Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Developer(s)Nintendo EPD
Publisher(s)Nintendo
Director(s)Aya Kyogoku
Producer(s)Hisashi Nogami
Programmer(s)
  • Yoshitaka Takeshita
  • Hiromichi Miyake
Artist(s)Koji Takahashi
Writer(s)Makoto Wada
Composer(s)
  • Yasuaki Iwata
  • Yumi Takahashi
  • Shinobu Nagata
  • Sayako Doi
  • Masato Ohashi
SeriesAnimal Crossing
Platform(s)Nintendo Switch
ReleaseMarch 20, 2020
Genre(s)Social simulation
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer

Animal Crossing: New Horizons[a] is a 2020 social simulation game developed and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch; it is the fifth main entry in the Animal Crossing series. In New Horizons, the player controls a character who moves to a deserted island after purchasing a getaway package from Tom Nook, playing the game in a nonlinear fashion and developing the island as they choose. They can gather and craft items, customize the island, and develop it into a community of anthropomorphic animals.

New Horizons began its development in 2012. The game director, Aya Kyogoku, had the philosophy of retaining old content from previous games to keep fans happy while also making the game simple enough to appeal to newcomers. With art and graphics, they used the concept of "trigger of play" and the "imagination gap", where the former kept the gameplay simplistic and easy to pick up while the latter kept the art style simple for the player to imagine the rest.

New Horizons received acclaim from critics, with many praising its gameplay and customization options and calling it the best game in the series; the game won several year-end accolades from various game award ceremonies. It was a major commercial success, selling over 32 million copies worldwide and breaking the console game record for most digital units sold in a single month. It is the best-selling game in the Animal Crossing series, the second best-selling game on the Nintendo Switch,[b] the second-best-selling game of all time in Japan,[c] and the 15th best-selling video game in history. Its success has been attributed in part to its release amid global stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gameplay

As in previous Animal Crossing games, New Horizons is a life simulation game played in real time. Weather also adjusts to the seasons of the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, depending on the player's real-world location, a first for the Animal Crossing series.[1][2] The game follows a villager customized by the player,[3] who, after purchasing a getaway package from Tom Nook, moves into a deserted island.[4] After Tom Nook gives the player essentials, such as a tent, the game proceeds in a non-linear fashion, allowing for the player to play the game as they choose.[5]

Two players on one island via multiplayer. The player to the right is harvesting wood from a tree using an axe.
Two players on one island via multiplayer. The player to the right is harvesting wood from a tree using an axe.

The player is given open access to natural resources such as fruit and wood, which can be collected and crafted into a variety of items and furniture known as D.I.Y. crafting. Alongside this, they can catch bugs and fish,[6][7][8] plant and grow trees and flowers,[9] extract natural resources such as rocks,[10] swim in the ocean,[11] and eventually are given the option to alter the terrain of the island directly.[12][13] The island gives open space for placing items and decorating as the player chooses.[14] Doing simple tasks rewards the player with "Nook Miles", which in return can purchase premium rewards in Resident Services. The other currency "Bells", a staple in the Animal Crossing franchise, can be used to purchase other goods and services. Another feature offered early on is the "Dodo Airlines", an airport; through Dodo Airlines, and tickets purchased through Nook Miles, the player can visit other vacant islands for harvesting resources, and meeting other villagers.[15] The player can invite other villagers they meet to their island if they choose.[16]

The player starts with two other random anthropomorphic villagers that also purchase the getaway package; these villagers will live alongside the player and can be interacted with, building relationships. When the player has made sufficient progress in the game, Tom Nook will give more freedom of expanding as a village. Other shopowners will visit and settle on the island, such as museum-owner Blathers, who will display creatures that were captured by the player. The player can collect various species of bugs, fish, and fossils native to the island that will be added to the different sections of the museum. Blathers will only accept one of each kind of species, so extras can be saved for personal use or sold at Nook's Cranny. Fishing is a very big part of this game. In order to go fishing, the player has to obtain a fishing rod. There are different kinds of fishing rods of varying degrees of quality. The flimsy fishing rod is the least durable one and breaks quicker than, for example, the golden fishing rod. Fish are seasonal, meaning that they are only available during certain months as well as certain times of the day. Just like catching fish, catching bugs and sea creatures is a big part of the game. These creatures are also seasonal and time-sensitive. Fossils, however, can be harvested at any time of the day or season. Eventually, the main area will expand to a Town Hall, run by Tom Nook with the help of Isabelle;[5] other buildings and villagers will populate the community, and old tents and shops will grow into a more permanent structure that can still be moved if the player chooses. From there, the island will be given a star rating out of five, usually starting off at a one-star rating. As the island grows further, the island's star rating will increase. When a three-star rating is achieved, K.K. Slider, a popular musician, will visit and perform a concert at the island, marking the "end" of the game as the credits roll.[17] However, more options for island customization are given to the player for further community growth – such as the ability to construct and destroy cliffs, bodies of water and paths, coloquially referred to as "terraforming".[18]

