It doesn’t seem like a terribly extreme thing to be able to hop over a lake that’s in your way or climb up a cliffside, but these additions made exploration and creation a whole lot easier in the PAX East 2020 demo for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It felt good to take in the island for the first time, colors bursting from every tree and flower as I wandered the tent town that made up the initial area. It’s been over a decade since we last saw this series play out on a non-handheld console, and seeing that vibrant world spread out before me was dazzling. The cheerful, relaxed nature of Animal Crossing simply washed over me as I took it all in on that big screen.
Being able to seamlessly walk around that island also made exploration a joy. The addition of a portable ladder kept any annoying cliffs and heights from slowing me down as I wandered the warm beaches and green fields, allowing me to clamber up to any space I wanted to see. The game’s leaping pole also kept me from having to begrudgingly march back to a bridge just to cross a body of water so I could try to catch a butterfly before it took off (although leaping across water DOES tend to frighten any bugs nearby). There was no more need to circumvent things that got in the way, allowing me to just get lost in my meandering.
But, when you’re digging up holes, chopping down trees, fishing, or catching bugs, it might be annoying to have to keep swapping out your tools. Animal Crossing: New Horizons doesn’t force you to do this, instead allowing you to pull up a wheel filled with all of your tools, letting you pull them out in moments. It’s such a small thing, but being able to access all of these items with a few button taps, rather than having to go into menus to dig them out and equip them, made it feel so much smoother to switch across multiple activities. It certainly made it easier to pull up that bug catching net even when I was busy clearing a field.
As insignificant as these details might seem, they made it feel so much easier to shuffle between activities, removing a tiny bit of friction that always mildly annoyed me in the previous games. It’s a small touch, but it allows you to get lost in the world a little bit easier. Plus, this attitude of making things easier on the player has also seen Mr. Resetti scaled back so that he no longer terrifies me with a frightening tirade, so I’m really enjoying these little touches.
Not that there aren’t some big changes. Animal Crossing: New Horizons‘ Nook Mileage Program gives players even more stuff to do as they’re setting up their island, encouraging them to try out many new activities with smaller, more frequent rewards for taking part in them. It also might get you to try some things you might not otherwise, as the currency you get for completing these tasks (that you’d likely be doing anyway as you enjoyed your island life) can be spent on some neat extra goodies and items.
While these features both big and small made exploration appealing, seeing the island take shape, and your old and new animal buddies show up in your town, made for some delightful moments. That it is all happening on sharp, modern tvs made its sounds and sights pop like never before, somehow accentuating the cheerful nature of the place. Isabelle’s happy chirps and bright smile just melt your heart when seen this way.
The PAX East demo of Animal Crossing: New Horizons didn’t let me get lost in its island paradise for long, but it showed me that my time there will be spent losing myself in making homes and friendships rather than fiddling with items in menus. And not getting yelled at by Mr. Resetti, which is always a plus.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is slated to release on the Nintendo Switch on March 20, 2020.