Trying to review Animal Crossing is like reviewing a local diner that's reworked part of its menu: There are some new flavours and features, but you're no stranger to the rest. If you're familiar with Animal Crossing, then you know that it's a staple in gaming for relaxing and easy-going experiences, but in this newest iteration, Nintendo has seemed to lean heavily in delivering that experience with some of its new features - Much to its detriment. No doubt that this new Animal Crossing is a delight and makes for a wonderful time, but there is glaring quality of life omissions that left me scratching my head.
New Horizons takes things from a village/town setting and plops it onto a remote island, though the formula will still be familiar: Catch fauna, plant flora, donate to the museum, collect furniture and clothes, talk to and gift with your fellow islanders, get chased by wasps screaming that peace was never an option if you shake the wrong tree - Different setting, similar activities. However, getting to that point requires following a prologue of sorts. Many features like better tools, shops and the museum, for example, are either locked behind the passing of time or triggering particular objectives. I found this exciting since it's a set of active goals to follow instead of just self-prescribed ones. Your first week or so of playing New Horizons can arguably be described as a slow burn, but you'll only feel the restrictions if you're the type to play Animal Crossing for long uninterrupted sessions.
That said, the prologue doesn't last terribly long if you focus on completing it and soon gives way to just being self-prescribed goals once again. I had hoped the New Leaf mechanics of being mayor, making edicts and funding projects other than bridges and stairs would make its return, but being Island Representative doesn't have the same level of control. I don't think lesser of New Horizons because of this omission, but having another layer of gameplay to consider would've been welcome. Nook Miles helps alleviate that disappointment, as constantly rotating mini-objectives and milestones to strive for a secondary currency helps encourage productivity. Turning those Miles into furniture, design/style options and redeemable tickets makes for a good trade after a days' work.
Customizing your homes' interior is wonderfully quick n' snappy, thanks to a swivelling camera and home storage menu. There's also a mode where decorations can be plopped down, allowing then further positioning and adjustment. As new rooms get unlocked after paying Tom Nook's loans, redecorating or clearing a room becomes a breeze. I've spent a silly amount of time just fiddling with interior design thanks to how efficient it is to use. I can't talk much about the custom designs feature due to my lack of understanding, but I will praise that being able to make use of other players' designs for clothing, patterns and art is a fantastic inclusion.
For the new crafting system to have tools with limited durability makes sense, as you need an outlet for raw resources collected; otherwise, they'll become redundant after running out of furniture to build. While I don't have a problem with that feature, I most certainly do with the crafting menus themselves. Needing to have materials in your personal inventory and not automatically dipping from your home storage while inside your home feels like an oversight. Crafting many of the same things at once like fish bait is also irksome since you can't make a bunch of bait in one fell swoop; you have to make each one individually, requiring prompts to confirm, then go back to start anew. Even by tapping a button to speed up the crafting animation, these time-savers feel like glaringly elementary omissions from what is already such a polished game.
Also tiresome is when landscaping is unlocked, allowing you to add or remove land and water sources. It's reasonable that your character has to poke and dig at the ground or water to place and remove it, but these unskippable animations quickly become dull to sit through. Compounded by this is needing to use a ladder or vaulting pole to climb up erected earth or rivers that can't be hopped over. It becomes an exercise in how long my patience lasts before I quit and just go back to fishing, leaving quarter or half-finished terraforming work in my wake.
Visiting or hosting visitors is sadly and bizarrely slow as well: One must get their online code, send it to a potential visitor, go to your island's airport to open it up for visitors, then allow the lengthy cutscene of that person flying to your island play out in its entirety. For one person this is ok, but if two or more people want to join, it becomes deeply frustrating since all gameplay comes to a stop so that person can join in. It's difficult for me to buy that this is to disguise the connecting and loading times, as we're in an era of online gaming where joining lobbies, groups in other games are faster and less cumbersome.
I'm not going to say or be told to simply not use these features if they're so bothersome, as everything else in New Horizons is crisp, clean and well-produced as is expected for a first-party title. I can only imagine that since Nintendo understands what a chill experience Animal Crossing is, they've made these new features similarly laid back to keep that mood and mentality up while discarding quality of life design. Still, there's no denying that everything else around and besides these issues makes me want to keep coming back from time to time, killing an hour or two whether I have the Switch docked or portable. It's why I kept coming back during the Gamecube, Wii and DS versions: Animal Crossing has that certain charm and open-arms approach to all its players, being welcoming and friendly no matter how you want to play. This is also why New Horizons gets my solid recommendation.