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'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' - Everything You Need To Know From Our Hands-On

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'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' - Everything You Need To Know From Our Hands-On

Animal Crossing: New Leaf hit 3DS back in 2012 - eight years ago - and fans of Nintendo's charming village life sim have been found themselves starved of the apple-picking, bug-catching, letter-sending action they so desperately crave for the better part of a decade. The good news is that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is out for Nintendo Switch in just over two weeks, and it's fair to say that excitement is reaching fever pitch.

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We'll have a full review of New Horizons for you eventually of course... but ahead of that I was lucky enough to go hands-on with the game at a recent preview event. Below, you'll discover everything I learned about Tom Nook's Deserted Island Getaway package, as well as my initial thoughts on whether this particular destination holiday is worth your time.

Starting From The Bottom

Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo
Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo
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As you've probably seen from the trailers, your new life on a blissful island paradise doesn't get off to the best start in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Tom Nook has clearly been peeking at the same playbook used by Ja Rule and the organisers of Fyre Festival; you show up to find a gorgeous - but completely deserted - island.

While all previous Animal Crossing games dumped you into a pre-built town full of critters, New Horizons tasks you with building your very own community from the ground up. Your first few days will involve clearing the island of its many, many weeds (which can thankfully be sold for a tidy profit), arranging places to live for yourself and your animal chums, and basically taming the wilderness back into something livable.

It's a neat twist that gives us more involvement than ever before with the construction and development of our little towns, and watching it grow from a deserted island to a thriving hub of activity is a mighty exciting prospect.

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Flimsy Tools

Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo
Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo

Naturally, all the tools from previous Animal Crossing games make a return in New Horizons. Unfortunately, they can also break after repeated use. I have no doubt that there are some people who will not enjoy this feature at all... but based on my time with the game so far, it's nowhere near as inconvenient as the irritating durability system we had to endure in, say, Breath of the Wild.

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You'll start off with the ability to craft flimsy tools that break after an alarmingly short period of time. Not ideal, is it? The good news is that crafting or buying replacements is easy enough, and you'll ultimately be able to upgrade to sturdier tools later down the line.

I don't know for sure yet, but I suspect that there'll be unbreakable tools that you can unlock eventually. Much like starting out with an empty island, being given naff tools to start is all part of the game's journey from rags to riches. At least I hope that's the plan. It's one area of the game to be wary of as I dive deeper into island life, certainly.

The Nook Phone

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo
Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo

The Nook Phone is a properly wonderful little gizmo that's packed full of exciting apps to make island living a breeze. Simply tapping the left trigger brings up the phone, allowing you to do all sorts of things.

You can browse crafting recipes so that you can keep track of what you need for a particular tool or piece of furniture wherever you are. You can read up on all the bugs and fish you've caught so far, and maybe even learn a thing or two about a thing or two. And if you want to capture a particular moment, you can take photos that automatically save the Switch's gallery. Lovely stuff.

Perhaps most exciting of all, however, the Nook Phone lets you accumulate something called Nook Miles. Essentially, these work as a special form of currency that exist parallel to yer standard Bells, and can be exchanged for special goods and services.

Nook Miles can be obtained by simply living life and doing all the things you'd be doing in an Animal Crossing game anyway. Say hello to neighbours, catch fish and bugs, even just spend bells in the store - almost everything you do in New Horizons can earn you Nook Miles, which makes for a nice and consistent sense of progress and reward.

Making A Happy Home

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One of the best things about previous Animal Crossing games was accumulating furniture and building the perfect home. You'll be glad to hear then, that New Horizons makes this franchise staple more engaging and accessible than ever before.

Where its predecessors forced you to physically push and pull furniture around a room to decorate, New Horizons has a dedicated mode that allows you to quickly and easily assemble your earthly possessions however you'd like.

I only had the briefest of plays with this particular feature, but already there's no way I could ever go back to the way we decorated homes in earlier games. It's clear to me that this is a mode fans are going to be spending a LOT of time with, and I can't wait to see what any budding interior designers out there will come up with thanks to the added freedom it affords.

Have A Problem? Complain!

Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo
Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo

There's not an awful lot to say here, but I just had to include it because it genuinely made me laugh out loud. If one of your adorable NPC villagers is bothering you in some minor way, you can actually go to the town hall and lodge a formal complaint.

Based on what I saw, you can complain about the way a villager talks or dresses, after which you're assured the offending party will be taken for a stern word. I'm not sure what actually happens to the villager after this talking to, but I imagine their behaviour and/or dress sense will be noticeably different. I look forward to being the pettiest, nastiest island-dweller I can be - one who lodges five complaints a day just because I can.

Oh Lord, The Museum

Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo
Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo

All Animal Crossing games have featured a museum where your various bugs, fish, and fossils are collected and stored, but the museum in New Horizons is something else entirely. The level of detail that's gone into making New Horizons' museum feel like a genuinely interesting place to be is astonishing. All it's really missing is an overpriced coffee shop.

From the bright colours and warm glow of the butterfly house in the insect exhibit, to the gloomy deep blues of the aquarium, this is an area where you'll actually want to spend time. While observing the ant farm, for example, I noticed a small trail of ants marching out of a hole in the glass. Following the trail led me to a nearby kitchen, where I could see them pinching the sugar and taking it back to their home.

The number of little touches and flourishes that help bring the place to life is incredible, and I'm left wondering what other, similar, treats Nintendo has snuck into the museum for us to discover. When I played Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Wild World, I filled up my museum because I felt like I had to. In New Horizons, I'll be filling it up because I honestly can't wait to see what it looks like when it's filled with exhibits.

Local Multiplayer Puts The Fun In Functional

Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo
Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo

Those of you who share a Switch with kids/siblings/partners will be glad to learn that New Horizons has a really rather brilliant local multiplayer feature. Any other players who happen to already share your island can simply pick up a Joy-Con and jump in to have a run around with you.

The two of you will be sharing the same screen through this particular multiplayer mode, but if you get too far away from one another, the "guest" player simply teleports straight back to whichever player is in charge.

I didn't get much time to play around with this feature, but I can already see its value. Assembling materials is a vital part of New Horizons, and having two players weed, fish, chop trees, and gather supplies at once will obviously cut any busywork in half. Team work, as they say, makes the dream work. My only issue with the local multiplayer is that you can't gang up on Nook and beat him senseless till he gives you all your money back, but maybe that'll come in a future update.

Your Island, Your Way

Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo
Animal Crossing: New Horizons / Credit: Nintendo

Decorating, picking outfits for your character, multiplayer, exploring the museum - New Horizons takes everything from previous Animal Crossing games and kicks it up a gear. Nowhere is that more evident in the way it allows you to play God and screw around with the terrain of your island in whatever way you see fit.

I don't know exactly how you unlock this feature, or how late into your time with the game you'll get it, but after playing around with it for a little bit I found my mind racing with possibilities. Don't like where a river is? Get rid of it and build a new one. Not a fan of that cliff? Dig it up and stick a new one somewhere else. Want to build a nice garden path from your house to the store? You can!

Sorry, I feel like I ended on the least exciting one there. Regardless, you see where I'm coming from. Being able to play with the terrain like this brings an unprecedented level of customisation to Animal Crossing, and I'm so, so excited to see what more creative folk than me are able to come up with when they're finally let loose.

Are you excited for Animal Crossing: New Horizons? Got any questions about the game for us? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo

Topics: Nintendo Switch, Animal: New Horizons, Preview

Ewan Moore
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