What I expected and what I got were very different
I’ll make this short and to the point: if you don’t want to engage in an Animal Crossing: New Horizons terraforming conversation due to light gameplay spoilers, here is your warning.
For everyone else, hi!
A little over a week ago, after taking my sweet old time, I unlocked terraforming in Animal Crossing: New Horizon. For the uninitiated (you weren’t supposed to read this!), terraforming is unlocked by effectively “beating the game,” and achieving a three-star island rating, which is mostly spurred by having 10 residents living on the property (among a few very easy qualifiers).
While there’s still plenty to do in terms of an “endgame,” like filling up your museum and unlocking all of the Nook Mile achievements, terraforming is very much the main critical path of New Horizons. It’s also the means in which so many amazing players have been reworking their islands into locales like Hyrule. While I didn’t expect a complete makeover to be that easy, I did have a completely different idea of what the system would entail.
You know how a lot of simulators and creation tools have a “god” mode or whereabouts? Where you control various tools from afar (usually in a top-down fashion)? Well, New Horizons doesn’t do any of that. Instead, you have to physically walk up to each part of the island you want to in a very clunky, inaccurate fashion. There no “lines” or a grid showing where you’re actually going to enact your modifications, making it all very finicky. Oddly, a “god” editor is already in the game in the form of the home organization tool.
Also, like literally everything in New Horizons (I don’t need to say “hi” and “goodbye” every single time I enter Nook’s Cranny), you boot it up with an unwieldy menu that takes 10 seconds to even initiate. To make matters worse, you can’t move the Resident Services building (the main hub with Tom Nook and Isabelle) at all, but you can move everything else. So if your island that you spent all this time with has it in an inconvenient location: tough.
Customization is a huge part of Animal Crossing, and while the team absolutely nailed it with custom designs, terraforming needs a complete makeover in its current state. Add a simple aiming reticle, for one, as an option menu toggle. Not only would it come in handy for terraforming, but also digging or using tools in general, as the diagonal aiming in New Horizons is incredibly volatile.
In the above riverside image it looks like my character is facing forward, but it actually ended up digging into a corner. If you’ve ever played the Dragon Quest Builders series, which is even on Switch, you’ll see a night and day difference. Having the same exact button serve as both “create” and “destroy” is also a problem, as it’s just as easy to accidentally mess up a project as it is to work on it.
It’s great that new updates are coming to spice up Animal Crossing: New Horizons. But Nintendo has a lot of work to do in terms of quality of life updates — far beyond the scope of terraforming — ahead of them.