How does an update feel like so much and yet so little at the same time?
Animal Crossing: New Horizons exploded out of the gate when it was released in early 2020 and is currently the second-best-selling game on the Switch (ranked only behind perennial powerhouse Mario Kart 8 Deluxe), but at some point, you simply run out of things to do on your island: Scour the world for your dream villagers, remade your island in your image, max out your house size…and then what? There are only so many fish you can catch or villager photos you can get before things start to get a bit repetitive.
In Nintendo’s recent Direct presentation, the company proclaimed that they had a big update in store for the game, so big that they needed a whole separate Direct to talk about it all. The rumor mill kicked into high gear: What sort of content would be added? Would it be new new, or just leftover features from New Leaf? Would the Froggy Chair finally make its triumphant return? And would all this be enough to be lapsed ACNH players like myself back into the fold?
The answer ended up being affirmative to all of the above (including the chair)…except maybe the last one.
Honestly, for all the features that were added, there didn’t seem to be a killer feature that made me say “I have got to play this game again.” Mostly, I found myself saying “Oh yeah, I remember this from New Leaf; it’s about time the game got feature parity,” and while it’s great that some of these features returned, there was nothing here that I felt I just had to try out. Instead of bringing in features that might re-expand the player base, this felt like an update that catered to the hardcore AC enthusiasts, i.e. the people who were still playing the game anyway. If you’d already felt like you’d seen and played it all like I did, you won’t find much here to entice you into picking the game back up.
My detailed thoughts on the update are as follows:
- Honestly, I’ve never understood Brewster’s appeal. You walk in, you buy a cup of coffee, you drink it…and that’s pretty much it. Occasionally another character would be around to talk to (and the new amiibo card functionality lets you invite other characters in), but otherwise I found the whole thing to be a bit boring (although in fairness, I never actually unlocked the ‘work at the cafe’ feature back in the day). It’s a long-overdue addition, but not something I’m overly excited about.
- I was excited to see Kapp’n and his bizarre sea shanties return…until I discovered that he doesn’t take you to an island where you could partake in challenges with friends like in New Leaf, but instead pretty much duplicates the mystery island feature of Dodo Airlines. For all the New Leaf functionality they brought back, this was the one thing I was hoping for, because it actually gave people something to do together when they visited an island. Alas, it’s pretty much the one thing we didn’t get.
- The return of the shop plaza is a welcome sight, because it finally gives you consistent access to characters like Sahara and Kicks without having to wait for them to show up randomly on your island. You may have to pay for the shops to arrive, but let’s be honest: You’ve probably got several gazillion Bells sitting around from the game’s broken economic system, so it’s nice to have a reason to have them. I’d call this the best “new” addition to the game.
- The developers went way back in the archives to bring back group stretching from the original Animal Crossing game, and while it seems like a feature that will get old quickly, allowing players to participate themselves using motion controls is a great way to make it more interactive and engaging (and making it available anytime means that people will actually do it instead of sleeping through it). Still, it’s a minor addition that doesn’t add a ton of replay value in my book.
- The return of island ordinances is a long-overdue feature that will improve the accessibility of shops and villagers. Some people simply have limited time windows with which to play the game, and things like the Early Bird and Night Owl ordinances will help let people enjoy the game on their own schedule. Again, it’s a welcome return, but not enough to entice me to return with it.
- More storage space and house exterior options are great, but despite my hoarding tendencies I never actually ran into the game’s original 1,600 item limit, and I changed my house exterior all of once during my time with the game. Being able to reach 5,000 items and having more facade choices is a nice feature for the completionists and perfectionists among us, but I don’t number among them.
- Oh hey, the gyroids are back. To be honest, I didn’t find much use for them in New Leaf, and I wasn’t waiting with bated breath to see them come back, even with extra customization options.
- Things like cooking, room lighting, accent walls, and player options like new hair and reactions feel like natural additions and will give folks a lot of interesting options, but I don’t see anyone beyond hardcore ACNH players jumping back in just to try them out. My house decor hasn’t changed in a year and I’m still satisfied with it, so changing things up just for the sake of change doesn’t seem like a good use of time.
- The camera functionality is Nintendo’s games are getting better over time, and giving shutterbugs more options via the Handheld and Tripod modes really helps you get extreme closeups and more-expressive villagers than the default controls. It’s a great feature for those that took lots of pictures beforehand, but once again, it may not be enough bring lapsed photographers back into the fold.
- The storage shed and ABD machine are great quality-of-life features that let you access money and items when and where you want to, but they’re not going to give you a reason to play if you don’t already have one. Same thing with the ladder kits and tight-space navigation option. (Do I sound like a broken record yet? Don’t worry, K.K. Slider has some new records to replace the broken ones.)
After going through the free stuff, Nintendo hit us with a twist: Happy Home Paradise, a paid DLC update that basically adds Happy Home Desinger to New Horizons and let you endlessly customize homes and yards for various AC residents. I like that the home requirements are fairly minimal, allowing players to go wild with the theme and make the design their own, and the lack of limitations (at least the trailer didn’t mention any) and being able to customize common spaces like schools and restaurants gives the game some surprising replay value for master designers. (Also, the ability to carry over new features like partition walls and polishing over to the main gate gives you even more options for your own island!) At $24.99, it’s a reasonable price for an expansion that lets people who enjoy the customization part of Animal Crossing show their stuff.
…But I’m not one of those people, so I’ll likely pass on the DLC. Much like the free update, it’s geared towards the AC power users rather than casual players, and if you already feel like the game is played out, none of this will change your mind.
In objective good/bad terms, I’d say this was a pretty good update all around, making Animal Crossing: New Horizons the premier AC experience for the franchise. If you’ve already tired of the bug-catching and furniture-placing grind, however, there just isn’t enough here to warrant a return trip to your neglected island. If this were an “is it worth buying?” post, I’d say that the value you get from all this directly correlates with how much you’re playing the game right now: If you’re already playing a lot, it’s great, and if you’re not, it’s mostly window-dressing. (If you’re thinking of buying Happy Home Paradise, I’d recommend buying it outright relying on the overpriced Expansion Pass for the mostly-worthless Nintendo Switch online service…but that’s a rant for another post.)
It’s nice to see Animal Crossing: New Horizons getting some attention from Nintendo after all this time. It’s just a shame that what we get isn’t enough to warrant giving more of your attention to the game.