In Animal Crossing, you learn to love the rigidness of your town. Eventually, you don't even see the flaws as slights; you begin to see the beauty of every river that snakes awkwardly through your land. That's because your town becomes your town, warts and all, even if you can't shape it beyond planting trees, really. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, that's all about to change.
This morning in a 25-minute Nintendo Direct, we finally got an in-depth look at the machinations of New Horizons. We learned about island living, and how-thank holy K.K.-eventually you build a house and don't just live in a tent forever. We met Orville and Wilbur, the dodo pilots who ferry you to other islands. We learned about the new "mileage plan" Tom Nook hooks you on, giving you the lovely in-game experience of having a Chase Sapphire credit card with points galore. The most exciting change with New Horizons comes in the form of terraforming, where you can literally shape the ground your villager steps on.
I flipped out in an embarrassing way at 6 a.m. seeing this in action. It fundamentally changes everything I've come to expect from Animal Crossing's previously stagnant towns. While you still determine what layout you want at the start, in New Horizons, you're not super stuck on that. Thanks to terraforming, you can make a river slimmer by adding additional ground so that maybe you can hop over it. Or maybe you'd prefer to build a slope. Or, as seen in the Direct, you can even hack off a ledge where there's a river, and make your own little waterfall. The options are endless.
Customization of towns has always been a part of Animal Crossing, but the control we have over it has always been incremental, at best. With New Leaf, I got hooked on the online ecosystem of other players' designs. I remember charting walkways of pink tile made by some rando on Tumblr (on that note, luckily, homemade designs from Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Happy Home Designer on 3DS will carry over to New Horizons, thanks to QR codes), in addition to my carefully curated fruit trees that I placed in specific areas. I made my town cute with the limited toolset at hand. Before New Leaf, town customization was even more dire.
Visiting others' islands has always felt the same, like deja vu. I've seen this all before, albeit shaken up a tad, in my own town. Playing with friends was still fun, but the exploration of each person's town was resigned to seeing what animals were living there, and how they decorated their homes. The exterior all looked largely the same. Now, New Horizons' introduction of terraforming makes the prospect of visiting other towns even more exciting, outside of just shaking their fruit trees to bring home fruit to sell for a profit. Variety has arrived to the exterior.
Terraforming amounts to adding ground to spots, making a makeshift slope, or digging a crevice in a cliffside. Outside of terraforming, you'll have the ability to build bridges over rivers in a very Death Stranding way too. The more you progress, or as a Nintendo press release writes, "once your island is fully decked out," eventually you'll get the option to change the paths of rivers and will be able to build or demolish cliffs. Basically, you can break away from the set town designs that you choose at the start, and can whip up a layout to your every whim. I already know I'll be making my town extra hill-y, like my home of San Francisco.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons, like the Animal Crossing games before it, has a goal of becoming another charming routine game. A game that fits into your schedule, whether you play first thing when you wake up, on your lunch break, before you go to sleep, or all of the above. From terraforming the island around you to how huge the new museum is, New Horizons is shaping up (literally) to be bigger than Animal Crossing's ever been before. Yet, its grand return to home console on March 20 for Nintendo Switch is looking like it'll maintain that cozy, small town feel we've all come to love the series for. Hopefully this time my best friend Anchovy won't abandon me again.