Disney Dreamlight Valley: early access review

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for Disney Dreamlight Valley.

I don’t usually go for “early access” titles. Some developers and publishers really take advantage of early access, pushing out incomplete games and getting players to effectively pay full price to do the work of a quality assurance team, and just in general, I’d rather wait until a game is ready for prime-time before sinking my energy and money into it. A title has to be something truly exceptional to attract my attention while it’s still in early access. Enter Disney Dreamlight Valley.

At time of writing in November 2022, Disney Dreamlight Valley still has some of the issues that make early access titles so offputting – major missing features, an incomplete story, and some bugs, glitches, and areas where more development time is needed to give the game some polish. But despite that, I’ve sunk more than 100 hours into the game since it launched in early access back in August, and I’ve been having a whale of a time!

The title screen as of the most recent update.

Disney Dreamlight Valley blends the customisation and design gameplay of titles like The Sims with the casual life-sim gameplay of the likes of Animal Crossing, combines those with some simple but fun nonviolent puzzle-solving gameplay, and then also throws in character-focused storytelling that can absolutely compete with any narrative game on the market – at least if you’re a Disney fan! The game’s characters, all of whom are lifted directly from Disney’s extensive back catalogue of blockbuster films, feel real and feel fun to engage with, and the game has so much to offer to kids and adults alike as a result.

As expected, recent titles like Frozen and Moana feature in a big way, but Disney Dreamlight Valley also happily incorporates characters from titles that are almost certainly less well-known nowadays (especially among younger players) like The Sword in the Stone. In fact, the very first character that players will meet upon starting a new game is Merlin – a storytelling decision that I find incredibly bold.

Mickey Mouse, a player character, and Merlin.

Unlike in games like Animal Crossing, where villagers can feel flat and repetitive after a while, the characters in Disney Dreamlight Valley feel much more complete. Partly, it must be said, that’s because they’re all familiar characters from films that most players will be familiar with, but a big part of the way they come across in the game is down to some creative quest design and some pretty good writing. Characters will also interact with one another, stopping for a casual chat that players can overhear while wandering around the valley or participating in other quests, and this small detail goes a long way to making Dreamlight Valley feel like a real place and its inhabitants like real people.

As an early access title, there are of course areas with room for improvement. But I have confidence that developers Gameloft will take player feedback on board and implement changes and fixes as they have done already. Improvements have already been made, for example, to the in-game photo mode, to the impact weather can have on the game world, to certain character interactions that players generally weren’t happy with, and much more besides. One of the advantages of early access is that developers have an opportunity to get feedback from real players – and Gameloft has certainly shown a willingness to change, adapt, and tone down different elements of the game in response.

Promo screenshot featuring Ursula.

Disney Dreamlight Valley feels like it’s also taken on board feedback and criticism of other titles in the casual life-sim genre, particularly 2020’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Complaints and criticisms about that game and how difficult it was to play long-term when compared to other Animal Crossing titles abounded, and while Disney Dreamlight Valley is still very much incomplete – multiplayer and cross-platform play have yet to be added, for example – other criticisms that I and others levelled at New Horizons simply don’t apply here. Crafting, for example, is so much easier and smoother in Disney Dreamlight Valley, and the simple fact that tools don’t need to be replaced every five minutes is fantastic!

Characters feel dynamic and respond in real-time to events in the game, and each character has their own series of quests to play through in addition to the main storyline. While there’s a case to be made that exhausting all of the quests should bring the game to an end, there are still “daily duties” – mini-quests that can involve some or all of the game’s roster of Disney characters. Moreover, when the main quests and character quests have all been completed, Disney Dreamlight Valley remains fun to play as an Animal Crossing-esque casual life-sim game; there’s still fun to be had. Racing through certain questlines is not how the game is intended to be played, and several quests have natural timers – plants that take time to grow, or objectives that can only be performed at certain times of day, for instance.

Crafting in Disney Dreamlight Valley.

Although the in-game economy works relatively well at the moment, there are potentially things that could be reworked or rebalanced in future. The titular “dreamlight,” for example, that players accumulate as a reward for accomplishing tasks and finishing quests has a limited number of uses – and when all of the different areas of the map have been unlocked, I found myself simply accumulating dreamlight by the boatload with no way to use it or spend it.

