It’s been a long time since I’ve been surprised by Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I played the Nintendo Switch game regularly for the first year it was out, checking in virtually every day to see how my village was progressing. I experienced every holiday and special event and spent my evenings catching fish and tending to my gardens before bed. But, despite a handful of updates, I eventually got bored. There’s only so many sea bass you can catch before it becomes monotonous. I haven’t touched the game in eight months (as my villagers have been quick to point out), but the latest, biggest, and final update has really sucked me back into island life.
Perhaps the most surprising part of this is that I haven’t even experienced the most notable parts of the update yet. I haven’t purchased the first paid expansion, which lets you help decorate other characters’ homes, and the much-anticipated café addition to my museum is still under construction until tomorrow. I’m excited for both of these — I sincerely love Brewster the barista — but it’s the smaller changes that have helped refresh a game that had been feeling stale for me.
For instance, New Horizons now has cooking. It works a lot like regular crafting: you get a recipe, collect the ingredients, and then go to a stove to put it all together. The food is adorable and detailed, and it makes my kitchen look a lot more cozy. But more importantly, it has changed my relationship with my island. At this point, I’ve caught nearly every fish and collected plenty of fruit. But now, they have new possibilities. Catching a fish could mean getting a new recipe, even if it’s the typically unwanted sea bass. I finally have a reason to go diving for seaweed. I also have a new incentive to collect everything; once you complete a collection in the museum, you can buy a cool poster full of fossils or bugs.
Likewise, the new camera app makes it a lot more fun to wander around the island and snap pics. There’s a first-person viewpoint that lets you see things from a new perspective, as well as a tripod so you can take cute pics with your villagers. Ordinances, which return from Animal Crossing: New Leaf, let you make your island a little cleaner or ensure your animals stay up late to match your own schedule. You will also get visitors now as villagers will show up at your house unannounced to hang out. The most surprising bonus, for me, has been that I finally have a reason to visit Harv’s island because you can now set up a kind of marketplace full of folks like Leif and his plant shop and a new fortune teller.
These changes make the game feel new and interesting again, and I haven’t even dug into many of the aspects, like growing gyroids, hanging out in a coffee shop, or collecting new furniture. It’s also nice that the game forces you to pace yourself. At Harv’s co-op, for instance, you can only add one business each day, and they all cost 100,000 bells to set up. It’ll be a while before I have a fully functioning market, but this hasn’t bothered me. I forgot how pleasant it can be to play the game for 20 minutes, get a few chores done, and then return the next day.
It’s not just one feature that has me excited about New Horizons again. Instead, it’s all of these smaller details that make the day-to-day of playing much more interesting. I’m not sure how long it’ll last, and it’s sad that this is the game’s last hurrah. But I know I’ll be sticking around my island for at least long enough to get that fish poster.