Review

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review - Island Getaway

  • First Released Mar 20, 2020
    released
  • NS

Animal Crossing: New Horizons gives you more creative freedom and more to do on any given day while preserving what makes the series special.

A lot has changed in real life since I first started playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons at the end of February, and even since I wrote my review in progress in the middle of March. Having such a wholesome game during an objectively bad time has been something of a blessing for a lot of people, myself included, and I'd be lying if I said it hasn't affected how I play New Horizons. I find myself turning to the game at night when I can't sleep, or during the day when I'm stressed and I need a break. More often than not, an adorable villager or even just a sense of accomplishment from finishing my chores will cheer me up.

But that alone is not what defines New Horizons. The times I go to the game when I'm in a good mood are just as important as the times I'm seeking comfort. Even if I end the day anxious, I wake up excited to see what's new on my island. I can't wait to see who's visiting for the day, to check out the bridge I just built or the new flowers that might be growing or how my new decor looks in the daytime. And I look forward to playing with my friends, trading items and design ideas and hitting each other with nets. New Horizons inspires creative self-expression and embraces kindness and friendship, and that is really what makes it such a joy.

Unlike in previous games, you're not moving to a lived-in town in New Horizons; the island is completely deserted when you and two animals arrive as part of Tom Nook's "getaway package," save for the tiny airport. There's no store or museum, all three of you live in tents, and Tom Nook himself operates out of a tent that he shares with his adorable nephews, Timmy and Tommy. Tom Nook clearly expected this whole thing to be a bit more glamorous (or at least popular), and in typical Tom Nook fashion, one of his first actions is to put you to work collecting tree branches and fruit to make a fire pit and drinks for a welcome party.

The party serves as an introduction to the resource-gathering aspect of New Horizons' new crafting system, but it's also the first of many endearing moments with the animals. In their high-pitched, sped-up way of talking, they chat about friendship and helping one another on the island. It feels like a proper community from the start, despite the small population size and total lack of amenities on the island.

The first few days are all about establishing the basics of any other Animal Crossing town, like the museum and Timmy and Tommy's store, and this sets the stage for crafting. In addition to catching fish and bugs and picking fruit to make money, you also have to spend a good chunk of time at the start gathering resources to craft the furniture requested of you (and, in one case, to build a whole building). Because I wanted to unlock and upgrade things as quickly as possible, I spent hours each day for the first three or four days running around picking weeds, chopping trees for wood, shaking the same trees for branches, hitting rocks for clay, stone, and iron, and selling whatever I couldn't use to craft for some extra bells.

It was a bit overwhelming to do all that in the name of fast-tracking my island progression, but generally, crafting fits neatly into Animal Crossing's established daily chores loop. The act of gathering resources happens simultaneously with the other things I want to do each day--I shake my trees because two of them per day drop furniture instead of fruit or branches, and the branches I do get are a bonus in my search--and actually makes those tasks more lucrative than they were in previous games. Because of this, I don't really have to go out of my way to get the resources I need to craft the furniture, tools, and other items I want.

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You start out with an assortment of crafting recipes, and you can get new ones in a variety of ways that, like resource-gathering, are a natural extension of the existing Animal Crossing formula. You can buy some of them, find new ones most days washed up on the beach (in message bottles with letters attached, of course), or get them from your neighbors, among other methods. Finding a new recipe is an exciting reward for going about your day, because crafting goes beyond furniture and tools--I've found some surprising and creative recipes using ingredients I didn't expect, like a giant teddy bear you can craft using regular teddy bears you might buy from Timmy and Tommy.

Complementing all of this is the Nook Miles program, which is based off of real-life travel rewards points. Nook Miles are a separate currency you can use to buy special items and abilities, like new hairstyles and colors you can switch to at a mirror--you can even use Nook Miles to pay off your first loan and get a real house. You get Nook Miles for doing all sorts of things, from getting stung by a wasp to catching 100 fish in a row without failing once. You can also get Nook Miles for shaking furniture from trees, which, if you're counting, is the second extra reward you can get from doing that.