The game supports one island per Switch system.[19] Animal Crossing: New Horizons supports both local and online co-op gameplay, with up to four players locally and eight players online able to occupy an island at any given time, an option available through the Dodo Airlines.[20] The game supports amiibo cards and figures from the Animal Crossing series, which can be used to invite a villager to the island temporarily that can be convinced to join the island. Nintendo Switch Online cloud saving was added during a late July 2020 update, allowing users to recover game data if their Switch is broken or lost.[21] Additional content is added every few months, added on every update by downloading the latest update from Nintendo.[22]

Updates

Since the game depends on seasonal changes, New Horizons receives frequent updates, adding new seasonal items, events, and sometimes new gameplay features. Most updates are loosely based around national holidays, with the first update being themed around "Bunny Day" in April 2020 and based on Easter. Other seasonal updates followed, being "Nature Day" (Earth Day), May Day,[23] Halloween,[24] "Turkey Day" (Thanksgiving), and "Toy Day" (Christmas).[25] Other popular seasonal events, such as summer, also came with new items.[26][27] Each respective update also featured popular characters from past Animal Crossing games. With each update, the island changed in look, and the player's island is often decorated for the occasion. Alongside seasonal changes, Nintendo has also released themed items from other popular media, such as Mario outfits and decor in celebration of the franchise's 35th anniversary.[28]

In an October 2021 New Horizons-focused Nintendo Direct, Nintendo announced the version 2.0 update would be released the following month and would be the final major free content update for the game.[29] The update will add returning characters Kapp'n and Brewster, both bringing new activities and locations to the game, as well as the ability to fund permanent locations for the game's random visiting vendors. Alongside other quality-of-life improvements, it also included new purchasable items, such as furniture and music, and the ability to cook food via farmed crops.[30] Announced alongside the update was paid downloadable content, entitled Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Happy Home Paradise; similar to the 2015 spinoff Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, the expansion allows players to visit a distant island and design vacation homes for villagers, and adds new customization options that can also be used on players' personal islands once learned. Happy Home Paradise and the version 2.0 update will both be released on November 5, 2021.[31]

Development

Hisashi Nogami (left) and Katsuya Eguchi (right), the producers of the series[32]

Development of a new main series Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo Switch was confirmed in a Nintendo Direct on September 13, 2018, with an unspecified 2019 release date.[33] Although the game was announced in 2018, game director Aya Kyogoku confirmed that the game had begun development in 2012, shortly after the original release of Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS in Japan;[34] she stated how concepts for the game were forming long before ideas for the Nintendo Switch had even existed.[35]

Nintendo released the game's title and first trailer at its E3 2019 Nintendo Direct on June 11, 2019.[36] The game was delayed until March 20, 2020, with Yoshiaki Koizumi stating that in order "to ensure [that] the game [was] the best it [could] be, [Nintendo had to] ask that [players] wait a little longer than [Nintendo itself] thought."[36] Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser cited a desire to avoid crunch and maintain a healthy work–life balance for Nintendo employees as the primary reason for the delay.[37] Nintendo's stock market value posted a 3.5% loss in reaction to the delay, amounting to a total loss in value of more than US$1 billion.[38][39]

Hyogoku stated that the success of the Animal Crossing series was due to the fact that the developers make each game different enough from the last, to bring appeal to newcomers yet keep the core concept for returning players.[40] Kyogoku and Hisashi Nogami, the producer, stated that they selected a deserted island as the game's setting to differentiate it from previous Animal Crossing games, which are set in established villages, and to allow greater freedom to customize the game's world.[41] Additionally, a deserted island took away established parameters in the series to allow for different ideas player interactions.[42] Other concepts, such as the internet and multiplayer, were able to be implemented, unlike previous games due to advancing hardware.[43] Hygoku made sure to keep balance of introducing new and fresh ideas while retaining core elements to satisfy long-term fans of the series.[42]

"Considering the timing, we hope that a lot of the Animal Crossing fans will use this as an escape, so they can enjoy themselves during this difficult time."

