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Animal Crossing: New Horizons Hands-On -- From Nervous To Excited

I can't wait to move to my very own deserted island.

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If you've ever played Animal Crossing, you know that you really have to take everything a day at a time--and in the beginning of the game, you have to be especially patient as the basics of your town open up to you. I recently played the first half hour or so of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and as I expected, not much technically happened in that time. But it was more than enough to set the tone for Tom Nook's island getaway, and it also assuaged some of my concerns about changes to the series formula for its debut on Nintendo Switch.

From the very beginning, there's already more freedom to customize than in any previous Animal Crossing game. This is the first main game in the series that lets you select a skin tone--in the past you had to "tan" by standing outside in the sun if you wanted to be anything besides pale--and on top of that, it's also the first one that gives you a character creation menu instead of having you take a quiz to determine your appearance. You can pick out your hairstyle and color, eye shape and color, nose and mouth types, and even cheek color before you begin, and you can always change your look later, too. There are also more hairstyles and eye shapes than in previous games.

You arrive on your deserted island of choice with Tom Nook, Timmy, Tommy, and two villagers. After some introductions, you get to decide where to put your tent and then weigh in on where each villager places theirs--they actually welcome the interference and will let you totally take over if you want. Once that's done, it's time to prep for a party. This is where gathering resources for crafting comes in; you need to get some tree branches for a campfire and some fruit for a tropical drink, which requires just a quick walk around the island.

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Admittedly, I was nervous when New Horizons was first announced, since I didn't care for Pocket Camp much and was worried that crafting meant the series was moving too far in that direction. But it's clear even from the short time I played that crafting is really just another layer to the resource-gathering you're already doing in Animal Crossing. I found myself instinctively picking up other materials, like small stones, even during that first tutorial section when I didn't need them (and never would, since it wasn't my save file). In that way, crafting seems to make a lot of sense with what the series already is, and now I'm not even sure why I was so resistant to the change in the first place.

I was also worried that the desert-island setting would feel lonely. One of the best things about Animal Crossing is the sense of friendship and community you build in your new home, and I wasn't sure how you could get that in a "deserted" place. But the fact that all three of you start out on the same level--with only your tents, a few items, and each other--establishes a sense of camaraderie right away.

Of course, I can't say whether crafting or the setting continue to work as the days pass and your island life goes on--but the Direct itself addressed my major questions about how life would develop over time on the island. Knowing that mainstays like the Museum, shops, and even home improvement are all goals to work toward makes the deserted island a truly enticing proposition. From the gradual development of amenities to the unprecedented landscaping and town customization options, it seems like New Horizons is all about building up the same kind of charming, laidback Animal Crossing town I love, just from scratch and exactly how I want it. And now that I've gotten to really see the potential in a deserted island getaway, I can't wait to start my own island.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons launches for Nintendo Switch on March 20. For more on New Horizons, be sure to watch our roundup of 19 things we learned from the Direct and check out our feature on everything we know so far.

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kallie

Kallie Plagge

Kallie Plagge is GameSpot's Reviews Editor. She loves Pokemon, inventory management, and Grunt Birthday Party.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

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