Animal Crossing: New Horizons Falls Short by R.P. Lauer - Distant Web

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons Falls Short
Animal Crossing: New Horizons Falls Short by R.P. Lauer - Distant Web
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4/14/2020
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First and foremost, I will be using a previously used image to go along with this post and I will not apologize for that. The way I see it, Nintendo did not bother releasing a full game of their longstanding franchise (that I love) at launch, so why should I bother creating a new image? And that in a nutshell is the basic gist for how I feel about Animal Crossing: New Horizons; it's simply not a full game by the standards of its own mainline series.

Please do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that I do not like the game, but I am saying that over all I absolutely do not love it. In fact, at best I think it's currently just 'ok'. Now please allow me to elaborate.

Animal Crossing is a series that originally debuted in 2001 on the N64 as the Japanese exclusive roughly translated to 'Animal Forest'. It would later be given a new title as an enhanced port to the rest of the world for the GameCube over the next few years. It was then succeeded by a DS version subtitled as 'Wild World' in 2005, a Wii game in 2008 called 'City Folk/Let's Go To The City', and then a 3DS game in 2012 called 'New Leaf'.

So the first thing I have to note is that for the previous installments, the time frame for each new release (from first release of the previous to the first release of the next) was three to four years; basically meaning that once a new game was first released (typically in Japan), the next would see a release between three and four years later. With New Leaf first releasing in 2012, many fans expected the next entry to be seen in either 2015 or 2016. Unfortunately this release cycle would be doubled which did make some fans (myself included) a little impatient.

I freely admit that I was absolutely impatient waiting to even hear word that a new mainline game was actually in development, and that the announcement of the (abhorrent) Wii U spinoff Amiibo Festival was maddening to say the least. However, I also assure you that my impatience for a new entry and the Mario Party ripoff anger did NOT effect my judgment here. Nor did the fact that Nintendo completely ignored the Wii U for a proper mainline title which really did irritate me to no end (I liked the Wii U, it was a fine system, and I desperately wanted a mainline Animal Crossing on it).

But as much of a fan as I am for the Animal Crossing mainline franchise, I am NOT a 'blind' fan. None of the entries in any franchise I love get a pass when they stumble simply because they come from something I love.

This is a hard thing for me to sum up, so let me just separate various points into specific categories. The Good will focus on what is good. The Double Edged Sword will focus on things that have good aspect, but also have bad aspects which make them impossible for me to call either good or bad. Then of course, The Bad - honestly this should be pretty simple to figure out. Finally I will add a section simply called Random Gripes.



The Good




The graphics are absolutely beautiful. Seeing a mainline Animal Crossing game in HD is absolutely wonderful! Before I had to soak up the aesthetics of things like the Animal Crossing Plaza on the Wii U, Amiibo Festival (visually) and the Animal Crossing portions of Mario Kart 8 (on Wii U and Switch). But finally I get to marvel at HD Animal Crossing while playing an actual Animal Crossing game! Thank the heavens!

The Sound is quite nice to, between the music and just sound effects in general, my ears are very happy.

Place Items Anywhere! Yes! You can finally place any given piece of furniture outside! This is something that I personally have been wanting since the very first game on the GameCube. I remember the first time I saw the outdoor set, items like a lawn mower, sprinkler, lawn chairs, etc. I saw them and thought, "Why would anyone want this inside their houses? Why can't we put these outside where they belong?"

Well finally, we can do that! And it really is about time!

Randomly you will find your townies (villagers) just standing around singing to themselves. This is beyond cute! Like sickeningly adorably cute! And what's more is that I only recently realized that they are singing K.K. Slider songs! I noticed because one of mine was singing one of my favorites, K.K. Disco.

Unfortunately that is all I can think of that is simply 'good' about this game. Anything else that is good has a very bad side attached to it, so let's get right into:



The Double Edged Sword




Crafting - This is one of the biggest 'core' mechanics in the game. I've played a lot of games in my years where crafting plays a part; sometimes minor, sometimes major, and over all I will say that typically speaking I enjoy crafting in videos games. However, it often gets quite tedious. And crafting in New Horizons demonstrates this perfectly. At first the crafting is fun and cute, but fairly quickly it becomes tiresome. Grinding is pretty heavy and many 'recipes' require other items to be either purchased or separately crafted ahead of time.