The Nook Miles system adds just enough direction if you aren't sure what to do. I've only felt the need to chase the particularly difficult Nook Miles achievements just for completion's sake; I've gotten most of my Nook Miles just by doing Animal Crossing things and having a nice time, and even though I spend some every day, I still have tons to spare.

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While the day-to-day is rich with things to do, overall progression is a bit slow. It took a frustrating 33 days for Nook's Cranny to upgrade where in previous games it would take around 10. The exact requirements for the upgrade aren't totally clear to me, but it feels unnecessarily time-gated, and the unclear prerequisites exacerbated my impatience. There are also buildings and characters, like Brewster and The Roost, that are totally MIA right now. This may be due, at least in part, to Nintendo's live-service approach to New Horizons, in which certain events and characters come to the game via free updates throughout the year. There's definitely potential for more of the series' cast of characters to appear over time, but currently, it's disappointing that so many of them are absent. It's of course fine to cut characters over time as a franchise evolves, but not having much in the way of grander infrastructure to work towards (whether new or returning) puts a damper on the feeling of building up a town from scratch.

In the meantime, it's all too easy to absorb yourself in customization and self-expression. This starts with your character. You can actually choose your appearance for the first time in the series, including skin color, and none of the options are locked to gender. In fact, villagers will exclusively refer to players with gender-neutral pronouns--so when a friend visits, your villagers will talk about them instead of him or her. All hairstyles and clothing options are available to anyone, and you can change your face and hair at any time. Dressing up is further improved by a dedicated outfit menu that lets you preview a full outfit rather than switching in and out of clothes until you find something you like. It has never been easier or more enjoyable to express yourself through your character's appearance in an Animal Crossing game, and I've been having a ton of fun trying on goofy outfits and changing my hair to match just because.

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Crafting is, naturally, a big part of customization. You can't craft everything--some kinds of furniture are only available in the shop or found randomly--but there are entire sets of furniture that can only be crafted, and those are largely the pieces that you can further customize with different colors and finishes. At first, I crafted whatever pieces I needed but hadn't been able to buy, like a mirror, but I ended up styling an entire room around furniture I'd crafted and customized. It's that extra bit of flexibility in design that helps inspire creativity and makes each person's home feel unique to them.

More importantly, you can now place furniture pretty much anywhere outside. I found a sand castle in a tree and put it along my beach; later on I got a beach chair and a beach ball and created a whole scene on one part of the shore. I even crafted a cabin-inspired chair I would never put in my house because it fit the woodsy feel I wanted for the hills on my island, which made me realize how much use I could get out of furniture that isn't necessarily my style.

And then there's Island Designer, New Horizons' brand-new terraforming feature. With it, you completely redesign the water features and hills of your island, which lends you an almost intimidating level of creative freedom in your island layout. The tools for waterscaping and cliff construction are a bit tricky to use and master, since it can be hard to gauge where exactly your tool will hit, but it's a powerful creative tool overall. You can also create paths, plazas, flower beds, and more--and it's a huge improvement on the equivalent in past Animal Crossing games, since paths are easy to place and impossible to remove on accident.

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Animals will even stick to any paths you put down when walking around, which is just one of the little details that makes them more lively and endearing. I often stop what I'm doing to watch a villager do their thing. Animals will drink tea or stargaze or try to catch bugs, and some of them will put on reading glasses to read books at home. You can even run into them at the museum, where they'll comment on the exhibits. Each of these details gives dimension to villagers; I wasn't sure if I liked Stu, for example, until I stumbled upon him singing an adorable song to himself in the middle of town. I watched him for a very long time, and Flurry even walked up and watched him with me. Now they're my two favorites.

Outside of how cute villagers can be, New Horizons is just beautiful to look at. The museum in particular blew me away; the exhibits are incredibly detailed, and walking through each of them genuinely feels like walking through a real museum. The fossil wing, for example, has lines along the floor that seem to chart evolutionary lines for different animals. Following the lines takes you from one display to the next, and at some points, the camera will even pan to get you a better view of whatever's on display.