Likewise, the in-game “coins”, while slow to acquire at first, soon build up, and I found that getting a moderately decent crop farm going soon racked me up over 2 million coins – and although there are things to spend those coins on, I’ve hardly made a dent in a money vault that even Scrooge McDuck would be envious of!

Scrooge McDuck in Disney Dreamlight Valley.

While we’re on the subject of currencies, it’s clear that when Disney Dreamlight Valley exits its early access phase and goes free-to-play that a significant focus for the game will be on recurring monetisation and in-game microtransactions. Gameloft and Disney have not promised that all characters and story content will take the form of free updates, either, so there’s a risk in the longer-term that Disney Dreamlight Valley will turn into one of those titles that can be quite a money-sink. For parents of younger kids, that can absolutely be an issue, and it’s worth being aware of at this stage. While Disney Dreamlight Valley is currently quite generous with its various in-game currencies, one in particular – “moonstones” – is clearly being readied to be sold.

Moonstones can be earned in-game at time of writing, and are used to purchase cosmetic items like furniture, clothing, and motifs that can be added to custom designs. Players are also required to spend a large cache of moonstones in order to unlock more items for purchase via a kind of “season pass” that, once again, feels like it will be the target for future monetisation. Free-to-play games and ongoing “live services” require a source of income, but again it’s worth being aware even at this early stage that this is the model Disney Dreamlight Valley plans to adopt.

In-game monetisation is planned in future.

Character customisation is fun in Disney Dreamlight Valley, and I feel that there are a decent range of options including different body types, hairstyles, and so on – with some extras that can be unlocked in-game that weren’t available right at the start. There’s also a huge range of different types of furniture – many pieces of which are lifted from or inspired by modern and classic Disney films. And while there are plenty of clothes to choose from, I think I’d like to see a few more outfits and costumes that allow players to dress up as their favourite Disney characters. Some of the clothes feel a little too “generic” to me, and some of the costumes and outfits are more “inspired by” the films rather than directly taken from them. So that’s an area that I’d like to see improved upon! To give one example that may be more relevant to some fans than others, while Disney Dreamlight Valley includes a decent approximation of Princess Anna’s dress from Frozen, there really isn’t a good facsimile of Elsa’s dress from the same film, despite it being one of the most iconic of modern Disney Princess costumes.

But for the creatives among you, Disney Dreamlight Valley offers a pretty extensive customiser, allowing budding designers to create their own Disney-inspired outfits. The game includes a range of blank clothes – tops, dresses, hoodies, and even Mickey Mouse ears – that can be customised with patterns, designs, and much more. These designs are unlockable through gameplay, so the more time players invest in Disney Dreamlight Valley, the more options there will be when it comes to making fun outfits. Although I have the imagination and creativity of a colour-blind slug, even I managed to create a few fun designs with an intuitive and easy-to-use customiser.

Customising a dress in Disney Dreamlight Valley.

So that’s all there is to say for now! I may take another look at Disney Dreamlight Valley in the months ahead, perhaps when it’s ready to leave early access and go free-to-play. If you have Game Pass either for PC or Xbox, Disney Dreamlight Valley is incredibly easy to recommend. At £35/$30, there’s more than enough content to justify the price in my view – and coming in at less than “full price” is fair for a game that is still in early access and has a few issues as a result. However, despite being in early access, I found my 100+ hours with Disney Dreamlight Valley to be remarkably smooth and free from major bugs; there have only been a couple of occasions on which the game crashed, and thanks to a frequent auto-save, I didn’t even lose any progress.

There are anecdotal reports from folks who play on Nintendo Switch having a worse time with more frequent crashes and finding the game to be a less stable experience, but as I’ve played it on PC I can’t speak to that – however, it’s worth being aware of that and checking out other reviews if you plan to play on Switch.

Remy from the film Ratatouille.

For my two cents, Disney Dreamlight Valley is probably the most fun gaming experience I’ve had in 2022. For anyone who’s a Disney fan there’s a lot to love – familiar and new friends to meet and hang out with in a game that blends both narrative storytelling and casual life-simulation. I haven’t seen some of the newer films from which some characters were taken (Remy from Ratatouille and the titular Wall-E were both new to me) but even with that limitation, I had a whale of a time.

Disney Dreamlight Valley is also one of the best early access games that I’ve played – speaking for the PC version, at least. Despite a persistent issue with cloud saving (which I’ve been repeatedly assured is being worked on) the game is largely bug-free on PC, runs smoothly and plays exceptionally well. Were it not for the incomplete story and some impassable doors, you’d hardly realise that the game was in fact still in early access!