Furthermore, there are several items in the game that the player may want to craft in bulk, like fishing bait, but that option is not available for some unknown reason. The input to output ratios are also off to at least some degree. Sticking with bait, you craft it by digging up a clam from the beach and you can use it to attract a fish in any body of water. However, one clam gets you one piece of bait, and you can only craft one at a time.

In my opinion, this ratio itself makes it not worth my time to dig up the clams in the first place, and the fact that you have to craft one at a time (after digging up 20 clams) makes me never want to bother.

Add to this the fact that almost ever piece of material in the game requires a tool to collect, and that tool will break rather quickly, crafting becomes a massive chore (more on tool breaking later).

Crafting itself is also a major production in the game; in fact, almost everything is a major production but for now we will stick with crafting specifically. Every time you go to craft something, a long and drawn out animation plays out. And even though you can speed this up slightly by mashing buttons, it still takes time. Then at the end of every 'craft' animation your character has to turn to the screen, show off that they made something followed by dialog repeating that you made said 'item'. Then you have to go back to a menu and select whether or not you want to keep crafting or quit instead of simply going back to the actual crafting screen; if you are done crafting you can always hit the 'B' button.

The way that this is put together simply adds extra steps to an already long process and it gets really old extremely quick.

To add to the 'bait' situation, there is an entire series of furniture called the 'Wooden Block' series where you first have to craft, one by one, a 'Wooden Block' before you can craft the table, stereo, chair, etc, with full animations and questions each time as to whether or not your want to keep crafting.. It just takes way too long in my opinion.

Terraforming - for the first time ever, this game allows you to actually modify the environment. You can create or destroy cliffs, bodies of water, and even move every single building outside of the main 'Resident Services Center'. Unfortunately the controls kind of suck, terreforming is tedious at best and moving buildings kind of expensive and can only be moved on building at a time, per day. Moving buildings is also kind of weird where you first have to ask the resident/shop keeper if they want to be moved (which is a waste of time because there is no answer other than yes), then you are given a 'kit' to place where you want it to go, then the next day it actually gets moved.

This means that if you just want to move a building over one or two spaces, you have to actually move it twice; once to get it completely out of the way and then a second time the next day to put it where you actually want it. This may not sound like a big deal until you find yourself in a position where that one building is ALMOST where you want it, but off by a few spaces. If you never find yourself in that position, I envy you.

Pocket Space/Tool Ring - I'll go with the tool ring first. This is something that could have been used in every entry, but as they always say, better late than never. But unfortunately how it is implemented has a bit to be desired in my opinion. Now, I will fully admit that part of my problem with this is simply because Nintendo took a different approach than others with a fairly common feature. In most (if not all) games I've played that have a tool ring, you typically press and hold a button to bring up the ring, then use one of the analog sticks to highlight the tool/weapon you want to equip, then let go of that button you were previously holding.

In my opinion, this is a very quick, simple and effective way to utilize that sort of feature. Nintendo on the other hand decided to do things differently. They decided that you press and let go of the 'up' button for the directional pad. This brings (and then leaves) up the tool ring. You then highlight the tool with left stick, and then press the 'A' button.

This would be fine in theory; not quite as fluid as other games that have this same sort of thing, but fine. The problem that comes in is that it doesn't quite work sometimes. I don't know if this is a programming issue, or a JoyCon issue; the Switch's JoyCons are notoriously buggy. So what I have found is that often times after highlighting the tool I want and then pressing the 'A' button (and I am absolutely sure I am pressing the A button here), one of three things can happen.

If I'm lucky it will equip the highlighted tool like it's supposed to. However, often times it will get rid of the tool ring and change nothing, as if I pressed the 'B' button (and again, I am absolutely sure that I am pushing the A button). Or even more curious is that often times it not only fails to equip the new tool, but it also unequips whatever tool I WAS holding.

Now let me move on to pocket space. Pocket space has always been an issue; you just never have enough. Thankfully they did give us more! Of course, you have to purchase them with in game currency called Nook Miles, and you have to unlock their availability in the first place, but fine. You get more pocket space and that is great! They also allowed for more items to stack; in New Leaf, I believe mostly (or exclusively, it's been a while now) fruit would stack in groups of 9.