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The cherry on top is sharing all this with friends. My friends and I trade items and tips and give each other spare crafting recipes. I went on a museum date just like one we'd been on in real life a year ago. It's a joy to visit friends' towns and see how they've decorated their islands--each time I visit someone, I leave with a new idea for my own island. And we all send each other letters and gifts in the game because, right now at least, we can't see each other in real life.

New Horizons has a slower pace even than other Animal Crossing games, and at times, that can feel unnecessarily restrictive. But there's still plenty to do, and each of those activities feeds into the next brilliantly for a rewarding and relentlessly cheerful experience. New Horizons certainly came at the right time, and its strengths are particularly comforting right now. I'm as excited to see what random events await me each morning as I am glad to have it during hard times, and that's sure to keep me coming back for the foreseeable future.

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Now Playing: Animal Crossing: New Horizons Review

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The Good

  • Resource-gathering for crafting is a natural extension of Animal Crossing's existing daily tasks loop
  • Nook Miles system adds a layer of reward just for playing the way you want while providing some structure if you're lost
  • Customizing your character, your outfit, and your decor is easy and encourages creativity and self-expression
  • Villagers are expressive even in their idle moments, which makes them all the more endearing

The Bad

  • Slow overall progression can be frustrating and feel unnecessarily restrictive

About the Author

Kallie has been playing New Horizons for over two weeks now, which amounts to 80-plus hours of playtime. She still has a lot to do. Review code was provided by Nintendo.
121 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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NickBasile

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This game looks great -- I thoroughly enjoyed Stardew Valley and never really got into Animal Crossing. This game seems a bit more stressful, but worth a try for sure -- I'll probably look to get it some time in the next couple years.

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dzimm

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Alright, so this improves on the early review that listed no negatives and awarded it an 8. I think a 9 is fair since New Horizons gets almost but not quite everything right. However, the "slow progression" criticism is a bit silly because that's how Animal Crossing has always been. It's supposed to be a slow-burn game that will take the average player months if not years to see and do everything. Complaining about the slow pacing of a game franchise that has always had a slow pace as its foundation would be like criticizing the latest DOOM for not having a third-person perspective option.

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G-Corleone

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Is this a kids game or for all ages? I am seriously asking. From the bottom of my heart.

I am curious and have been opening myself to new experiences (just bought P5R yesterday and I really hope I like it, never played Persona before). I also see adults playing it and the popularity is huge. Then again, I really regretted Mario Odyssey and felt a bit betrayed by the reviews (not a Mario gamer, but truly wanted to be one to see whats up). Now im more cautious with these games that have strong branding etc.

So, as a newcomer: is it really for all ages?

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mandzilla

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mandzilla  Moderator

@G-Corleone: Mate, it's only like the best and most relaxing game ever! Pretty much like the perfect palate cleanser title, something that you can pick up and play between other stuff which actually has an endpoint. Animal Crossing is infinite, and you're never really done with it.

The in game world progresses in real time, so for example you'll soon be able to experience Easter on the island with the the other villagers and your friends, when Christmas comes around it's also Christmas in Animal Crossing!

There are no set goals or challenges to overcome, just whatever sparks your creativity.

If you don't mind a slower paced and quirky experience then I say go for it, there's really not much else like it out there. If only the real world was so peaceful and wholesome. :P

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dzimm

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@G-Corleone: Yes, it is for all ages, although you do need to be able to read. I think the best description is that it's an elaborate digital dollhouse, but unlike the Sims, you have a main character who directly interacts with the island and its inhabitants, and there are no penalties for not playing a certain way. It's really all about free-form expression and creativity. You're free to approach the experience however you want.

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G-Corleone

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Edited By G-Corleone

@dzimm: hmmmm this sounds interesting. Normally games have freedom but only up to an extent. A game being approachable from all directions is new to me. This is also the first time i hear this. Thanks for the explanation :)

„although you do need to be able to read“ that was brilliant XD

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dzimm

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@G-Corleone: Well, you asked if it was for all ages, and it is, provided one is literate. It wasn't meant as a sleight.

