Animal Crossing: New Horizons review — A paradise worth the wait

Animal Crossing New Horizons Title Screen
(Image: © iMore)

iMore Verdict

Bottom line: Animal Crossing: New Horizons is well worth the wait for fans of the series and those interested in a fun, casual gaming experience. With plenty of easy-going tasks, crafting, collecting, and a fun multiplayer addition, this game provides the perfect distraction from the outside world.


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    Adorable and polished graphics

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    Relaxing soundtrack

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    Simple and familiar gameplay

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    A few new elements

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    A lot of replay value

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    Multiplayer options


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    A bit slow starting out

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    Mystery tours aren't as random as they should be

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    Multiplayer can get boring after a bit

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    Time lapses can be frustrating

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    No emergency back-up

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    Local multiplayer issues

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Animal Crossing New Horizons Title Screen

Animal Crossing New Horizons Title Screen (Image credit: iMore)

March took forever to get here, but when it finally did, it wasn't at all what anyone was expecting. For the Animal Crossing fans, it was the finish line after a very long journey for the latest entry in the series: Animal Crossing: New Horizons. For the world, there was something much more troubling ahead. Still, New Horizons arrived, and at a time when people would need it most.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a charming, peaceful game that provides hours of entertainment, with maybe a little too much hand-holding to start. But with so many different ways to play, it really is a DIY experience. This game provides the perfect escape from the reality of today, and it was most definitely worth the wait.

You've arrived on your dream island

Animal Crossing: New Horizons What I like

Animal Crossing New Horizons Opening

Animal Crossing New Horizons Opening (Image credit: iMore)

Animal Crossing: New Horizons delivers on almost every front. It's a simple, easy-to-play life simulator that lets players do whatever they want with their deserted island package. Tom Nook is back with his next money-making scheme, but this time, he's starting from scratch, and he's bringing you and two other villagers along for the ride.

Players land on their island armed with nothing but a tent to sleep in and a Nook Phone provided by the raccoon in charge. From there, the world is your oyster. There's no set storyline or plot to follow, but to get certain items, you are going to have to spruce up the island and hit some goals. As you rough it, players get the ability to build their own tools and other items, name their town, and choose where the residents move. As a Residential Representative, this is your town to mold. So you can make it as developed or undeveloped as you like.

Beautiful sights and sounds The feel of nature

Animal Crossing New Horizons Top Mountain

Animal Crossing New Horizons Top Mountain (Image credit: iMore)

From the moment you boot up your Nintendo Switch, you can tell this going to be a sensory experience. While it may not have "realistic" graphics, the look of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is polished. When we last saw Tom Nook and friends, it was way back in 2013 on the Nintendo 3DS (ignoring all the spin-offs of course). This was a much-needed upgrade.

The world is so detailed; the plans and trees sway with the wind and drip with rainwater during a storm. Everything is so bright and defined, including every fish and bug (have you seen the tarantulas?), but it still has that cartoon-ish charm that we've come to love from the series.

The best example of improved graphics is displayed in the museum. The design and displays are gorgeous. It's fun walking through just to take it all in! There are so many colors and details that keep the classic Animal Crossing style, but with a nice coat of fresh, Hi-def paint.

A complementary addition to the beautiful island is the serene score the series is known for. K.K. Slider is at his best with the tracks you can purchase at the store, but the soundtrack is the perfect ambient noise to go about your tasks. It's not going to win any awards for "outstanding musical score," but it does a great job keeping the calm of your village.

Classic gameplay DIY improvements and upgrades

Much like any other Animal Crossing game, you start with next to nothing. You're even Bell-less. You're going to have to rough it. You come with only the clothes on your back, but you're given a tent, a Nook Phone, a few items, and a whole lot of debt. From there, you're on your own. It's essentially your job to earn bells, upgrade your home, and fix up this uncultivated land into something amazing. And Tom Nook? He's there to finance and reap the benefits.

New to the main series, but first introduced in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, you have to gather materials and craft your own items. You start with flimsy material like twigs, but as the game progresses, you can build stronger and better items. It can take a while if you are running short on materials. Equipment upgrades don't happen overnight. You can only pick up what your island provides each day. You can also go to mystery islands (more on this later) to find resources, but you're still limited to what is presented to you.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Nook Miles

Animal Crossing New Horizons Nook Miles (Image credit: iMore)

As you perform tasks and build items, you can earn "Nook Miles" to pay off your debt, or to get special items via the Residental tent. However, once you gather all the materials, help Tom Nook out, and pay off your debt.