Game director Hisashi Nogami, 2020 The Verge interview[44]

The developers were very disappointed when the game's release cycle overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to quarantine during the pandemic, Kyogoku hoped that the game would be an "escape" for fans at the time. They emphasized a global release to allow for international connections between the players.[45]

Game mechanics and concepts

The developers made sure to make the game not only welcoming new players but to also retain core concepts from the previous games to keep older fans of the series happy. A crafting system was implemented to allow the player to keep the player from running out of things to do after the in-game stores close.[35] She mentioned how the D.I.Y. crafting system would keep players in theme with the game by interacting and using the natural environment to their advantage. Kyogoku took note of players who began playing Animal Crossing games via mobile apps, such as Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, by implementing the Nook Miles feature which would show the player what kinds of activities and concepts they can achieve by rewarding them to do so. The Nook Miles system also rewards the player for doing common tasks and collecting materials that would sell for cheap to keep the player from only tediously searching out expensive materials. Furniture and clothing accessibility and customization were emphasized for multiplayer so players could show pride in their islands.[42]

Additionally, the developers noticed that players would repeatedly restart games in the previous series over and over, in hopes to get an island shape that they want. Because of this, landscaping was implemented to allow for easy shaping of the island. Another issue they noticed was "time-traveling"; due to the game running in real-time, players would change the clock on the console to put themselves further into the future so they don't have to wait in real-time. To help avoid this, they made sure landscaping and crafting did not have any wait-time restrictions.[35] They also tied seasonal events to updates instead of implementing the content into the game from the beginning so players could not skip ahead and retrieve exclusive items. The interest rate in the game's bank system was also decreased to lower the incentive of time-traveling.[46] Although the developers intended no time-traveling to be the ideal way of playing, they did not shun the concept entirely.[47]

Art and graphics

The player in "Camera Mode". The image shows how the island is at a 45 degree angle, where the player might see something distant which will "trigger" further action.
The player in "Camera Mode". The image shows how the island is at a 45 degree angle, where the player might see something distant which will "trigger" further action.

The game's art director, Koji Takahashi, went under the philosophy of "trigger of play". The concept makes sure there is something within the player's field of vision or grasp that would want them to explore the concept. With this, the island was designed from a 45-degree angle similar to that of a cylinder, or a "curved" perspective, where the player could view other content occurring in the background that would "trigger" them to investigate further or interact. By making an everyday concept simple and easy to grasp, it would cause the player to explore it further and be able to easily pick up the new material. If the game's art was complicated and realistic, according to Takahashi, the player would possibly receive too much information and make progression difficult. The simple design allowed for a multiple of one object to be stacked close to each other, such as flowers, or allow for simplistic objects to compliment others.[48]

By leaving empty space and with a simplistic design, with simple graphics and little nature complexity, Takahashi explains how it would have the player attempt to fill in that gap with their own perspectives and ideas, called the "imagination gap", and further motivation to create their own designs and space with the features available. In the game, the grass is designed to look like that of a checkerboard. Although this concept was in prior titles due to a lack of hardware complexity, the concept remained because it could be used as a form of expression for the player and allow them to conceptualize ideas with the "imagination gap".[48]

Concept artwork for the "Retro Electric Fan"; Hiromi Sugimoti explained how the "imagination gap" helps players envision a furniture piece as its real-life counterpart.
Concept artwork for the "Retro Electric Fan"; Hiromi Sugimoti explained how the "imagination gap" helps players envision a furniture piece as its real-life counterpart.

Art designer Hiromi Sugimoto made sure furniture would lead to motivation and hard work, and thus make the player want to connect with others to show off their achievements. He made sure the furniture could be customized by the player to ensure the difference between islands that would motivate visiting others and seeing unique ideas. Each furniture model was designed to have a "likeness" to it which would show exactly what to expect and what the player envisions; the pieces of furniture and items implemented various portions on how players view an object to look like and combine the commons ideas into one model. From there, using the "imagination gap", the player could fill in the smaller nitpicky info they would expect and further imagine how they could use the item.[48]

Release

When Animal Crossing: New Horizons released on March 20, 2020, video game retailer EB Games attracted criticism for allowing fans who pre-ordered the game along with Doom Eternal to line up at its flagship Canadian location on Yonge Street, Toronto amid a COVID-19 pandemic in the country, when all levels of government urged the public to close non-essential businesses and maintain social distancing.[49]

Touching on New Horizons in a December 2020 interview with Polygon, Doug Bowser stated the game sold "well beyond expectations", and applauded the developers for their efforts. He noted the game would continue to see updates all throughout 2021.[50]

Reception

Animal Crossing: New Horizons has received "universal acclaim" according to review aggregator Metacritic,[63] becoming the highest-rated game in the series on the website. However, the game has been subject to review bombing due to its handling of Switch profiles and multiplayer.[64][65]

