Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review: The Only Debt You'll Want to Stay In

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review: The Only Debt You'll Want to Stay In

In times of crisis, at least we'll have Animal Crossing.

Dear Anchovy,

How are you? When you moved out of our town of Neo-Tokyo in 2009, I couldn't bear to stick around either, so I bounced too.

So much has changed since we last talked. Seven-ish years ago, I was even the mayor of a town—can you imagine that! I think I was an okay mayor. I had an ordinance in place to make the town beautiful all the time, so no more weed pulling. I had an assistant named Isabelle, who was so helpful and sweet. Eventually, I left that town too. Not for any particular reason; life just moved along.

I'm on an island now, called Sunset. At first, it was deserted, but now a bunch of folks have moved in alongside me. It reminds me of the time I went to Oahu to visit my friend who has the coolest job in the world studying birds and plants. It's beautiful everywhere you look. The water in the river changes its shade of blue depending on the day. My favorite time is in the afternoon, when the sun hits everything just right, so the water looks a dark blue; the light green leaves of the cherry trees glisten. It's the most beautiful town I've ever lived in—even if sometimes my tools clip through my hair in an awkward way. It's inevitable when I'm rocking braided pigtails, I suppose.

Welcome to my crib. | Caty McCarthy/USG, Nintendo

There's more to do on Sunset than we could ever do back at home, Anchovy. We can craft tools to help us fish; we can catch bugs, and we can even dig up fossils to donate to good ol' Blathers at the museum. The museum here is so impressive too: There's a neat butterfly exhibit for all the ones I've caught. I'm always worried I'm going to take a stray one with me when I leave, but they always stay put.

We can craft furniture too. At first it's a little annoying—grinding for one teensy material so that I can appease Tom Nook in some way—but as the weeks have stretched on, I've come to find it satisfying. I have immediate and long term goals now, like crafting a giant mech to plop somewhere in town. (I'll get to it eventually.) My recipe book for what I can make gets bigger with each day.

As for Tom, yes, he still charges us insane living costs. He never charges interest though, which I appreciate. I've met a few animals, like Jacques, who decided to move here to the island on a whim—I can't even imagine how much he owes Tom. I've been helping Tom with building bridges and stairs across the island too, which each cost hundreds of thousands of Bells. So, it's a good thing I'm a master fisherman and bug catcher. There's even a "seasports" streamer named C.J. who lets me sell fish to him for an even higher price every now and then.

Tom did do one nice thing: He signed me up for Nook Miles, a new rewards program that gives us "points" like a credit card, but with none of the baggage. Basically, we have punch cards where once you, say, catch 500 fish, you get a punch on your "Angling for Perfection!" card and a healthy dose of bonus Nook Miles points. There are daily challenges too—your first five are worth 2x to 5x points, depending—which constantly rotate out, so you're never without a way to earn Nook Miles. It's another solution to what our neighbors in nearby towns used to often complain about. No one can say there's "nothing to do" now, because we have goals to work toward. We can spend Nook Miles on neat things like recipes or furniture, or a flight on Dodo Airlines to another deserted island to explore for supplies like wood, weeds, flowers, even—shudder—tarantulas.

Oh right: and the Able Sisters are here! They've opened up a shop where every day they have new clothes on display. Personally, I'm still more into making my own clothes, just like I did back when we were mere city folk, and when I was turning over a new leaf. Now, at least, I have way more options. I made a sweater like the one worn by a character of one of my favorite video games, Yume Nikki. I also designed a stylish brown checkered print, which I put on my Nook Phone case.

The downside is that unlike my last town, designing is just as clunky as it was back when you were my neighbor. I have to go pixel-by-pixel using the D-Pad, and can't even use a stylus to draw like in Super Mario Maker 2. (Have you played that yet, Anchovy?) I can type messages using the screen, but I can't sketch a design; it's very odd. At least there are more PRO Design templates to choose from this time. I even made a cute puff sleeved dress.

That's not the only tedious thing. Life on the island took longer than usual to really get going. Do you remember that lovely music that would change each hour? That didn't even kick in until Tom was able to open up a Resident Services building that wasn't just a tent. The music those first eight or so days dang near drove me insane. Luckily, that's not the case anymore.

I'm also not a big fan of my first two neighbors that moved in—but don't tell them I said that. I'm just tired of hearing about how fit Curly is thanks to weight lifting and listening to Renee sing along to "Comrade K.K.!" You'd understand.

My favorite thing about Sunset is the freedom to just leave my junk everywhere. You know me, Anchovy: I'm messy by nature. I don't really have a rhyme or reason for decorating. I leave electric scooters everywhere, just like people do in that city I lived in before living alongside animals. I put a monster that looks like Godzilla over by a campsite I built for visitors to come and see the beachside. I even put a squat toilet behind my house, because I thought you'd find it funny if you ever visited.

We're no longer restricted in how we decorate the island, which I find both freeing and a bit daunting. I saw in the Deserted Island Package video that one day I'll get the ability to terraform the island itself, which I have mixed feelings about. What I loved about our time with those city folk and when I was the mayor alongside Isabelle was that I was doing the best with what I was given. On this island, that concrete quality is more like wet cement now. Nothing is forever; everything is malleable. I'll be able to even change the direction of rivers if I want.

It's all a bit much, honestly. I'm sure if someone else were in my position, like maybe those wild uber-decorators we used to visit back in the day, they'd find it to be an excellent opportunity. With this formidable god hand of sorts, this island feels less like a community of critters sharing a town, and more like I'm the end-all, be-all that controls it all. It's my island, for better or worse. It's a lot more responsibility than being a mayor. But as much as I miss the simpler times, I'm still loving life here on Sunset.

Please, Renee is driving me insane. | Caty McCarthy/USG, Nintendo

As I've been in this new horizon, I've been thinking about what it was that made you move away, Anchovy. Was it the aimlessness of life? Did I not give you enough gifts? Should I have pulled more weeds? Did life just get boring with me? I want you to be my neighbor again. A plot of land is always open for you here on Sunset, and in just a few months (or even a year's) time, I'm confident the island will be even better. We have more to do now, more to work toward. We can buy and make cool things! We can shake more trees and run away from bees! (Please save me from Curly and Renee!)

Hopefully I'll see you soon, bud.

Signed,

Caty, or as it says on my passport, the "At-Capacity Reviewer"

Animal Crossing: New Leaf remains the pinnacle of the series, but New Horizons brings with it a bunch welcome quality of life changes, such as terraforming the island to your every whim. The addition of crafting isn't a burden as I worried it would be. In fact, it becomes a fun objective to work toward, effectively diversifying the usual chores of selling bugs and fish to pay your never-waning debts to that rascally raccoon. With real-world headlines more harrowing than ever, there's never been a better time to go on vacation within Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

4.5/5

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Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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