town. This allows you to visit any player who put their town up in the Dream Suite at any time, without ever interacting with them or affecting their town. Run through those flowers all you like! Sweet freedom at last! You can even take custom designs home with you. Unfortunately, you cant take anything else with you. Club LOL (which up until now I thought I was misreading this whole time) is another project on Main Street. Visiting during the day you can give Dr. Shrunk a piece of fruit and he will teach you a new emotion, the series’ version of emotes, by performing a short skit. At night, the club opens formally as a typical club. On Saturday nights K.K. Slider will perform.
But one of the BIGGEST additions to the game was Tortimer Island. The island becomes accessible after paying off your first home loan, and can be accessed by riding Kapp’n’s boat. It’s always summer on the island, so it’s a great way to get a tan. But an even better way of making money. Most players would go to the island at night and catch bugs and fish to sell off for hundreds of thousands of bells. But this wasn’t the main purpose of the island, oh no. On top of the standard five types of fruit your town could have (and the two you can either find or purchase on your island). there were an additional five: Bananas, lychees, mangoes, durians and lemons. You could take these fruits home and plant them on your island to grow the fruits’ respective trees. Not only was the island a great way to find fruits you couldn’t obtain otherwise, but there was a little something called Tours.
Tours essentially functioned as minigames. There would be games such as hide and seek, bashing a bomb with a hammer, fishing minigames, slingshot games, fossil games, ore games, you name it, it was a game. …Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. But to make this even better, you could bring friends on the island with you! You and your friends could compete in these “Tours” with the winner earning the most amount of medals. Medals could be exchanged for exclusive furniture like the Mermaid series, or clothing items such as a beach shirt or hat. They could even be exchanged for equipment such as special variants of the diving suits or a silver axe! Tours are what I remember best about hanging out with friends in New Leaf.
I could go on and on about all of the little changes New Leaf brought to the series. The implementation of StreetPass, QR codes for custom designs, owning personal exhibits at the museum, perfect fruit, ordinances… I could go on. Despite this game releasing, packed with hundreds of hours of content…
New Leaf received an update containing dozens of new features in 2016. The main reason for the update was to implement the use of amiibo. By scanning an amiibo card of a villager, you could invite that villager to move into your town. It was a great way to get that dream villager to move in right away, instead of waiting weeks or even months to find them, or asking another player for that villager. It was also a great way for Nintendo to make money, because these cards were released in packs. Six cards would come in a pack, and those six would be random. You can bet many people made money off of these on eBay, selling popular villagers for over $60, when a pack of cards went for $6.
Not only could you scan in amiibo cards, but the game was compatible with certain amiibo figures. Figures from the Splatoon and Legend of Zelda series could be scanned for new villagers based or otherwise inspired by those series. They came with exclusive items, and you could also invite the villagers to move in to your town. Animal Crossing series figures would invite characters such as Reese and Tom Nook to come visit your town in the new Campground area. While these characters couldn’t move to your island, they would give you special items that could not be obtained otherwise. Such as Celeste’s bow, or Lottie’s wig. There were a few Japanese exclusive villagers, two of which weren’t connected to amiibo, so other countries had no chance of getting them. However, Felyne from Monster Hunter appeared as a villager. The Monster Hunter amiibos only released in Japan, but could be imported, and would work fine in any region. So I now have a $200 figure that I paid less than $25 for. I’m happy! Sanrio characters and items were added later, with amiibo cards releasing in Japan and Europe. Yay for more importing!
Exclusive furniture could also be bought at the Campground. The furniture wasn’t anything super special, but you couldn’t get it anywhere else. The furniture required a new currency known as MEOW coupons, that you could get from completing tasks or scanning amiibo daily. 3DS and Wii U figures were added to the game as well, each system came with a minigame. The Wii U came with a minigame previously included in Amiibo Festival, while the 3DS came with a game called Puzzle League, based on a Japanese exclusive game of the same name. Completing levels from both of these games would give you exclusive items.
On top of this, there were several other quality of life improvements such as a storage expansion, a new decorating mode when decorating your house based on Happy Home Designer, the ability to stack fruit, and the removal of sickness. An option to sell your town to rebuild it was even added! This expansive update in 2016 added to an already packed game, giving it that much more replayability.
So you can imagine my disappointment when New Horizons launched.
All right, all right. Let’s talk first about what New Horizons did right.
New Horizons takes place on an island for the first time in the series, rather than a town. You’re not the mayor, rather, the island representative. You start the game off with two villagers, one smug and one sisterly (uchi) type, which were first introduced in New Leaf. One of the main features of this game is that you’re able to craft things, such as furniture and equipment. The other main feature, which you don’t unlock for a couple weeks, is terraforming. Terraforming allows you to build or remove cliffs, as well as reroute or entirely remove water. It gives you (almost) complete control of your island, allowing you to make it look however you want it to.