Critics from GameSpot and Game Informer praised the creative freedom and control offered by the game,[62] such as being allowed to choose where buildings and bridges are placed. Most enjoyed the Nook Miles system, stating that it gave the player something to do and a goal to reach.[58][59] Dann Sullivan, writing for Pocket Gamer, liked how it gave the player "optional direction".[61] USGamer also joked how nobody can complain how there is nothing to do.[59] The D.I.Y. system was also praised, with Nintendo Life taking note of how no resource is useless.[58] Reviewer Louryne Strampe of WIRED found that the game was exactly what she needed for her mental health and added that she and her colleagues find solace when visiting each other's respective islands.[66] Eurogamer Deputy Editor Martin Robinson states that, the game has some very impressive improvements which allow for a much clearer and more defined structure overall that gives the entire game play a better feel and cohesion than ever before.[67]

Critics praised the ability to place furniture virtually anywhere, and most agreed it was a necessary change of pace in the series. In particular, the Island Designer App was lauded with its ability to create natural structures,[57][59] although there were minor complaints about how the player could not expand the island and could only reshape it.[56] GamesRadar+ appreciated the retaining of old characters and concepts with the addition of new gameplay mechanics.[56]

Most had complaints about time restrictions in the early phases of the game.[57][55] Since the game runs in real-time, most of the resources available replenish the next day, and reviewers were left with little to do in the beginning.[57][59] IGN's Samuel Claiborn refused to time travel in prior titles, but ultimately was tempted into putting the clock ahead 15 days in order to begin the game's faster pacing and when more tools were unlocked.[57]

Sales

Animal Crossing New Horizons sold over 1.88 million physical copies at launch in Japan, breaking the record held by Pokémon Sword and Shield for biggest Switch game debut in the region.[68] The game sold 720,791 physical copies in its second week in Japan,[69] selling more than Animal Crossing: New Leaf did in its first week. As of 26 April 2020, the game has sold 3,895,159 physical copies in Japan.[70]

In North America, it was the best-selling game of March 2020, becoming the second-bestselling game of 2020 and surpassing the lifetime sales of all previous Animal Crossing games. New Horizons generated the third highest known launch month sales of any Nintendo-published game (since The NPD Group began tracking video game sales from 1995), after Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018) and Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008).[71]

In the United Kingdom, the physical launch sales were roughly quadrupled than those of New Leaf, making it the biggest Switch game launch in the region.[72] It also sold triple the units of the second-bestselling game, new entry Doom Eternal.[73] In Germany, New Horizons sold more than 200,000 copies after a few days of release, for which it has been certified with a Platinum Sales Award by German trade association GAME.[74]

Nielsen division SuperData Research estimates that New Horizons sold five million digital copies worldwide in March 2020, setting a new digital sales record by selling more digital units in a single calendar month than any other console game in history. It surpassed the previous record set by Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018).[75]

Nintendo reported that 11.77 million units sold by March 31, 2020, and a total of 13.41 million units after six weeks on the market, making it "the best start ever for a Nintendo Switch title" by the end of its 2019 fiscal year,[76] as well as one of the best-selling games on the console and the best-selling game of the Animal Crossing series.[77] It later sold 22.4 million units worldwide after three months by June 2020[78] and 26.04 million units after six months by September 2020.[79]

On August 9, 2020, it was reported that Animal Crossing: New Horizons became the second-highest selling game of all time in Japan, only after Pokemon Red and Blue.[80] It was also reported in November 2020 that it was the fastest game to sell over six million copies in Japan.[81] It was the year's best-selling game in Japan, second best-selling game in the United Kingdom, and third best-selling game in the United States.[82] The game grossed $654 million in global digital sales by the end of 2020, making it the year's seventh highest-grossing digital premium game worldwide.[83] As of March 31, 2021, the game has sold 32.63 million units, making it the second best-selling Nintendo Switch game, behind only Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.[84]

In January 2021, The NPD Group revealed the best-selling games of 2020 in the United States. New Horizons was ranked third behind Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The publication revealed that New Horizons was the best-selling Nintendo game in terms of physical copies in the US since 2010's Wii Fit Plus.[85] It was also the second best-selling game of the year in physical copies in the United Kingdom, behind FIFA 21.[86]

Awards and nominations

New Horizons has won numerous awards; the game won the categories for "Best Game in China" and "Game of the Year" at the Famitsu Dengeki. Additionally, the game also was nominated for "Game of the Year" as well as the best multiplayer and family game at The Game Awards 2020, and ultimately won the "Best Family Game" category. At the Japan Game Awards 2020, the game was nominated for the "Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Award" as well as "Game of the Year", and won both categories. The game received an "Award for Excellence" at the event. New Horizons was nominated for similar categories at the Golden Joystick Awards 2020 and won the "Nintendo Game of the Year" category. The game won the "Game Beyond Entertainment" and "Best Multiplayer" categories at the 2021 British Academy Games Awards (BAFTA) and was nominated for four others.

