×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons changed the series and no one noticed

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the latest first-party Nintendo mega-franchise to arrive on the incredibly successful Nintendo Switch console. This is the newest entry in a long-running franchise — a franchise that boasts some of the broadest appeal in all of gaming. Hardcore gamers and long-time Nintendo enthusiasts have been foaming at the mouth for this game, but there's a huge group of non-gamers out there who consider Animal Crossing to be the one exception to their usually gaming-free lifestyle.

For all of these groups, Animal Crossing: New Horizons does a lot to set itself apart from the other entries in the breezy, laid-back life simulation series. Some of these changes are simple quality-of-life improvements that add a much-appreciated level of accessibility and convenience to the game's most popular features. But other aspects of the game are massive mold-breaking changes that make Animal Crossing: New Horizons a shocking new chapter for the adorable franchise.

Let's take a break from shaking trees and running from tarantulas to give you a breakdown on some of the biggest changes and additions to Animal Crossing: New Horizons that make it a massive game-changer for the beloved Nintendo series.

DIY lets you make whatever you want, however you want, whenever you want

Animal Crossing games often have hundreds of different tools, clothes, and pieces of furniture for you to discover or purchase throughout your time with the game. Typically, these are all pre-designed items that simply arrive as is, whether they're a lovely heart-shaped sofa that fell out of a tree or a quirky anatomical model that you purchased at Nook's Cranny. The previous mainline game in the series, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, added some personal flair to things by letting you draw custom designs for clothes, hats, and art decals.

In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, though, things are on a whole other level with the deep new DIY system. Now, you'll find a bunch of new natural materials across your town, like tree branches or pieces of wood or iron nuggets, and use them to craft brand-new items. Even existing oddities that used to serve no purpose like weeds or trashed food cans can be used to craft adorable furniture or cute accessories — you can even craft medicine. You can also customize existing furniture with new paint jobs or custom decals, adding an unprecedented level of personalization to the game.

Turn a deserted island paradise into your ideal home

In every Animal Crossing game, you start out as a young soul on a bus or train moving to a brand new town to get started living your own independent life. The town is already there by the time you arrive, with residents living there alongside shops and other already established residential services. It's simply up to you to develop your own home, meet your neighbors, and make some memories. In Animal Crossing: New Leaf, we got a taste of power by being able to develop a few new buildings for the town and introduce a variety of public works projects like new bridges, street lights and more.

While that game saw you making minor upgrades to an already established village, Animal Crossing: New Horizons takes things to the extreme by having you live on a deserted island. On day one, you arrive on an island filled with nothing but trees and weeds. Over time, you slowly clean the place up, develop buildings, invite shopkeepers, and attract new villagers. The experience of developing your own community from scratch shakes up the traditional flow of Animal Crossing immensely.

A new sense of progression thanks to Nook Miles

A big part of the charm of the Animal Crossing series is that there really isn't any major quest or tightly guided set of missions to follow. Instead, the charm of the series comes from making your own goals and simply soaking in the atmosphere. The one big goal and sense of progression throughout each game is the series of loans you pay back to Tom Nook — who might be a bad guy? — in return for upgrading your house, but some people still find that lack of guided progression to be a turn-off. Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the 3DS tried to address that with the MEOW Coupons update, earned by fulfilling daily challenges asking you to perform specific tasks across the town.

That system is back like never before in the Switch's Animal Crossing: New Horizons thanks to the new Nook Miles program. As you play the game, you'll naturally make your way through a variety of milestones or daily challenges asking you to do specific tasks, and fulfilling these earns you Nook Miles that can be spent on exclusive items, upgrades, and more.

Amiibo matter more than ever

Nintendo has had a spotty track record with its interactive amiibo toys over the years. While they're definitely adorable and well-crafted collector's items, the miniature statues that promise in-game interactivity don't always deliver major benefits. Some games allow you to get exclusive items, or experience bonus levels or brand new game modes, while others simply give you minor bonuses like an extra potion or some additional coins. When Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer came out for the 3DS in 2015, it arrived alongside a massive line of hundreds of Animal Crossing amiibo cards that you could buy in randomized packs to use in-game, summoning specific characters to briefly chat with them and decorate their dream home.

But as the first mainline entry in the series designed with amiibo support in mind from the start, Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Switch makes collecting these little plastic baubles and random cards worth it. The new Photopia system lets you call up any character for which you have an amiibo to set up adorable photo-ops with unique costumes and environments. You can also invite villagers to your town to chat, exchange gifts, and even have them move in.

Change your look up anytime and anywhere

A big part of the Animal Crossing series is the character customization. From the very beginning, you've been able to fix up your look and put on new shirts or have a unique face. Each game in the series increased your character options a bit, adding new clothes, new accessories to wear, and even different hairstyles or facial features. Still, it wasn't always easy and breezy to make your character look the way you wanted. In each game, your face is determined by seemingly unrelated questions you answer in the beginning, and you're locked into that face permanently. Hairstyles could be changed, but only once you eventually unlocked access to the hair salon.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons adds amazing quality of life changes that make it easier than ever to craft your ideal villager. You pick and choose your facial features at the start, and can change them whenever you want by looking in a mirror. Additionally, you can easily swap out clothes and outfits with the gorgeous new wardrobe and outfit-wand features.