Another big feature in this game is the ability to place furniture outside, for the first time in the series. A lot of New Leaf’s Public Works Projects came back in the form of furniture. Choosing where villagers move is another big feature. Previously in New Leaf, villagers would move wheresoever they pleased, and players would have to take advantage of an exploit that narrowed down where villagers could move. Another much needed change is that villagers will now ask to move out first, and won’t move out without getting your permission. This is what every player wanted – no longer having to write down the last day they played and change the date to “time travel” back to when they last played, and slowly move the day forward until they had caught up. Finally! Autosave is another feature included, which I have a love-hate relationship with. I wish it could be toggled on and off because sometimes I like to test things out with terraforming, and if it doesn’t work out, I’d like to be able to reload to before I had started.
Other quality of life improvements include much bigger pocket space, skin tone customization, ladders to climb up cliffs no matter where you are, vaulting poles to cross over rivers, again, no matter where you are. Bushes can now be placed next to each other and along cliffs, with no restrictions. Flowers will no longer wilt, and won’t die when trampled. Custom designs can be searched for through the internet directly in game now. Purses and backpacks have also been added.
A new feature where you can travel to mini islands, gathering resources or inviting villagers to join your island was also added. You can use Nook Miles Tickets, a new… I’d hate to say currency, but that’s sure how the Animal Crossing community sees it, which can be bought with Nook Miles. You know, the ACTUAL currency. You get Nook Miles for completing tasks, similar to the MEOW coupons in New Leaf. You can exchange these Nook Miles for exclusive items, emotes, hairstyles, and what have yous.
As for facilities, we have the Town Hall, the Nooklings’ shop, Able Sisters, Museum and- Oh right. That’s it.
Even City Folk had more than that with its City. You could argue this is the same amount of facilities Wild World and the original Animal Crossing had. But why are we going back to that? Why aren’t we taking advantage of what City Folk and New Leaf gave us? Why are we regressing?
To top it off, the Nookling shop only has one upgrade. One. Historically, Nook’s Cranny (both the Nookling version and Tom Nook version) has had three upgrades, taking in game months to unlock. You can get this final version of the store within a month. Actually, you can unlock every major facility within a month. I understand wanting to have players unlock basic necessities early on, but part of the fun of the Animal Crossing series is eagerly waiting to unlock more and more stuff. New Horizons practically hands you these facilities on a silver platter.
Though oddly enough, you have to unlock the Museum. Which has never happened in an Animal Crossing game.
Gracie Grace, a fashionable giraffe that sells expensive clothing and furniture sets included in City Folk and New Horizons is also missing from the game. In fact, New Horizons seems to include staggeringly few furniture sets. At least there’s an abundance of clothes.
Amiibo still work in this game similar to the last, but figures no longer give special items. Nor are the figure exclusive characters present.
This is more of a personal opinion, and some others might agree, but to me, the dialogue of villagers has been going down each installment of the series. You have the original Animal Crossing where villagers are rude and sassy, but have so much personality. Wild World tons it down a bit, but you can definitely still feel that rudeness. City Folk removes the rudeness almost entirely, but the sass still remains. New Leaf removed the sass, but villagers still felt like they had personality. Though after a while, it did get tiring hearing the same dialogue over and over. New Horizons’ villagers all feel the same. I can barely tell the difference between peppy and normal, and smug and jock. I know they probably wanted to lighten things up since this is a kids game after all, but can you at least give them some sort of personality?! I dread having to interact with my neighbors now. And that’s not okay.
When it comes to housing, housing exteriors still remains a feature. You can actually relocate your house, which is a series’ first. You can relocate any building in the game, except for the Town Hall. However… I was very disappointed with the housing expansions. It adds the side rooms and back rooms like New Leaf did, but these rooms are pathetically small, and there’s no way to expand them like in New Leaf.
But one of my biggest complaints are the tools. Previously in the series, only the axe would break. This time, EVERY tool breaks. EVEN THE GOLDEN ONES. What’s the point of having golden tools if they’re still going to break? Novelty? You can craft tools and it’s fun at first, it feeds into the whole desert island theme. But after a while it’s just plain annoying, which is why the golden tools would have made more sense if they were unbreakable. Not to mention crafting these tools is a two step process. First you have to craft a wooden version, then an iron version. You have to track down all of these materials, or run to your house to grab the materials you stored, go to a crafting bench, and then craft them. At this point, I’d rather pay the 2,000 bells. Crafting in general is annoying. It would have been much more tolerable if it was just another menu you could open, and you can use materials that are in your storage without having to actually go get them.