New Horizons adds more items to the list of things that can stack. Unfortunately again, it's not all items, really only a small handful, and even with those items it's different. Some items, like weeds (weeds are now a crafting material) can stack to 99. But then other items (other crafting materials) like stone or wood or iron, can only stack to 30. And then yet again, other materials like fruit only stack to 10!

Add to this the fact that along with new pocket space you also have a ton of new items you have to carry around at all times, and that extra pocket space becomes significantly smaller. In addition to your basic tools (slingshot, net, shovel, ax, fishing pole, watering can), you now also have a vaulting pole and a ladder that you really do need with you at all times. Plus you have different versions of some of these tools like the ax where one allows you to hit a tree to get its wood, but not chop it down, and another to actually chop it down. There is also a new Magic Wand tool that you can use to change clothing on the fly (a really cool feature) and you HAVE to have it in your inventory if you want to stay changed into that outfit.

And not only are there new tools that you pretty much have to carry around with you, but there are also about 8 different crafting materials that you kind of do need to carry as well because tools will break constantly leaving you needing to quickly craft a new one if you want to keep fishing or bug hunting or what not.

So that extra pocket space feels less and less extra the more stuff that you are almost required to carry around at all times.



The Bad




First and foremost, this is NOT a complete game out of the box. Before the game even launched, Nintendo announced that it would get periodic free updates through DLC. At first this sounds great, I love it when developers support a game long after it releases (like No Man's Sky for example). However, it is immediately specified that these updates would add the various in game holidays… Things that previously were just IN the game from the start.

Before I really spell this out, all past mainline games had a huge feature that really set it apart from other games (at least back in 2002 or so); holidays and events. Holidays are things that happen once a year at the same time each year, either on a specific date that never changes (like New Years) or on a date determined by a mathematical equation (like Easter). Events are regular things like Fishing Tournaments or Bug Offs.

In New Horizons, events seem to be built in, but the holidays, staples of the series since the first entry, and NOT in the base game. They have to be patched in later. This means that someone who pops in this game ten years from now, when the Switch servers have gone offline, will NOT be able to play any of the holidays.

But guess what? It's not just holidays that are missing from this game; other series staples have also been left out. The Artwork (and Redd) in the museum, The Post Office (including Pete, Phyllis and Pelly, Gyroids and Gracie; these are big parts of the game that have been there from the beginning and are not actually in this game.

Other features/sections/characters include: The Roost (and Brewster), the Police Station/Guard Station (including Copper and Booker), Dr. Shrunk, Kapp'n, Swimming/Deep Sea Diving (I know that this isn't a 'staple' per say, but it should have been after its debut in the last game), Cyrus and Reese, Shampoodle, Tortimer (yes, I know, he retired in New Leaf, but he was still in that game), Chip/Joan/Nat (again, I know, they were replaced, and that is kind of the point as they could have been given new jobs/roles like Mr. Resetii).

I know that not every one of these things/characters have been there since the start, and some only debuted in the last entry, but most are staples and the rest could have been and should have been. And their exclusion is felt every single time I play; there is simply SO much less to do now.

I got almost 1,500 hours of playtime out of New Leaf, and while I currently have about 200 hours in New Horizons so far, I can pretty much guarantee that I will not get even close to that out of this game unless it is massively overhauled. And sure, each and every one of these things could be added back in future updates, but that is a huge problem in my opinion; we still got a partial game at launch, NOT a full game. And the fact is, we do not KNOW if any of these things (other than the holidays) will ever be included yet.

As it is right now, this game has less to do than the original GameCube version - which for everybody outside of Japan was the first entry.

This one aspect took up more time than I had expected, so I'm going to be a bit brief with the rest.

Tools break. This doesn't seem that bad at first, but after my seventh tool breaks in a day, I simply want to stop fishing or bug catching. This is something that never once happened to me in any previous game; I actually reach a point where I just want to stop playing because I am so sick of running back to a workstation to craft yet another tool, which become even worse if I find I am out of materials.

And here's the real kicker; even the coveted Golden Tools break! You first have to craft a regular tool, then you have to craft the Golden Tool (which uses extremely rare Golden Nuggets), and then you have to do it all over again at some point (soon) because it WILL break (soon).

I get that they wanted the crafting system to be meaningful, but other games have tools that you have to craft and don't break. Plus, THIS game has tools that don't break like the Pole Vault and Ladder. Plus, the regular tools (like a shovel) are actually used in various item recipes. A well, for example, uses a shovel as part of its crafting. You have to first craft a shovel, THEN you craft the well with it (and other materials).