Even beyond the core game, there is a lot to do. Your island is home to all kinds of creatures, so catch bugs, go fishing, and even dig up some fossils. You can spend an hour weeding or planting flowers, collecting shells, or helping out your neighbors, along with the other people that show up on your island.

Of course, if you get bored, you can use all the Nook Miles you've earned from doing all the other simple stuff and take Mystery Tours to explore new islands with different creatures, materials, and maybe some new animal friends. Plus, you can always join up with some friends and visit their islands too.

There's no shortage of things to do on your island, but keep in mind, Nintendo likes to keep things slow. You may not be able to do everything at once.

Multiplayer and updates Fun ways to keep playing

Animal Crossing: New Horizons embraces multiplayer. While previous entries had ways of connecting with others, this game makes it easier. With online multiplayer, you have to have a Nintendo Switch Online membership. If you do, you can visit a friend's island and check things out. This is great, especially if you need the fruit or other material on their island. Plus, you can browse the shops, pick up things that might not be available in your town, and check out what they've done to the place. You can even send letters and gifts.

You can't do much else, but you can explore new places, which is still fun. However, if you only have a few friends, it can get boring fast. Luckily there are always new places to explore, and you actually don't have to leave home for something new. Fun events can occur in your town every day.

Nintendo promised frequent updates, and you can already experience some fun with celebrations as more shops and buildings get added to your town. Wandering individuals can randomly show up, like Gulliver, the shipwrecked seagull, or Daisy-Mae, the turnip salesperson. As the seasons change, new social events will pop up, new bugs and fish will appear, and as your town grows, so will your opportunities. There are always new ways to keep playing and fun stuff to explore.

Even sunny days can have a few clouds

Animal Crossing: New Horizons What I don't like

Animal Crossing New Horizons Make Money Fast

Animal Crossing New Horizons Make Money Fast (Image credit: iMore)

I love a lot about this game, and there's very little to dislike. It's a casual game, and anyone can pick it up, so it's perfect for just about anyone who just needs a break from the world. But there are a few things I wasn't a fan of. Let's cover the small problems first.

When you start, the game moves very slowly. Of course, it takes time to build a town, but you are limited to what you can do in a day. For instance, when I first started, I wanted to get to the museum ASAP. I got the specimens that Tom Nook needed, picked a spot for Blathers' tent, and then I had to play the waiting game. Not only did I have to wait a day for Blathers to arrive but I then had to gather specimens for him and then wait for the museum.

I had plenty of other things to do in the meantime, but I couldn't leave my island either. The airport wasn't running just yet. This slows players down so they can take their time to enjoy the start of the game, but after waiting so long to finally get this game, I wanted to hammer away as quickly as possible. I would have liked to move a little further along on my first day.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Museum

Animal Crossing New Horizons Museum (Image credit: iMore)

It's not just the first day, either. Players have to slowly work their way up to access their whole island, and they can't grind to do it. You could time travel, but I wanted to enjoy the game as it was meant to be played. Kudos to anyone who wants to time travel and skip all the waiting (I've seen some fantastic towns!)

Some activities can get stale, too. I've tried several mystery tours to get fruit and materials (I was gifted with peaches to start), but more times than not, I've run into an island with, you guessed it, peaches. I have happened upon an island with oranges and bamboo, but otherwise, I've found islands that give me standard items. Maybe it's just bad luck.

It's always possible to go find some friends with the resources I need, but even multiplayer loses it's fun after a bit since there isn't a lot to do. Animal Crossing isn't the kind of game you can binge though, and that's by design. Plus, there are ways to get around these issues if you want to. So, in the end, it's not that big of a deal.

Bigger fish to fry Issues with saves and local multiplayer

Animal Crossing New Horizons No Cloud Backup Hero

Animal Crossing New Horizons No Cloud Backup Hero (Image credit: iMore)

Okay, now for the elephant in the room: Animal Crossing: New Horizons currently can't back up your saves on the cloud. This means things can go wrong quickly. After spending just four days to finally start getting somewhere, I can't imagine how I would feel if my Switch decided to bite the big one or if it was stolen.