The barrenness of the game did get a little better with the updates. In the first couple updates, we got bushes and diving. You know, things that were available at the beginning of New Leaf. Someone please tell me why that had to be an update. Dreaming was also added, basically functioning the same as the Dream Suite. Without the Dream Suite. This time you just lay down in your bed and you’re given the option to dream. Honestly not a bad substitute. Originally you couldn’t search for dreams (which sucked). but a later update fixed this.
Redd and Leif also had to be added in an update to the game – Redd, a character who has been in the series since the beginning, and Leif who was included since the start of New Leaf. Mario items were later added in the game to be purchased, and Sanrio villagers were added to the game. Previously, you could only obtain their posters from scanning their amiibo cards.
Finally, the 2.0 update released, a year and a half after the game’s initial launch. It added The Roost Cafe gyroids, and everyone’s beloved froggy chair, all things that have been in the series since the beginning. Kapp’n also returns, but not to bring you to Tortimer Island. This time, he brings you to mystery islands, similar to the ones you can already visit with Nook Miles Tickets. These islands are the only way to get moss, vines, and gyroids. Housing storage was also expanded upon. More vegetables could be grown, on top of the pumpkins that had been added in an earlier update. Cooking however was added. Sixteen new villagers were also added, and ordinances were brought back from New Leaf. More furniture was added to the game (thank goodness) either through the Nookling shop or the paid DLC that released alongside the update.
Harv’s Island, an island previously used to take pictures of amiibos and an event involving planning Reese and Cyrus’ wedding was also expanded. It included tiny little shops for characters such as Reese and Cyrus, Katrina, Harriet, Saharah, Redd, Kicks, and Leif. No. None of these characters had shops prior to this. Saharah, Redd, Kicks, and Leif would occasionally visit your island to sell you some of their wares, and Harriet was replaced by a mirror. Yes, a mirror. You deserved better, Harriet. In the cases of Saharah, Redd, Kicks and Leif, their stock changes on a weekly rotation, and they offer slightly more than they usually do when visiting your town, save for Redd. You can also visit whenever you want instead of having to rely on them spawning on your island. Harriet gives you a few unlockable hairstyles, but is pretty useless once you get them all. It’s nice that Katrina came back and all, but Reese and Cyrus are the big addition. They allow you to customize your furniture much like in New Leaf. And you don’t have to wait around! While it’s nice that these characters have their own shops now, I feel like I’m going through some sort of menu hub instead of an actual shopping center. It all just feels… very bland.
This information was all shown in an almost twelve minute long video, also showing off the paid DLC. All of the information looked very promising until this awful… This awful, awful, text appeared on screen.
Note how it says this is the LAST major free content update.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t THAT awful. But it was awful to me. This was it? THIS was IT? I wasn’t keen about the game launching with… Well, what some could call barebones content. But I chose to believe in it. Even though I don’t like when games spread their content across updates that could have EASILY been included in the original game, I went along with it. We would eventually get more and more content, right? And it would eventually catch up to New Leaf if not surpass it, right?
There is SO much they could have done with this game! They could have brought back Tortimer Island! Give friends something to do while playing the game besides shopping and exploring an island they’ve already explored dozens of times. They could have created new facilities, brought back Dr. Shrunk or the theater from City Folk! The Auction House was a pretty cool idea from City Folk. Put things up for sale and have players from other towns bid on it. A fun way to make money, and could have been enhanced to also be an effective trading system. They could have added new facilities too, things we’ve never seen before! Even after all of the updates, it feels like crafting is almost pointless. There are a few pieces of furniture worth making sure, and I do like the seasonal items. But there’s not enough. And when it comes to equipment, I’m just going to run to the store to buy more instead of running to my house, grabbing all of the materials, navigating menus, and making it myself. Where are all of the cute Nintendo items from previous games? Where is Gracie Grace? Why is her series still missing? Why did gyroids take so long to come back? Why were bushes DLC? Why are there only 10 villagers when islands could easily fit 15?
Why are they stopping here?
Don’t get me wrong, New Horizons is still a fantastic game, one I would even recommend. Customizing has never been this easy or enjoyable before in an Animal Crossing game. Does it have problems? Yes. But so does every game. And for most people, the good this game does bring outweighs those problems. But getting back to the original topic at hand. Is New Horizons a better game than New Leaf? That’s up to you to decide. But to me, I can’t help but think maybe New Leaf managed to get more right than New Horizons did.
A capture of my own island from New Horizons.