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PrpleTrtleBuBum

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@G-Corleone: in general a kid game. no challenge and repetition kicks in fast

but some adults enjoy the sims too so its not impossible to like

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G-Corleone

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@PrpleTrtleBuBum: thank you for your feedback :)

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SystemOverload

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Doesn’t look like enough of a reason to upgrade from Animal Crossing New Leaf.

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dzimm

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@systemoverload: Crafting and being able to freely decorate outside (including terrain sculpting!) is a game changer. If you liked being able to customize your New Leaf town with special projects, then you'll love New Horizons which takes that aspect to the next level.

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phili878

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My 2 cents: They should add more fun ways to make nook miles down the road. Chopping down trees etc gets boring. They should make more activities to Make it easier getting miles.

Also, fish bait, make a option to do all 10 at once and not 1 at a time with the animation and texts allover again...

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rodoxthedark

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Looking forward to this it’s something my daughter and I can both play. I seem to be on my switch more and more through the f****** sh** storm that is corona life. It’s nice to play happy games

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SuperKlyph

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I wish the tools didn’t break

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apnance

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What is the target demographic for this game?

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dzimm

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Edited By dzimm

@apnance: It's for anyone with at least basic literacy skills.

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deactivated-5ebc942967df5

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@apnance: The same as Call of Duty’s.

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SuperKlyph

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@apnance: yes

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cboye18

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Edited By cboye18

@apnance: Definitely not those who have been waiting for a new Metroid, F-Zero, Starfox or Earthbound. It's been an eternity already Nintendo; I've been waiting since the Gamecube days...

I think this game cathers more to children below the age of 10, something more akin to the kirby and LEGO games.

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briguyb13

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@apnance: nice bait

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apnance

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@briguyb13: Nothing gets by this one. You got me, that was indeed a trap. I am part of a deep undercover ICE task force and an incorrect answer to that question very well could have gotten you deported.

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irishplusfour

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All Switch games have to automatically be dropped down a few points due to the fact that each title is missing basic features and to the extent connectivity options do exist, the work around patches are awful.

I doubt this is a 9 but if it is, then it's inherent shortfalls due to the console lowers it down to a 6 or 7.

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xantufrog

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Edited By xantufrog  Moderator  Online

@irishplusfour: Such as? As someone who has owned almost every platform since the late 80s I genuinely don't know what you are talking about. Is this about the janky voice chat or something?

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SuperKlyph

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@xantufrog: he is just trolling

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irishplusfour

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@xantufrog: among other basic features which are missing, yes. I have an original Odyssey still at home. Long history of playing games.

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xantufrog

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@irishplusfour: ...you didn't answer my question. What are you referring to?

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briguyb13

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@xantufrog: Sounds like his distorted value of power, or brand bias has him seeing things a bit unclearly.

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irishplusfour

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@briguyb13: that does sum up those people that make up excuses for consoles missing features that other consoles had back in the early 2000s.

You two shouldnt project.

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briguyb13

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@irishplusfour: What does that have to do with the games themselves? Anyone who actually has to tell themselves that some game or system they don't like, secretly has a point or two deducted from a review score has issues.

Reviews are just opinions, so you don't need to fabricate things in your own mind in order to deal with another person's opinion or preference.

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irishplusfour

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Edited By irishplusfour

@briguyb13: read your last paragraph again and stop projecting. There irony here is cringe worthy.

Hardware impacts the software and this hardware diminishes the experience, especially the social component. But you know, reviews are opinion based, so you don't need to fabricate things in your mind to deal with my preference.

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briguyb13

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@irishplusfour: The only one "projecting" here is you. The score is 9 and you just have to find a way to cope with that fact.

If all you cared about was hardware you'd exclusively play on PC.

Maybe one day you'll learn that this hobby isn't just about power and digital gold stars, and nobody cares about your so-called standards and views. If they did, Switch wouldn't be so successful.

Here's a clue: people enjoy gaming in other ways than just graphics and power, with things like portability and accessibility.

