Animal Crossing: New Horizons is set to launch on the Nintendo Switch March 20, but based on early demos and reviews, we already know several key pieces of information about what fans of the franchise can expect in the new entry.
A few game publications got some hands-on time with the game Nintendo’s new installment of the life simulator either at PAX East in Boston or in other circumstances. The three-part demo took testers through an early, midway, and late areas of New Horizons to give players a glimpse at as many new mechanics as possible.
Here are four things you should know about the tropical island-themed title before you decide if you want to pick it up later this month.
4. Character creation is incredibly robust
New Horizons will have the most detailed character creation menu than any other Animal Crossing game title in the franchise. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, the game would decide what players’ characters would look like based on a series of questions. GameSpot’s Kallie Plagge was relieved to find out that they could finally customize a character’s skin tone from the get-go.
“This is the first main game in the series that lets you select a skin tone — in the past you had to ‘tan’ by standing outside in the sun if you wanted to be anything besides pale,” she wrote. "You can pick out your hairstyle and color, eye shape and color, nose and mouth types, and even cheek color before you begin, and you can always change your look later, too."
This way it’s much more of a life sim and less like a Facebook quiz, and especially with multiplayer becoming a bigger part of the game, more unique character models feel like a must.
3. Multiplayer is a bit of a drag
New Horizons will allow up to eight players to live together on one island and up to four can play at the same time using two pairs of Switch Joy-Cons. Demo testers were among the first to try the multiplayer session feature where one player is assigned to be the leader and can use their Nook Phone to invite more players to the game.
However, Kotaku’s Ethan Gach said this felt a bit more like a “workcation” and not so much a tropical vacation.
“The idea is to encourage people to play together without being afraid the other person will start messing up your carefully-curated island,” he wrote. “But it felt a little less like hanging out, and more like doing chores together.” Guest players can do very little beyond assist whatever it is the host wants to accomplish, so rather than co-existing, it feels more like a ride-along.
2. Tools give you the power to shape the island
Progressing through the game will depend on earning money (called Bells in this universe) to unlock new tools in order to further customize the island. New Horizons will have the most versatile selection of tools out of any other title from the series, but Pocket-Lint’s Rik Henderson claims it still doesn’t compare with a true sandbox like Minecraft.
“These tools are fairly simple to use and not quite on a Minecraft scale, for example, but enable players to customize their islands greatly, so are a superb addition to an already fun-filled game,” he wrote. That's not necessarily a drawback by any means considering the overall aesthetic of Animal Crossing, but on some level it does feel like a half-measure.
Also don’t get too attached to the tools you craft because they’ll each have durability and eventually break.
1. Inventory management isn’t an issue anymore
Finally, New Horizons addressed the most frustrating aspect of previous Animal Crossing games: inventory management. New Leaf didn’t let players immediately equip items they purchased right away, which is now a built-in feature in New Horizons. Players can try on new clothes and walk out of the shop wearing them. Previous outfits will be deposited directly into your inventory, making it even better than a real-life shopping spree. In this sense, it looks like Animal Crossing: New Horizons learned a lot from Pokémon Sword and Shield.
“It’s the most streamlined shopping spree I’d ever gone on in an Animal Crossing game," Gach wrote in his Kotaku review, "and a sign that some of the series’ more archaic inventory management and menu navigation has been successfully left behind."
Overall, most early impressions suggest that Nintendo polished, refined, and tweaked many of the mechanics and aspects of Animal Crossings that gamers have come to love, making for the best experience yet. There was a sense that the demos were a bit laborious and felt more like doing chores in a video game world than a fun way to pass the time.
But Animal Crossing games require players to fall in love with their island and obsess about its every detail. It’s hard to recreate that same feeling with a demo. Based on these first impressions, it seems that diehard fans of the series will appreciate the quality-of-life changes Nintendo added to New Horizons and newcomers will get the biggest and most customizable version of the game to date.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons will be released for the Nintendo Switch March 20, 2020.