My Reaction To The Animal Crossing: New Horizons Direct

I’ll be honest: I really hope this game is more exciting than this presentation.

After a surprisingly long wait for Nintendo news, the company finally delivered an information bonanza by dropping a 25+ minute presentation regarding their latest flagship release, Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It was finally time to learn more about life on a desert island stuck under Tom Nook’s thumb, and given the horsepower jump from the 3DS to the Switch, the result promised to be epic.

After watching the presentation, however, my feelings on the game are a bit more mixed, albeit through no apparent fault of the game itself. One one hand, the quality-of-life updates and new customization options look fantastic, and promise to finally let you build the island paradise of your dreams. On the other hand, however, the presentation itself was so dry and uninspired that it never truly generated any excitement or momentum, and the promise of future updates didn’t feel as genuine in the wake of some of Nintendo’s recent failures (*cough* Super Mario Maker 2 *cough*). It’s a good thing I was already interested in this game, because this Direct didn’t register at all on my hype meter.

Let’s start with Part 1 of the presentation: Did we really have to sit through sixteen-and-a-half minutes of everything we already knew about the game? Sure, it’s cool that we can arrange furniture outside and play with multiple people, but had so much time truly passed since the reveal that we needed a deep-dive into each and every feature like this? There were a few new features hidden in the details, but honestly, all of them felt like regressions: Tom Nook’s daily announcements generated flashbacks to those Pearl/Marina segments in Splatoon 2 that I can’t skip through fast enough, and getting attacked by the local wildlife isn’t exactly my idea of fun (avoiding the darn bees was bad enough, thank you). By spending so much time rehashing previous reveals, Nintendo sucked the air out of the room right from the start and made it hard to stay engaged. I expect atmospheric mistakes like this from Sam Hunt singles, but not from AAA Nintendo franchises.

It’s too bad the presentation started so slowly, because there are some serious QoL upgrades here that address many of the problems I had with Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Not only are you given more ways to traverse the terrain (pole vaulting across rivers, using portable ladders to scale cliffs), but the array of terrain-customizing tools here is simply astounding: You can re-route rivers, tear down bluffs and build them back again, and lay out predetermined house lots so new residents don’t destroy your carefully-pruned fruit tree lots (this is already the most fun you’ll ever have sitting on a zoning board). Landscaping options abound (you can build your own paths and sandlots now!), trees can be moved directly instead of going through the standard logging/planting cycle, and tool use is restricted to best friends so visitors can’t ruin all your hard work. (And all this is on top of the most glaring omission from New Leaf that is finally rectified: The ability to change your skin tone!) You may only get one island per Switch, buy you’ve got everything you need to craft a home base that fully expresses your personality.

Beyond these updates, however, there didn’t seem to be a lot of new exciting features offered here. Much of the future update section seemed dedicated to re-adding old features from New Leaf, such as the museum, the clothing store, the campsite, recurring events like fishing and bug-catching tournaments, and so on. It makes the game out to be nothing more than New Leaf with a new coat of paint on it, and while it’s a customizable, high-quality coat of paint, it’s not the massive forward leap we saw between, say, Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild, or Mario 3D World and Mario Odyssey. In this way, Animal Crossing is a lot like Pokémon: The steps between generations feel a bit incremental, and everyone we complain if there favorite Pokémon/villager doesn’t make it into the game.

Admittedly, people are pumped enough about Animal Crossing: New Horizons that it really doesn’t need its trailers to generate much buzz at this point (all they need to do is not screw things up). That isn’t an excuse to get complacent, however, and while New Horizons offers a new experience in the form of the Switch’s HD output, it comes across as more of a lateral step than a forward one, as if it were a simple HD remaster of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I’m still planning on picking this one up, but my expectations are a bit more tempered after today’s presentation, which wasn’t one of Nintendo’s best. Much like Pokémon, however, as long as AC:NH mostly delivers on its relaxing life-sim premise, people won’t complain too much.