The vibe around Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a lot less secretive now. This morning, Nintendo showed off a lengthy presentation that provided plenty of details about the latest title in its adorable life sim series, which is making its debut on the Switch on March 20th. That includes everything from the structure of the game to the multiplayer aspect and your new virtual smartphone. There was a lot packed into the 25-minute-long presentation. But if you weren’t able to catch the whole thing, here are the highlights.
The island is fairly empty in the beginning
The Animal Crossing series isn’t exactly known for its bustling metropolises, but the island in New Horizons will be quiet even by Animal Crossing standards — at least initially. When you first boot up the game, you and two other residents will set up camp on a previously deserted island. Aside from nature and your tents, the only other facilities initially will be the airport where you can access multiplayer features, and Tom Nook’s facility where you buy and sell items, as well as craft new ones.
But that doesn’t mean it will stay that way for long. Nintendo says that new residents will eventually join and, more importantly, you’ll slowly unlock major facilities as well. That includes series mainstays like the museum, general store, tailer, and more. Similarly, you’ll also get access to a proper house after paying off your loan. It’s not clear how or when these will eventually unlock, but it sounds like New Horizons will be a very slow burn.
You’ll have a smartphone full of apps
Like many modern games, the main menu in New Horizons takes the form of a smartphone, or NookPhone as it’s called in the game. The phone is naturally full of apps, each one corresponding to a specific aspect of the game. There’s an app for the in-game map, for instance, and another that collects all of your crafting recipes. (It’s not clear how you get such good reception on an island in the middle of nowhere.) Most notably is an app called Nook Miles, which ties into the next major feature...
There’s a new progression system
Without trying to sound too crass, Animal Crossing has always been about money to some degree. You move into a town, and you’re then immediately saddled with debt that you have to work to pay off. (Of course, there’s no interest, so you’re free to not pay it at all if you want.) New Horizons goes in a slightly different direction, one that changes the structure of the game.
The Nook Miles app is essentially a collection of quests. When you do things like catch a certain number of fish or collect a specific amount of twigs, you’ll earn miles that go toward paying off your travel package. From what Nintendo has shown, it looks like the goals will all be tied to things you do in the game anyway, making it a fairly natural progression system. However, it’s not clear if these miles can also be used to pay off future house upgrades, though you can also use them to visit mystery islands and unlock new gear.
Familiar characters are back
Yes, Isabelle is in the game — eventually. The adorable Shih Tzu has become a mascot for the series, and she’ll be part of New Horizons when players eventually unlock the resident services office. Other notable characters will also be making an appearance. Gulliver, for instance, will wash up on shore at some point. And traveling merchants like Kicks will visit from time to time.
There are different multiplayer options
One of the most unclear aspects of New Horizons was its multiplayer options, and Nintendo provided a bit more detail in that regard. For local play, up to eight people can have characters on the same Switch. They’ll all have to live on the same island — each player will get their own tent / house — and you can have one character per user account. There’s also a four-player “party” mode where four players can run around at the same time.
When it comes to online play, you’ll be able to visit friends and have them visit your island. A new “party play” feature lets up to four players visit the same space online. But there are some restrictions. You’ll need an island code to visit other players, and to prevent griefing, axes and shovels are banned so that you can’t chop down every single tree on someone else’s island. (These restrictions are lifted if you and the other person are considered “best friends,” though it’s not clear right now how that distinction is made.)
Voice and text chat require a separate app
If you want to actually talk to friends, you’ll need to do so via a separate smartphone app. The Nintendo Switch Online mobile app is being updated to support New Horizons, and it’s required for both voice and text chat in the game. The app will also let you scan QR codes to import pattern designs from past Animal Crossing games. The update is expected later in March after New Horizons launches.
There are no cloud saves
Much like other big Nintendo franchises like Pokémon and Splatoon, the new Animal Crossing won’t support cloud saves via the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service. The reasoning isn’t clear, though Nintendo does say that it’s planning some kind of recovery service for those who lose their game file due to lost or damaged consoles.
You can shape the island itself
New Horizons will give you more control over nature than any of its predecessors. Not only can you pull weeds and chop down trees, you’ll also be able to demolish cliffs, create pathways across rivers, and even build stairs and bridges. Like most other features, this won’t be available right away, but it looks like it will give creative players plenty more options for customizing their island.
There will be connections to Pocket Camp
For those who have stuck with the mobile iteration of the series, Pocket Camp, Nintendo says there will be some connection with the new game in the form of exclusive items. It’s not clear what those items will be, but it’s a nice bonus for Pocket Camp players.
Expect plenty of free updates
Nintendo didn’t mention anything about paid DLC or expansions, but the developer did say that there will be multiple free updates coming in the future. These will primarily revolve around seasonal events, and you won’t have to wait long for them: Nintendo says that the first free update will be out on launch day, priming the game for an event later in April.
There are... ghosts?
During one sequence, Nintendo showed how different your island can look at night. This included a glimpse at what looked to be a ghost — called a “wisp” — but it was an all too brief encounter.
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