Animal Crossing New Horizons: Our Journey to reach that 5 Star Island

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This is the very first game we bought with the Nintendo Switch console around 6 months ago and one of the main reasons for getting it was my daughter. So, full disclosure this is also my first ever Animal Crossing game, GASP …. I know right. Do not get me wrong, I mean I was not living under a rock all my life but while growing up these types of games were not really on my radar. Now, some might argue that New Horizons is a good game for it to be your first Animal Crossing experience and some would feel did you pick the wrong one to be your first Animal Crossing experience. From what I have read and researched the Animal Crossing on the 3DS in particular “New Leaf” seems to be the most popular among fans. 

So, What is an Animal Crossing New Horizons game all about? You may ask.

Well, that is quite a loaded question and honestly anyone who has ever played one would have some valid point on how they would describe the game. But the best way I would describe it would be, that it is a part life simulation meets, build your own community, meets open world (lite version), meets dark souls, meets some real-world concepts, meets a check list simulator all packaged in a very cutesy animal world. 

Animal Crossing New Horizons Cover Photo
Animal Crossing – New Horizons our Island journey

Since this was my first Animal Crossing game, I did not have many expectations of what I was getting into besides watching a few trailers and the gameplay videos that my daughter kept showing me. Cut to 6 months later and having undergone 3 islands restarts, plus not only does my daughter play it so does my wife and me. We all having our respective homes on the same island which we have named “Lil Haven”. Because the game only allows for one main island per switch console irrespective of how many members are logged into that switch. Which is the worst decision they have made in my books. 

But as I was saying having clocked in over 75+ plus hours (including those island restarts) and have seen the “credits” of the game but the game is not fully “finished” when you do see credits for the first time. The island restarts were partly my fault for never having played this type of game before, but I would blame some of it on the game tutorials as they could have taken a little more effort to make it clearer for new players. 

Two Raccoons at a counter  in the game Animal Crossing New Horizons
Timmy & Tommy budding enterprising raccoons

In new horizons you get to live out your deserted island getaway fantasy. Keep in mind this is a Nintendo’s kid’s game after all so I would temper those fantasies. In the beginning you are greeted by these cute twin raccoons Timmy and Tommy Nook (apparently not related to Tom Nook) where you get to name and customize your character (young boy or girl) the customizing is quite simple and light which is not a bad thing.   

A map showing 4 islands in the game Animal Crossing New Horizons
Your 4 Island Layouts that you can re-roll, if you know how

Then you get to pick a name for your island and get to choose from 4 pre-existing layouts of island layouts. Now keep in mind this is quite an important choice and it does have some ramification for the early parts of the game, which I found out the hard way. 

More importantly what the game does not tell you is that if you do not like these starting 4 layouts, you can close the game restart it again and you will get another 4 island design options “What! Shut the front door” I know right. That is why the dark soul’s comparison, because you would have never known that until if you have played previous versions or looked the information up. So, since my daughter and me did not have this information, we never know to do this step. Hence our first restart happened a week into our first island when I was looking for information on how to build a pole and happened to stumble on this information in a guide.   

Use of the ladder tool

The maps are presented from a top-down view, so if you have never played this game before you can see certain light green, green and dark green areas. All these areas are on different levels, such as:

  • Dark Green Area – Ground or Base Level
  • Green Area – Level above the Dark Green
  • light Green Area – Highest points on your island

But the game never tells you that these higher levels areas are not accessible from the start and you will need to get a ladder to access these areas, which is provided when you go further into the game. 

I wouldn’t get too hung up on the design layout of the island as you complete the game’s main objective and see the credits of the first time. Nook will give you access to the island terrain reform tool. Thereby, giving you the ability to add more ponds, rivers, waterfalls, cliffs or no cliffs etc.

A boy in swimwear with scuba diving gear showing the pathway options in the game Animal Crossing New Horizons
Terrain Tool Options
Terrain tool options – Cliff shaping tool and water scrapping tool

The layout of rivers, ponds and waterfalls also change each time you reload the maps. Would have been so great if the game designers had just added a re-roll button on this screen which would have made life so much easier. Oh well maybe next game, but won’t hold my breath on it. 

Oh! Another important bit of information to keep in mind is that, you will notice a leaf shaped icon mostly towards the center of the map. That is where your main Residential Services tent / building will be and this location cannot be moved as far as I am aware. This area is where you will be spending most of your time during the early days of the game as you cannot access other parts of your island till you build your first bridge and get access to a vaulting pole. You also get to select which part of your world you reside in, the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern Hemisphere and the seasons in the game will depict the current seasons of where you live. 

A racoon from the game Animal Crossing New Horizons
Tom Nook the ultimate loan shark I mean raccoon.

Summary of Animal Crossing: New Horizons Gameplay

Once you arrive on your selected island you are greeted by the Tom Nook who gives you the basic break down of the island, your basic tent kit and you get to place where you would like to set up your initial tent / home, don’t worry as you progress in the game you will the opportunity to change your home’s location (for a fee off course) and so begins your new journey on your island life.