Multiplayer is bigger and better than ever

Animal Crossing games are a delight to play by yourself, customizing your house and finding adorable outfits to wear. It's even more satisfying, though, to share all of those achievements with your friends. You've been able to access multiplayer features in the Animal Crossing games for years, with four people being able to hang out in a town at once and fish, catch bugs, chat, or more, just as they would if they were playing solo. Animal Crossing: New Leaf on 3DS upped the ante a little bit by letting you and your friends travel to a fun minigame island together, catching rare bugs and soaking in those digital island rays together.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons takes things to a whole new level, though, by letting up to eight people play together at once. You can even pick and choose how private you want your session to be by limiting it to certain tiers of friends. On top of that, if you download the Nintendo Switch Online app, you can easily text and voice-chat with pals while you play together.

Photo mode lets you savor every moment

Who doesn't love a good photo mode? While we've had plenty of games designed around taking photographs over the years like Pokemon Snap (which really needs a sequel) and Fatal Frame (which is one of the greatest horror games of all time), something that began proliferating during the current console generation was adding the ability to pause the action of regular games and manipulate the camera to take gorgeous photos and in-game recordings of the characters and environments. Graphical powerhouse games like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Red Dead Redemption II, and No Man's Sky included these modes at launch or in updates to the pleasure of countless fans. But even Nintendo has gotten in on the action with photo modes in Super Mario Odyssey and Astral Chain.

Now, Animal Crossing: New Horizons can be added to the list. Simply whip out your NookPhone in-game at any time, and you can access the Photo app, allowing you to shift the camera around, have characters look at the lens, and even apply filters or borders to perfectly capture a sweet moment or hilarious memory. These photos get saved straight to your Nintendo Switch, too, so you can share them online or with friends with ease.

Expect free downloadable content all year long

One of the most exciting aspects of the Animal Crossing series is that the in-game world changes and accelerates based on your real-life clock. Days don't play out in 20-minute chunks like they would in Stardew Valley or The Sims. If it's Christmas at 2 pm in real life, it's going to be Christmas at 2 pm in Animal Crossing, and that means you'll be able to expect a variety of fun activities and occurrences based on the holiday. There's always some kind of event or special activity to take part in for the holidays in Animal Crossing, and while Animal Crossing: New Horizons continues that trend, they're handling it in a slightly different way.

Usually, all of these holiday activities would be included in the game from day one, so if you set your clock forward you'd still see Halloween stuff. For Animal Crossing: New Horizons, though, Nintendo plans to develop and release these holiday events throughout the year alongside free downloadable updates, promising bigger and more involved holiday activities as a result. More development time means more fun and more content for fans.

Master the elements and change the terrain of your island

While the Animal Crossing series is all about making your home and your character your own and customizing all sorts of aspects of your life, one thing has never been able to be altered or modified — the layout of your town. The terrain of your village is what you're stuck with for all your days in these games, awkward river pathways and all. While Animal Crossing: New Leaf allowed you put down bridges to circumvent awkward natural layouts, you couldn't actually alter the layout or even choose where new neighbors would place their homes.

Thankfully, Animal Crossing: New Horizons finally lets you do something about all of that. When new villagers or shops set up in town, you're given the ability to pick where they set up their home or building so it doesn't ruin any of your flower patches or fruit trees. On top of that, you can eventually unlock an island editing permit that allows you to delete cliffs, add slopes, create rivers or remove bodies of water entirely.

Express yourself everywhere with outdoor furniture

One of the most important parts of every Animal Crossing game is your home. As you play through the game, you slowly pay off loans to Tom Nook that can lead to housing expansions like bigger rooms, new rooms or even extra floors to your house. The more space available in your home, the more space you have to show off fun furniture or funky decorations. You were never able to place any of these fun items anywhere outside of your home, though, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons changes that with one of the biggest new features of all.

For the first time, you can place any and all furniture or display items outside of your home. This lets you easily set up a cute porch or backyard near your house, but you aren't limited to the perimeter of your home. Want to set up a zen garden on the cliff, or a star-viewing bench near the beach? You can place anything you want, anywhere you want, so go nuts.

The first openly gay character of the franchise?

While there isn't a massive narrative or storyline to the Animal Crossing games, there are still plenty of charming and quirky characters who have a wealth of fun and unique dialogue in each game. Many of these characters have experience with romantic relationships, as well, from the troubled romantic history of Tom Nook to the happily married pair of alpacas, Reese and Cyrus, from Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Some dialogue from a new character in Animal Crossing: New Horizons seems to hint at the existence of another romantic entanglement, but what makes this one so interesting is that it potentially involves the first openly gay character of the Animal Crossing series.

C.J. is a new character who hosts fishing tournaments in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. He's also friends with Flick the bug-catching competition organizer, according to the Japanese version of the game. In English, though, C.J. chooses to call Flick his "partner," telling adorable stories about his hobbies and interests. While the ambiguous language doesn't outright state anything about the two being gay, it's a fun little bit of inclusiveness that adds some charming variety to the series.