So there we go. I’m happy to recommend Disney Dreamlight Valley at this time. Check back when the game leaves early access and I’ll try to share my updated thoughts!

Disney Dreamlight Valley is out now – in early access – for PC, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch. Disney Dreamlight Valley is the copyright of Gameloft and the Walt Disney Company. Some screenshots used above are courtesy of Gameloft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Five films (and TV specials) to watch this Holiday Season!

Christmas is edging closer by the day! The main event itself is now only a couple of weeks away, so we’re well and truly in the wintery grip of the Holiday Season. This time I thought it could be fun to take a look at five films and television specials that make for great festive viewing.

Although I’m not a religious person by any stretch, Christmas has always been an event I look forward to… beginning as early as September! Though not every Christmas was perfect when I was a kid, I have some pretty happy memories of this time of year, and there’s something about the juxtaposition of the cold, dark winter going on outside with the warmth and the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree inside that really makes this time of year feel special, almost magical!

Christmas is coming!

Between the lights, decorations, and festive pop hits, I think it’s fair to say I’m all about the secular, commercial side of Christmas; Santa Claus, not Jesus, stands out to me as the season’s main character! So that’s my mindset as we go into this list.

Please keep in mind, as always, that this list is wholly subjective. If you don’t like any of these Christmas films and television specials, that’s perfectly fine. I’m not trying to pretend that these are the “all-time best ever” Christmas specials, or anything of the sort!

With that caveat out of the way, let’s dive into the list!

Number 1:
The Polar Express (2004)

The titular Polar Express.

When it was released in 2004, The Polar Express received criticism for its “creepy” CGI – but I think it’s safe to say that its semi-realistic animated style has aged pretty well. Tom Hanks stars in this modern animated classic, and takes on several different voice roles across the film. Not providing names for main characters is a risk (not to mention something you’d get a failing grade for in most creative writing classes!) but that doesn’t actually hamper The Polar Express. The nameless protagonists are arguably more relatable as a result, allowing the audience to project themselves onto the characters with ease.

There may have been a couple of Christmases when I was very young where I did, in fact, believe in Santa Claus (or Father Christmas, as we call him here in the UK). But my parents didn’t do the whole “all of your gifts come from Santa” thing, and among my earliest Christmas memories I can remember writing thank-you notes to family members for the gifts they’d given me. These things vary from family to family, though, and while I wouldn’t like to speak outside of my own experience, I think a lot of you probably have some recollection of believing in Santa Claus and subsequently losing that belief. It’s a theme that many different Christmas films have tackled – but The Polar Express gets it right. The protagonist learns, over the course of his adventures, to keep believing – a metaphor, perhaps, for valuing one’s childhood and remaining youthful.

The nameless protagonists.

I’ve always liked trains, and The Polar Express shows us a beautiful CGI rendition of an old-fashioned steam locomotive. Trains – model trains in particular – have somewhat of an association with Christmas, but this method of transporting kids to the North Pole was certainly unique! It gives The Polar Express a sense of adventure that road trip films and other films about long journeys often capture so well, with scenes like running around on the train roof and the train skidding across the ice all playing into that.

The Polar Express is a film with heart, but it’s also something a little different from the typical “let’s go and meet Santa Claus” fare of many other shows and films aimed at children. There’s a sense of scale in the journey we see the protagonists undertake, and because it’s told from a child’s perspective, there’s still some of that mystery and wonder; the sense that the kids don’t really know how everything works on the train. That magic is part of what makes the holidays so special.

Number 2:
The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (2020)

Promo image for The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special.

I’ve had a review of this one in the pipeline since last year, but for various reasons it got buried under too many other writing projects in the days before Christmas! Stay tuned, though, because I daresay I’ll get around to a full write-up eventually! For now, let’s hit the key points. The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is hilarious, and I found it to be a great palate-cleanser after The Rise of Skywalker had been such a disappointment.

Unlike this year’s Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales, which focused solely on Poe Dameron, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special brings back all of the main characters from the sequel trilogy – then takes a wild ride through all three of Star Wars’ main eras thanks to some well-timed space magic! Star Wars fans should appreciate many, many callbacks to past iterations of the franchise – not least the notorious Holiday Special, which was released in 1978 to critical derision!

