The Animal Crossing Nintendo Direct showed massive potential for the newfound deserted island to grow into a proper village, and I got to see what it’s like from its meager beginnings. Granted, one half-hour isn’t enough time to get a true sense of New Horizons’ day-to-day gameplay, but I did get to see some of its new systems. If you’d like to keep your character’s island arrival a surprise, stop here and instead go check out the wrap-up article of the Animal Crossing Nintendo Direct and our interview with Animal Crossing developers at E3 2019.
Preparing for Island Living
Move over Rover and Kapp’n, Timmy and Tommy Nook are open for business. These two cute twin tanuki set you up for your new adventure by checking your information at an airline counter. Before you’re able to board your flight, Timmy and Tommy check your name, allow you to customize your character through simple menus rather than have it determined by a quiz (hurray!), and choose your island design from one of four layouts. A representative from Nintendo said additional character customization options unlock as you play too.
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With the bulk of the customization done, Timmy and Tommy have one final question: what’s the one thing you’d bring with you to a deserted island? I was asked to choose between a sleeping bag, a lamp, some food, or something to kill time. I like wandering around at night so I chose the lamp. Timmy reassured me that Nook Inc. would provide all essentials despite my choice, and the Nintendo rep said my answer wouldn’t do anything directly but didn’t elaborate on the possibilities. With the profile complete, my character was taken to the deserted island.
This introduction is a mild departure from previous Animal Crossings where you arrive by train, taxi, or bus and set up your profile along the way before arriving in an established but fledgling town. In New Horizons, however, they’re not kidding when they say you’re going to a deserted island – save for Tom Nook’s tent and the tiny airport, nothing else is built. Knowing how I’ll eventually be able to manipulate the terrain, place items outside, and customize even more made this airport scene an exciting introduction.
Once the plane touched down, I was greeted by Tom Nook and made excited introductions with my first two island friends, Hamlet and Hazel – it’s not every day you get to start a new life on a deserted island! Tom walked us through the Resident Services tent that houses a crafting workbench, an item shop, the recycling box, and the latest automatic bell dispenser, and then instructed us to find a spot on the island to claim as our own. I chose to set up my tent in a strategic spot behind Resident Services, though I was told I could move my tent later.
A New Debt to Pay
Sadly, you can’t vote your new neighbors off the island if you’re not pleased with them, but at least you can choose where they’ll set up camp. Once I was all settled I found my neighbors and was able to decide whether or not I liked their pitch for their new home. You’ll have the option to let them settle there, tell them to find another spot, or choose a spot for them yourself. When setting up your tent and theirs, you’ll be able to “imagine,” or preview, what the tent will look like in that location, which was helpful. I appreciate having more of a hand in designing my island right from the start, and it was nice that Hamlet and Hazel appreciated my input.
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With our homes settled, Tom Nook requested I gather sticks for a fire, and some peaches, my island’s randomly chosen native fruit. The actual collection process is the same as it’s always been and I wasn’t given access to tools, so my actions during the first day were limited. But eventually, the day came to a close and when my character awoke New Horizons had synced to real-time (it runs on its own time for the first tutorial day) and saddled me with a massive 49,800 bell debt. We may be in a new kind of environment, but this is the same old Tom Nook.
Fortunately, Tom did offer to let me pay off my initial charge for the island getaway package with a new kind of currency called Nook Miles. These miles are earned by completing objectives, like “Angling for Perfection,” a challenge that requires you to catch 10 fish. I didn’t get to explore exactly how much you can earn from each completed objective, but I know I’ll be putting my first 5,000 miles toward paying my debt and save my bells for an eventual house upgrade. And Nintendo confirmed that you can only pay off your debt with Nook Miles the first time, so don’t get used to that convenience.
Unfortunately, my time with New Horizons was coming to an end, so I ran straight for the Resident Services tent to test out the new crafting system. Here, Tom Nook hosts DIY classes, and he just so happened to have time to teach me how to craft items through recipes. I downloaded the DIY Recipes app for my NookPhone – a handy smartphone equipped with a camera, a rescue service to get you out of tough spots, a Nook Miles tracker, and other apps – that let me save the recipe for a flimsy fishing rod.
These DIY recipes can be earned in a variety of ways – you might receive one in the mail and islanders can gift them to you. I hunted down the five tree-sticks needed to make the fishing rod, crafted it with the press of a button, and was ready to fish – and I would have if my time hadn’t run out. Crafting seems like a fun way to build items that would otherwise take from my precious bell-debt fund, though items like the flimsy fishing rod and others will be available for purchase.
There are still tons of features I’m excited to fully get my hands on: Customizing crafted items, making paths, exploring truly deserted islands through Nook’s travel service, and pretty much everything announced in the Animal Crossing Nintendo Direct (you can read our summary of the biggest announcements here if you haven’t already!). New Horizons doesn’t seem like it’ll be a major departure from what we know and love about Animal Crossing, but it sure does seem to have plenty of quality-of-life improvements and better customization options that’ll likely keep it as engaging as ever.
Miranda Sanchez is an executive editor at IGN. She hopes Roscoe and Goldie settle on her island sooner than later. You can chat with her about video games and anime on Twitter.