Not only is it an inconvenience, but even if it's not your fault, you can't recover your data. This is all done for the sake of stopping cheaters, but as I mentioned earlier, this won't stop players from time traveling. It hurts people a lot more than it might stop some cheaters.

It feels odd that Nintendo wouldn't prioritize this feature for launch, but plans are coming in the future for a way players can recover their data. There's no time frame for this yet.

Another significant oversight occurs during local play for anyone who shares an island. The game boasts that your island can have several player residents living on the island, but when it comes down to getting started, the primary user is the person to reap all the benefits. Unfortunately, the forward progress at the start of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is tied to that primary user. So, if you are the primary user of your Switch or Switch Lite, and your partner or child wants to build a house on your island, things can get a bit ugly. As the main account holder, Nook Inc. relies solely on you to get the ball rolling on the events in-game.

That means everyone else has to sit around and wait for you to gather items for the museum, set up the other houses, and do all the fun stuff. The island "belongs" to the primary user. Not cool, Tom Nook.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Bottom line

Animal Crossing: New Horizons manages to not only live up to the hype, but it surpasses all expectations. It's a fun, simple game with a whole lot to do. Plus, since we've got plenty of time to do it, now is the perfect time for an easy-going game like this to hit the shelves. It's a build-your-own experience game where you can shape your island and play however you like. Gather flowers, catch fish, create an island full of weeds and tents. It's completely up to you and your playstyle.

I'll gladly sink hours into this title trying my best to create my ideal island. While it may not have the action-packed adrenaline of other popular titles, it settles nicely into its niche. It's the perfect getaway game.

Review Changelog

This article was originally published in March 2020. It was updated in November 2021 with the following changes:

  • Added new section review all additional updates to Animal Crossing: New Horizons
  • New updates include versions 1.1 - 2.0
  • New section contains information about Happy Home Paradise DLC

Animal Crossing: New Horizons: Version 2.0 and Happy Home Paradise DLC

Animal Crossing New Horizons Swimming

Animal Crossing New Horizons Swimming (Image credit: Nintendo)

Quite a bit has changed since Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released back in March 2020. For a while, the game acted as a great distraction considering the state of the world at that time. However, as time marched on, the new Animal Crossing formula grew old and was in dire need of updated content. While we did receive quite a few updates that added different holiday and seasonal events, new visiting merchants, and a swim mechanic, all of these changes weren't exactly ground-breaking.

Many of them should've been available at launch in the first place, like the ability to back up your Animal Crossing: New Horizons save data. We got that eventually, but it's still not an ideal process.

The game had grown stagnant, making us question if our previous review was off base. All of the updates had a similar design and there was a real lack of forward progress. Every Nintendo Direct left fans slightly disappointed, and it seemed like Animal Crossing: New Horizons was doomed to fade away quietly. However, that thought was immediately crushed when the 2.0 launched on Nov. 3, 2021.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Harvs Island

Animal Crossing New Horizons Harvs Island (Image credit: iMore)

Finally, at long last, fans were given the update they craved and on top of that, Nintendo added a paid DLC package. It was like a 1-2 punch to anyone who doubted the game could stay relevant. First off, the 2.0 update brought back fan-favorite NPCs like Brewster, Kapp'n, Katrina, and Tortimer. It also provided these merchants with a space to gather on Harv's island.

Additionally, the new update gives players an opportunity to farm ingredients and cook meals! That's just the tip of the iceberg. New furniture, larger storage, new hairstyles, more DIY recipes, new island tours, gyroids, and decor are aplenty.

Happy Home Paradise Santa

Happy Home Paradise Santa (Image credit: iMore)

And if you're looking to add even more fun, the Happy Home Paradise DLC gives you the opportunity to work as a Happy Homes designer, fixing up vacation homes for various clients. Though the DLC package will cost you $25 outright, it's a great way to add a sense of purpose to your island getaway. Plus, it will get you some awesome perks, like the ability to polish your furniture, add partition walls, and personal design you and your villagers' homes on your island.

You can also get the DLC for free along with a Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack membership, though, like with other memberships, if you cancel, you lose the DLC.

Overall, the additions made truly help this game maintain it's high rating as one of the best Nintendo Switch games.

Sara Gitkos

Sara is the Freelance Coordinator, writer, and editor at iMore. When not editing or writing away, she's glued to her Nintendo Switch, Xbox, or PS5, though she's a retro gamer at heart.