Finn, Rey, Poe, Rose, and Chewbacca.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is full to the brim with gentle jokes and parodies that poke fun at the Star Wars franchise without ever coming across as mean-spirited or laughing at fans. Some humourless fans, or those who want to lose themselves in that world, might find that offputting, but I reckon that a majority will be able to enjoy The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special for what it is: non-canon fun.

I was pleased to see that Disney+ is intent on doing more with the Star Wars brand than just serious projects like The Mandalorian, and in some respects I think we can argue that The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special – and other Lego Star Wars titles too – fill a niche similar to Star Trek: Lower Decks over in another wonderful sci-fi franchise. No Star Trek holiday special yet, though… but maybe one day!

Number 3:
I Won’t Be Home For Christmas
The Simpsons Season 26 (2014)

The Simpsons’ house all decorated for the season.

The Simpsons has undeniably lost its edge in recent seasons, and it’s increasingly rare to pluck out a genuinely good episode from the ever-growing pile – something I found out when I put together a list of a few of my favourite episodes earlier this year. But every now and then The Simpsons can still produce an episode somewhat akin to those from its more successful past. I Won’t Be Home For Christmas is, in my view anyway, among them.

Perhaps it’s the holiday theme that elevates what might otherwise be a less-enjoyable episode, but I find that there’s something very relatable about I Won’t Be Home For Christmas. A few years ago, when I was suffering with undiagnosed mental health issues and in the midst of a divorce, I found myself wandering the dark, empty streets on Christmas Eve – trying to clear my head. The sequences in which Homer does something similar in this episode really hit home for me because I’ve been in a similar position myself.

I found this presentation of Homer to be very relatable.

When you’re watching what feels like the whole rest of the world closing their doors and enjoying the holidays without you, life can feel incredibly lonely. Homer meets a number of characters on his own journey, but that sense of loneliness and missing out on what’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year is still a prevalent theme that runs through the entire story.

On a more positive note, I Won’t Be Home For Christmas features a couple of genuinely good jokes and laugh-out-loud moments. It also kicks off with a Christmas-themed reworking of the show’s famous opening sequence, so if you’re watching on Disney+ don’t hit the “skip intro” button! You’ll miss something fun if you do. In a lot of ways I feel echoes of Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire in I Won’t Be Home For Christmas – and not just because of its holiday setting. The episode feels like a throwback to earlier seasons, when The Simpsons as a whole was doing far better at producing stories like this one.

Number 4:
Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too (1991)

Is that Santa and his reindeer?

My younger sister received a VHS copy of Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too as a Christmas present (I would guess in 1992) and watched it endlessly! As a result, it’s probably one of the Christmas specials that I’ve seen most often – it was a mainstay in our house in the run-up to Christmas for several years in a row! What’s more, the original Winnie the Pooh books by A. A. Milne were permanent fixtures on my childhood bookshelf, and I’m sure those books were read to me when I was very small. So the entire Winnie the Pooh series is something I have a great fondness for!

Christmas is a time for nostalgic steps back like this, forgetting the modern world and all of its troubles for a while. Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too is an incredibly sweet Christmas tale set in the Hundred Acre Wood, perfect for a few minutes wrapped up in Christmas-themed cuteness and escapism. Or is that just the nostalgia talking?

Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger, and Pooh.

Because Winnie the Pooh has always been pitched at very young children, the story here is rather basic. There’s a kerfuffle surrounding Christopher Robin’s letter to Santa, and Pooh tries to save the day. Despite those limitations, though, the story is incredibly cute, really sweet, and full to the brim with Christmas fun.

Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too isn’t something I go back to year upon year; doing so would probably ruin the magic. But every once in a while I treat myself to this blast of very personal ’90s nostalgia and enjoy my memories of Christmases past. As 2021 looks set to be the second Christmas in a row where we may not be able to do everything we’d want, I think finding moments like that might be very important for a lot of folks.

Number 5:
Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation (2009)

The special’s title card.

As a childless adult, Phineas and Ferb is a series that shouldn’t have had much appeal for me! But as I’ve said many times before, the best kids’ shows have something to offer adults as well, and when I sat down to watch Phineas and Ferb for the first time back when I had the Disney Channel, I found a truly engaging and fun little cartoon.