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xantufrog

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xantufrog  Moderator  Online

@briguyb13: probably. Or maybe trophies? Who knows. Whatever!

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irishplusfour

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Edited By irishplusfour

@xantufrog: You mentioned one and I agreed. Judging by your tone, it seems you actually do know and are just setting yourself up to be argumentative. If you need someone to list off the missing features of the Switch for you, you clearly aren't a gamer. I think you actually do know though.

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xantufrog

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@irishplusfour: no, I don't know. I own a Switch. If you don't want to actually expand upon it that's fine, but I think you're talking nonsense.

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irishplusfour

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@xantufrog: You do know. You literally already named one and now you're playing dumb to be argumentative.

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xantufrog

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@irishplusfour: ...no. I don't. I'll shove off if you're not going to converse about this like an adult.

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irishplusfour

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Edited By irishplusfour

@xantufrog: oh, so you didn't already list off 2 such features in your above comments? You're just lying now. Shame on you. Grow up.

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xantufrog

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Edited By xantufrog  Moderator  Online

@irishplusfour:I'm going to say this one more time, very clearly, with highlighting, and then I'm going to be out of patience with you and will assume you are trolling (and if you continue that, that's going to warrant moderation)

"

All Switch games have to automatically be dropped down a few points due to the fact that each title is missing basic features and to the extent connectivity options do exist, the work around patches are awful.

I doubt this is a 9 but if it is, then it's inherent shortfalls due to the console lowers it down to a 6 or 7.

"

1) ALL? ALL Switch games?

2) An arbitrary few points regardless of what the experience is when you actually own it?

3) EACH? All Switch games are "missing basic features?

4) WHAT work around patches are you talking about. Literally no idea. Software patches? For what issues? And what issues to they introduce?

5) So, you haven't actually played this?

6) WHAT inherent shortfalls?

I tried to have a conversation with you - asking an honest question. I wrongly assumed on my first read that you owned tihs game and had some insight to share on its shortfalls.

Under more scrutiny, you actually made a ton of very strong, general statements that - frankly - indicate you don't own a Switch nor do you own this game.

As someone who DOES own a Switch, I was hoping you (who I mistakenly thought owned this...) would expand upon what "basic features" are missing from this. Or could perhaps expand on what's missing from Dragon Quest X11S (which is actually the most fully featured version of the game, BTW), or BotW, or Baldur's Gate, or... well, really anything. You made a claim that there's a sweeping issue across all (giving you room for hyperbole, let's instead go with "most" or "many", shall we?) -- that's frankly bullshit, as someone who can directly compare with my PC and PS4 games, but if you genuinely believe that I was hoping you'd at least clarify what these missing features and "workaround patches" in all the games are (again, what does THAT even mean?).

Instead, you refused to answer my question - instead you tried to pick a fight with me. Every one of your replies has studiously avoided answering my question and actually engaging in conversation, and has instead accused me of playing dumb. I'm not playing dumb, it's a serious question.

Well, I have bad news for you - I'm not going to rise to your bait and talk about this anymore beyond this post. Instead, I'm going to walk away and find someone else to converse with who actually wants to discuss gaming and - if they have a different opinion than me - at least explain and talk about their opinion so we can interact like adults.

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briguyb13

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@irishplusfour: Well you can add a point back because the game has achievements. If you were to actually play the games instead of blindly hating on them, you might have noticed this.

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irishplusfour

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Edited By irishplusfour

@briguyb13:

When did I say I hated the game? I have actually purchased it but it is a easter gift for a relative and we are going to play together.

You need to take a second and not let your fanboy nonsense get between you reading what I actually say. I have never said I hated the game. I haven't even given a scoring of it yet. I merely provided a general score system for games on hardware that lacks basic features that materially impairs components of the game and industry standards and expectations.

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briguyb13

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I had a feeling the score would go up a bit.

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Indentured servitude is never more fun.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons

First Released Mar 20, 2020
released
  • Nintendo Switch

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

9
Superb

Average Rating

51 Rating(s)

6.8

Developed by:

Published by:

Genre(s):

Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
Everyone
Comic Mischief