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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Escape to a blissful island with “Animal Crossing: New Horizons”

Deviating slightly from series norms, “New Horizons” is a wonderfully therapeutic and lovingly handcrafted town simulator that arrived at just the right time.

One full week into my brand new life on a deserted island with my friendly animal neighbors, I can definitively say “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” (released Mar. 20) is a modern masterpiece in the social simulation game genre. A little bit Stardew Valley, a little bit Minecraft and a little bit The Sims, the latest entry in Nintendo’s widely adored series hits (almost) every mark.

The premise: you and two other randomly chosen anthropomorphic animal pals have just purchased Nook Inc.’s exclusive “Island Getaway” package. You’re moving to a deserted island! Together with raccoon-tycoon Tom Nook and his twin nephews Timmy and Tommy, you and your new neighbors will set out to transform the island into a bustling and tight-knit community of friends, a comfortable place constructed and decorated entirely to your liking.

The game begins with raccoon brothers Timmy and Tommy explaining the details of the Island Getaway Package. After that, you and your new neighbors head off to your very own deserted island!

The Animal Crossing series’s unique gag is that it uses your console’s internal clock to simulate the real-life passage of time. If Tom Nook tells you that a certain building will be open tomorrow, you can’t simply sleep in your bed to trigger a cutscene, forcing the next day to start. Nope, “tomorrow” really means tomorrow.

This waiting game can get frustrating sometimes, but fortunately, there’s a whole host of things to do on your island to stay occupied while construction is in progress or while you’re waiting for a new neighbor to move in.

In fact, these long periods of waiting are the perfect time to take advantage of the largely open-ended gameplay and collect as many Bells (in-game currency) as possible. First and foremost, you’ll need Bells to pay off your homeowners’ loan, a necessary prerequisite to expanding your house and making room for more furniture. Which brings us to the golden rule of Animal Crossing: you can never have too much furniture.

One of the many ways you can earn Bells to pay off your home loan is fishing, whether in the ocean around the island or the rivers that crisscross it.

Bells can be acquired by selling a variety of things to Timmy and Tommy in their store, known as Nook’s Cranny. Whether you want to go fishing, catch bugs or explore the forest for fruit and resources, the brothers will buy almost anything you bring them. Eventually, house expansion will be within reach, as long as you are careful not to spend all your Bells on the specialty furniture items they sell at Nook’s Cranny. The golden rule is a tough rule to ignore when you just have to own that uniquely designed couch or wall-hanging tapestry.

Within the first week, you’ll likely also meet Blathers, a friend of Tom Nook’s with a keen interest in the biodiversity of the island. If you give Tom Nook enough different fish or bug specimens from your exploits, he’ll invite Blathers to open a museum on the island. It’s an expansive building, made to house the donated specimens, and some of the rooms are gorgeously rendered in graphic quality that’s a marked upgrade from New Leaf on the 3DS.

After a day or two of island life, Tom Nook’s friend Blathers arrives to study the island ecosystem. Donate enough specimens, and he’ll open a museum!

Whether it’s to make money or find new creatures for Blathers, there’s only so much fishing and bug-catching you can do before it gets repetitive. However, a delightful new feature helps keep things interesting: the mystery island.

As part of the getaway package, Tom Nook gives you access to a rewards program known as Nook Miles, which can be acquired through completion of in-game achievements. With enough Nook Miles, you can purchase a plane ticket to a nearby mystery island, and dodo birds Orville and Wilbur of Dodo Airlines (there’s not one, but two exquisite jokes hidden here) will take you there whenever you choose.

No two mystery islands are the same, so whether you’re searching for an elusive fish or want to practice catching tarantulas (which sell for a high price), exploration always pays off. Additionally, some mystery islands feature specialty fruits and flowers not found on your home island that can sell for higher prices, so it’s never a bad idea to save some Nook Miles for a trip.

One new character that’ll visit your island is Daisy Mae, granddaughter of beloved turnip-seller Joan. Daisy Mae stops by every Sunday to sell her grandmother’s turnips as part of the Stalk Market.

The addition of DIY recipes is another new key feature that surprised some franchise devotees. In past Animal Crossing games, collecting every piece of a furniture set could be exceptionally difficult, with specific interactions with characters never guaranteed to give you just the piece you wanted. In New Horizons, a wide variety of furniture items can instead be crafted by the player character using the bountiful resources found on the island. While it may still be difficult to collect the recipes themselves for that prized furniture set you’ve got your eyes on, the DIY gameplay mechanic is a noticeable step away from past entries in the franchise.

Yet another step away comes with the loss of certain fan-favorite characters from past entries. While this is my first time playing a game in the Animal Crossing series, die-hard fans may lament the fact that new gameplay mechanics like DIY have rendered many of these characters simply obsolete. Some of the casualties include Harriet of the Shampoodle hair salon and Reese and Cyrus of New Leaf’s furniture customization store (the player can now give themselves a makeover at any mirror, and customization can be performed via any DIY workbench). Perhaps the most heart-wrenching loss is that of beloved Rover, who greets the player character to help them set up their game in every previous series entry.

Once you finish construction on the Resident Services Building, everyone’s favorite dog secretary arrives: Isabelle. She’ll help host a celebration in honor of the new building.

Most likely, though, your favorite character will end up being one of your anthropomorphic animal neighbors. It’s only been a week, and I already love wandering around my island just to see what Reneigh the horse or Dottie the rabbit might be up to. Sometimes, your neighbors will teach you new DIY recipes or give you furniture, but even if they don’t, interacting with them is always emotionally rewarding.

Best of all, you can participate in all these activities and more with friends. Simply open the arrival gate in your airport and relay your island code, and in a flash, everyone can play together on the same island. Some of the interactions between player characters can get especially amusing, as you all have access to unique mechanics that NPC villagers don’t.

Co-op play allows you to go on all sorts of fun island adventures with friends and family. Simply open the arrival gate at your airport, and hijinks ensue.

While the deserted island lifestyle—waiting around for construction, participating in outdoor activities and building a community—might sound tedious or even boring to some, I’ve found it incredibly therapeutic, as it gives you the time to simply listen to the soothing sound effects of the ocean waves or stop to smell the roses (literally, as you can grow roses on your island).

More than anything else, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is an adaptable and relaxing gameplay experience in which you can truly make whatever you want of your island getaway. For me, the perfect timing of the game’s release meant I used it to turn my coronacation into a real (okay, virtual) vacation. In social isolation, New Horizons can help people escape harsh reality to their very own deserted island—and even connect with friends while doing so. Where do I sign up?

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About the Contributor
Andrew Kolondra Jr.
Andrew Kolondra Jr., Former Life Editor

Andrew (AJ) Kolondra Jr. ('22) majored in English and classics in the College of Arts and Science. He frequently reviews television and movies or covers local events and festivals in and around the city. As a South Florida native, he spends as much time as possible outdoors — more often than not at Centennial Park. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Emily Ann Hugan
4 years ago

Fantastic review, AJ! Absolutely riveting, totally capturing.