Everything is a MASSIVE production! At first it seems charming, but quickly it just becomes something that stops the game in its tracks. Crafting something? Wade through menus, animations, and more menus. Want to play with a friend online? Wade through menus, and menus, and menus just to open your gate or go to someone's town. Then when someone shows up wait for a long drawn out cut scene. Is someone leaving? Stop playing, it's time for a cut scene. Crap, someone else is leaving now? Another cut scene. Someone else is coming over? Another cut scene.

It may not sound bad on paper, but actually going through all the hoops it takes to actually connect or disconnect from Wi Fi gameplay, it just becomes a massive slog.

And I already talked about the pointless production behind moving a building where Tom Nook actually has someone come over to you to ask if they are ok being moved even though they never actually say no.

Online Multiplayer Kind Of Sucks - simply put, there really just isn't much to do while playing with someone online. Nintendo still hasn't figured out online gameplay and simple things like built in voice chat so in game communication consists of painfully typing out short messages which take WAY too long and there are no built in games. New Leaf had a massive set of co-op or competitive mini games in the way of Island Tours.

New Horizons has nothing. Sure, you can eventually get a timer and see who can catch the most bugs/ fish in a given time period, but there's no actual purpose other than bragging rights and even then, why bother? It's going to take you ten minutes to type out 'Ha Ha Ha' with the current messaging system. Is that really worth it?

And sure, you COULD use the real world phone app, but is there anybody who actually uses that? I have yet to play with anyone who had that awful system setup.

Other bad aspects of online multiplayer include: For some reason, you cannot access your ABD from another person's town. Why? I have no idea. You also have no access to your storage from another person's town. Again, why? And again, I have no idea.



Random Gripes




As I mentioned already, there is a new tool called a Magic Wand. Once you have this you can go to any wardrobe and create/edit up to 8 different complete outfits. It's like carrying around 8 different Mannequins from New Leaf where you can simply change into those clothes on the fly. This is an amazing feature and works really well. Any clothing you have in your pockets, OR in your home storage can be used in creating any given outfit. This is great!

What's more is that it's not even just the Magic Wand; if you place a wardrobe outside somewhere in your village/island, you can access all clothing in your home's storage and change your actual outfit (not just the Magic one).

And it makes me wonder why they didn't do that same thing for crafting... Let me explain here. When you craft something, any given recipe requires any number of different materials. But whatever the requirements are, you HAVE to have them on you, in your pockets, in order to craft the recipe. The crafting workshops do NOT read what is in your storage.

WHY?

If the Magic Wand and any given wardrobe, regardless of where it is, can access what is in your storage, why can't the crafting benches?



In Conclusion




I am sorry if this entire thing came off as ranting and rambling. But the fact is that Animal Crossing is a series that I absolutely love, and this entry - which had SUCH potential - just fell completely short. There are so many great aspects of this game, so many places where they really added some much needed quality of life updates, but then they just failed on so many other areas in my opinion.

I really could go on and on complaining about this or that, because there is just so much about this game that is either close but not quite, far from good, or just plain bad in my opinion. But I'm going to go ahead and simply stop here because I have a feeling most fans won't care (whether they are Animal Crossing fans in general, or Nintendo fans specifically, it doesn't matter); to most Animal Crossing or Nintendo fans, neither one can do any wrong.

So let me just sum it all up with this:

Nintendo really is the poster child for the phrase, 'One Step Forward, Two Steps Back', and Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a perfect example of that. As good as some aspects of this game are, as a whole it is without a doubt the weakest (mainline) entry in the series in my opinion.

If I were a critic or reviewer, I would have to give this game a 5 or 6 out of 10 at best and that is such a shame. I'm sure if this is your very first dive into the ocean of Animal Crossing, you'll probably enjoy it (assuming it is your style of course). You'll have no idea what it's lacking so you can't possibly miss what you never knew existed in the first place. But for me, I'd rather just play New Leaf.

P.S. I may decide to update this from time to time as more things come to mind. If Nintendo can get away with updating their game to put back at a later time what they left out to begin with, why can't I?

P.P.S. A quick list of past one-and-done features that should have become staples: The Credit Card, Island Tours, Swimming and Deep Sea Diving, the Auction House (just done better), Random Balls and Townies Chasing Them Around.

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