Nook will happily ask you for his fees (50,000 bells) for bringing you to this island paradise and at this point as the player you do not have the money nor the means to pay him, to which he happily introduces to you the concept of nook miles, where in you essentially do tasks, like hit 5 trees, water flowers, catch fish etc. These tasks help you to earn miles which in turn you can redeem for items, decorations, upgrade slots etc.

Over time nook miles get upgraded to nook miles+ program which acts as your daily to do tasks lists. The more you complete the more miles you earn and the more tasks it keeps giving you. The only factor is your dedication and patience level plus the tasks start to get specific after a certain point which makes it much more challenging to earn them.

Nook miles Screenshot of the game Animal Crossing New Horizons
Nook miles
Nook miles + screenshot  in the game Animal Crossing New Horizons
Nook miles+
Earning Nook Miles+ in Animal Crossing New Horizons

So, as I was saying the miles for now serve as the basis for your outstanding payment. You need to earn nook miles (5,000) to pay off your outstanding debt. Nook will also give you some basic recipes and a nook phone. In the residential services tent you can get access to what essentially is an ATM machine that serves many functions throughout the game.

So, what do you do on your island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons?

Well, as it turns out you can do quite a lot:

  • Clean up the island by removing weeds
  • Fish in the ocean by the beach or in the river/pond
  • Sell what you catch to Timmy and Tommy for money.
  • Look for DIY recipes in a bottle by the sea.
  • Collect variety of sea shells by the seashore.
  • Hit randomly placed rocks to get crafting ingredients like stone, clay, iron & gold nuggets.
  • Dig for fossils, shake trees to pick up fallen tree branches.
  • Knock trees to get 3 different types of wood that can fall from them (hardwood, wood & softwood). Oh! Fun fact, when you do hit / shake trees you may get something more than you bargained for. Also another fun fact when you hit stones you can also unearth bugs for you to catch.   
A rare fish caught by a girl  in the game Animal Crossing New Horizons
Large sea fishes are a rare but welcome sight
Fishing in ponds
Sea fishing & picking up shells
Selling your hard earned catch for bells
DIY Crafting
Stones also hide bugs
Digging for fossils
Hitting trees to collect different types of wood
Inventory slots plus random encounter while hitting trees
How to hit the stones in the right way in Animal Crossing New Horizons

Also speaking of trees your island gets randomly assigned one of five possible fruit trees (Peach, Apple, Orange, Cherry & Pear). Shake these fruit trees to collect your fruit. You can eat them to perform super-human abilities like digging up entire trees or breaking up rocks. You can sell them to earn money or plant them again to grow more fruit trees. 

The game also opens the “Compendium” mechanic i.e., whatever you catch bugs, fish or sea creatures it gets logged in your phone and when you donate your first 5 different bugs or fish to Tom Nook you get to meet your new island resident. An owl named Blathers, who will speak to you about opening his very own museum at your island. 

His goal is to study and help curate all the variety of fossils, bugs, fishes and creatures you donate to the museum, in essence you got to “catch them all” scenario. This is where things will start to pick up pace because you will also get a request from the twins where they are looking to open their own shop at the island and are in need some island resources to help them going.

Donating multiple insects to blathers
Donating to blathers the wise

All these milestones help push the game forward and it is totally on you how fast the game moves because time spent in-game is the same time that has passed in real life. So, let us say you want to take your time to go give those 5 fishes to Tom Nook to move things forward, you could knock them out in a couple of minutes or maybe it takes you hours because you are busy doing something else.

This is the “loop” of the game. Each time you hit a milestone you either unlock a new recipe, tool or shops and residents who would like to move to your island. Speaking of residents, there are many animals that you could invite by yourself or that arrive via Tom Nooks invitation. Each of the island residents (villagers) have unique personality traits wherein their home decor and behavior reflects that.

As you progress Nook happens to mentions his goal / dream which turns out as a hint for you that this is sort of the overall major goal of the game and his (Nook’s) dream to invite a popular singer named K.K to the island and watch him perform live. This will not happen until your island reaches a 3-star rating and once you reach this milestone you see the game’s end credits for the first time. At this point in time, you will think but I have not nearly finished my museum, my island is nowhere near how I want it to look plus maybe you do not like some of your island residents and you want to change them. Do not worry the game has in a sense just really “started” because now your goal is to hit that 5-star rating. 

Now a lot has taken place on your island to get to this point. You will now have the upgraded residential services, you would have asked the Able sisters to move into the island and open their own clothing store. The twins have opened their store “The Nooks Cranny” as well and the more you sell/ buy it will help it upgrade itself with time. The museum has gotten bigger you would have also met “REDD” the art scammer who tries to sell real art mixed with fake ones and off course Blathers wants you to fill up the art wing. You even get to meet Blathers sister who teaches you about wishing on falling stars on a clear night on the island. You get to meet traveling vendors who stop by to sell shoes, plants and even a fishing completion which is timed to only a few appearances throughout the year. Thereby adding to the seasonal nature of the game. 