Year Award Ceremony Category Result Ref.
2020 Famitsu Dengeki Game Awards 2020 Best Game in China Won [87][88]
Game of the Year Won
The Game Awards 2020 Best Family Game Won [89][90]
Best Multiplayer Game Nominated
Game of the Year Nominated
Japan Game Awards Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Award Won [91]
Award for Excellence Won
Game of the Year Won
Golden Joystick Awards Nintendo Game of the Year Won [91]
Best Game Community Nominated
Best Family Game Nominated
Best Multiplayer Game Nominated
2021 British Academy Games Awards Best Game Nominated [92]
Family Nominated
Game Beyond Entertainment Won
Game Design Nominated
Multiplayer Won
EE Game of the Year Nominated
Game Developers Choice Awards Game of the Year Nominated [93]
Best Design Nominated

Impact and legacy

See also: Nookazon and Animal Talking with Gary Whitta

Reviewers and news organizations highlighted the game's sense of escapism, in contrast to the COVID-19 pandemic, as attributing to its success.[94] An NBC News op-ed declared, "[New Horizons] is the coronavirus distraction we needed" at a time of widespread social distancing and stay-at-home orders.[95] Imad Khan of The New York Times called the game a "phenomenon", and stated that "with the world in the grip of a pandemic, the wildly popular game is a conveniently timed piece of whimsy, particularly for millennials."[96] Many people have utilized the game in different ways for business and/or socialization. Funerals, weddings, and graduations were held in the game,[50] with even a talk show spawning, titled Animal Talking.[97] The Monterey Bay Aquarium, California, during the COVID-19 pandemic, has regularly held live streams of animal feedings.[98] Twitter revealed, in early January 2021, that Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the most tweeted-about game in 2020.[99]

The Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign released official digital yard signs for use in the game that players could use to decorate their islands.[100][101] The game was also used by democracy activists in Hong Kong, including Joshua Wong, as a platform to protest virtually. In reaction, the game was removed from online stores in China such as Taobao where it had been available on the grey market.[102][103][104] Nintendo announced on November 19, 2020, a new set of guidelines for using the game, including the ban on using it for political activities.[105]

In March 2021, the National Videogame Museum kept a record of the game and its impact during the COVID-19 pandemic, titled the "Animal Crossing Diaries". The records contain visuals, audio, interviews from players throughout 2020, who kept track of their progress and reflected on their experience and how it affected them. According to Lex Roberts, the curator, the goal was to encapture what made the game so popular, alongside its cultural impact, to players who enjoyed the game after COVID-19 restrictions settled. They were requested by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to "collect the history as it’s happening," and they were funded by the charity to do so.[106] The website containing the records opened in September 2021, and covered the 18 months after the games release.[107]

Related media

A tie-in manga series, Atsumare Dōbutsu no Mori: Nonbiri Shima Dayori (あつまれ どうぶつの森〜のんびり島だより〜, lit. "Gather Animal's Forest: Carefree Island News"), began serialization in the manga magazine Ciao on December 28, 2019. The series is written and illustrated by Minori Katō, and follows a villager named Hana who moves to an unpopulated island.[108] Another manga series, Atsumare Dōbutsu no Mori: Nonbiri Shima Diary, launched in the June 2020 issue of Coro Coro Comics.[109] The first volume was published in English as Animal Crossing: New Horizons - Deserted Island Diary on September 14, 2021 by Viz Media.[110]

Nook Tails, a tie-in comic strip series by Cho Hanayo featuring the characters Tom Nook, Timmy, and Tommy, began serialization on the game's Japanese website on October 15, 2019.[111][112] An English-language translation of the series has been posted on the game's English Twitter account beginning on March 4, 2020.[113] Multiple guide books have been released in Japan, some with well-over 1000 pages. These guides have been greatly popular in the country, with large queues (despite shelter-in-place orders), and prompting mass reselling online.[114]

In January 2021, ColourPop released a makeup collection inspired by the game's characters.[115] In March 2021, Build-A-Bear Workshop announced an Animal Crossing: New Horizons collection of plush toys.[116]

Notes

  1. ^ Known in Japan as Atsumare Dōbutsu no Mori (Japanese: あつまれ どうぶつの森, lit. Get Together: Animal Forest)
  2. ^ Behind Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
  3. ^ Behind Pokémon Red, Blue, and Green.

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