Pascal scallop eating otter
Nook Stop terminal – ABD
Nook stop terminal – Nook Shopping
Nook Stop terminal – Redeem Nook Miles
assessing fossils with blathers
Why jump in normally when you can somersault jump in
Diving for seasonal sea creatures
Seasonal creatures – Gigas Giant Clam

Speaking of seasonality, the game takes into account real world seasons as well. So, when its fall your trees turn orange when its winter you have snow, they also have themed events as well like Thanksgiving, Halloween, Easter, Cherry Blossom festival, Carnival etc. The wildlife in the game is also timed according to months like for example you catch a Spider Crab which is only in the months of March and April so if you miss catching it then you actually will have to wait a whole year to catch it again.

There is darker side to the game where you could use time skip, where you go in to the console system settings and change your system date to go forward or backward in time but the game developers have accounted that some players will not want to wait so be careful when trying this method. Better read a guide because you can be in for some unpleasant surprise if you jump too far ahead or behind.

By this point in the game you would have also noticed that every Sunday morning a little pig who has a constant cold is seen roaming the island, who sells turnips. Now what’s so special about it you may ask? Well firstly you can only buy them in bundles of 10 at a time and the prices per bundle fluctuates every week. You can only buy turnips on Sundays but cannot sell them on Sundays. Now if you have paid attention Timmy and Tommy will tell you that they don’t purchase turnips on Sundays as a store policy but you can check the turnip prices every day and sell them on any other day. This is essentially the games stock market. There are entire guides and tables you can find if you want to “game” the system. I on the other hand buy some when I feel is a low price and generally like to sell it when I feel the prices is higher than what I paid for. Oh! Fun fact, try leaving some turnips outside and forget to pick them up for a week they will rot and you will find certain bugs around them. So you may have lost your invest but hey, you found some new bugs to donate to blathers. 

To be honest the time skips and the turnips stock market is the least interesting activity I found myself engaging with throughout my entire playthrough so far. Our island is currently at 4 stars and I want to see what happens when you get to that 5 stars, I can probably look up the answer but I honestly don’t want to. The constructions of bridges and inclines remain the bane of my playthrough as they are so expensive and you really cannot have more than one construction project going at a time.

I hope to meet more villagers when I go on mystery island tours but I need to keep “voting a member off the island” scenario to see what they have to offer as I do not collect Animal Crossing amiibo’s nor do I see myself getting into buying 3rd party amiibo’s cards (which would solve the villager problem) but I choose to do it the “right” way.   

So, did I have fun over the 70+ hours playing the game?

short answer is YES would my experience have been better if they had made some better decisions to gameplay, a resounding HELL YES. I mean the fact that I have already invested 300+ dollars in your console plus the additional 30 something dollars on the officially licensed Switch case (ironically it’s the animal crossing one because my daughter loves it) plus the full price (60 dollars) for the game. 

And I can’t even have more than one island per CONSOLE not account but the freaking console. Just because you (Nintendo) feel I need to experience this with my friends and I should go to their islands and trade fruits and exchange gifts and run around and fish etc. OK, I see your point there is fun and experiences to be had with others but I also see that you choose to ignore the fact or don’t want consider the fact that;

  1. A majority of us maybe be first time players and either we have friends who are absolutely not into games or gaming.
  1. Have friends that play games but never this type of genre. Thereby leaving you with the option to either convince your mate to get this game or buy it for him/her just so that you can play with them.
  1. Which is by far the worst one, where you try to convince one of your mate to convince a mate to go and get the console and the game. 
  1. Play the game with random people.

I mean the core of the game is so much fun but decisions around it feel like a bad after taste. This game wants you to play it in short bursts. I mean you log in every day, say hi to your neighbors, finish some daily tasks, check the shops, and maybe pay a little towards your home loan or your constructions projects and then bounce. The more you want to grind in the game the less fun you tend to have, that is how I have felt in my experience. Not to mention there are 3 of us that are still playing it. 

The positives are that, it has so much potential. It is interactive, funny sometimes, interesting characters (villagers) and the seasonal events can be a lot of fun too. The Easter event is really annoying though, I am being honest.

It can be very educational as it has facts about all the wildlife you catch, so your kids will learn some interesting facts. I really wish this game was voice acted and not spoken in gibberish, I mean the text on the screen is in the language of your choice but there is a lot to read and I do mean a lot, which can be a bit challenging for smaller children.       

But sadly as much as I try to like this game something always comes in the way, be it the tutorials, the fact that I need to keep a guide open whenever I play. Plus I feel like I am forced to play a certain way otherwise I am not making any reasonable progress. Which ultimately I feel is a shame also I would really like to visit my daughter’s or my wife’s island and see what their vision for their island getaway would be like. But I am certainly not going to be buying another two consoles and copies of the game just to have that complete experience.

Having said that we are still actively playing this game everyday as family and i am personally invested to get to that 5 star island rating. I also want to catch all the bugs, fishes and sea creatures and complete the museum as well. Despite all its flaws its still a pretty solid game and worth taking a look at if you get the chance.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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