That extends to the Christmas special too, which is one of the high points of the entire series – in my subjective opinion, naturally! I’m a total sap for the “Christmas is in danger, someone needs to save it!” plot cliché, and Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation puts the series’ trademark spin on that familiar premise. It’s a lot of fun!

Perry and Dr Doofenshmirtz.

I never miss an opportunity to talk about Phineas and Ferb. The show finished its run in 2015, but last year returned for a one-off Disney+ original film, which was absolutely fantastic too. Unlike some of the other entries on this list, which I’ll happily rewatch on occasion, I return to Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation every year without fail – something I’ve done for a decade now!

Phineas and Ferb: Christmas Vacation keeps the series’ trademark twin storylines – the boys and the other kids on one side, Perry the Platypus and Dr Doofenshmirtz on the other. Both stories come together in one connected narrative, but the show sticks to its two angles throughout – and what results is a story with moments of excitement, high drama, and emotion as the boys race to save Christmas.

Bonus:
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Nintendo Switch (2020)

Promo for New Horizons’ Christmas event.

If you’re an Animal Crossing player, Christmas Eve is where it’s at! But throughout December it’s possible to buy special seasonal items, to see your island all decorated for the holidays, and to take note of what some of your island friends might want by way of gifts! The Christmas event is known as Toy Day in the world of Animal Crossing, and while it’s possible to ignore it and get on with your regular island life, it’s a bit of fun to play through these one-off events.

As December dawns on your island – at least if you’re playing on a Northern Hemisphere island – snow will start to fall. You’ll be able to build a snowman every day – and building the perfect one unlocks special ice-themed items. There are snowflakes to catch, which are used as DIY ingredients to craft new seasonal items too.

A wintery New Horizons island!

Later in December, Isabelle will announce that she’s decorated some of the island’s trees – but only the pine trees. When I played last year not every pine was decorated, but those that were looked adorable with their little festive lights! Shaking these trees also provided yet another crafting material which could be used to create holiday-themed items.

I’ve been critical of New Horizons for its longevity in particular, but there are few games that offer this style of gameplay. Last year I played through the Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year events on my island, and I have to say I had a lot of fun with all of them. The Toy Day event on Christmas Eve (not Christmas Day!) is the kind of sweet Christmassy fun you’d expect from a game in the Animal Crossing series, and if you missed it last year it’s well worth playing through at least once.

So that’s it!

It’ll be the big day before we know it!

I’ve got a few more holiday-themed ideas for the website between now and Christmas – which is getting closer and closer by the day. I hope you like the festive banner and the little Santa hat on the website’s logo, too! I had fun messing around and putting those together.

There are lots of great festive films and holiday specials that I didn’t include on this list, so have a browse through the television listings or your streaming platform of choice. I’ll probably be checking out a mix of old favourites and new entries – there are always plenty of new holiday films every year. I’ve heard good things about 8-Bit Christmas this year, for example! I hope this list has been a bit of festive fun as we continue to get into a holiday groove!

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, broadcaster, streaming platform, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons finally gets an update… and paid DLC

Shortly after Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched in March last year, here’s what I had to say about the game in my review: “When I compare New Horizons to New Leaf, a game that I played way more and for way longer, I feel at least a little disappointed. New Leaf seemed to offer more to do when the shine of playing a new game wore off, and it certainly offered significantly more in terms of playing with friends…”

Many of the criticisms I made of the game – most notably the lack of a significant multiplayer offering and mini-games to play with friends – still hadn’t been addressed, and as 2021 wore on the “updates” that were released for the game were incredibly threadbare. Nintendo, in their infinite wisdom, chose to make last year’s holiday-themed updates only valid for one year, meaning much of 2021 was actually spent re-adding holiday events like Easter, Halloween, and Christmas that had already been added in 2020.

Re-adding last year’s holiday events has taken up most of 2021 for New Horizons.

The Animal Crossing: New Horizons Nintendo Direct, which premiered yesterday, had the difficult task of making amends with a fanbase that has become disenchanted with the game over the past year or so. Many of New Horizons’ biggest fans hadn’t held back from criticising the game and Nintendo for the lack of proper updates and the lack of communication in 2021, and while the game remains one of the Switch’s best-selling titles, there has been a sense for some time that a lot of folks were simply burnt out and no longer enjoying the experience.

Games have a natural lifespan, so under normal circumstances I’d say that’s just to be expected! But the Animal Crossing series has always been an outlier in that regard; the games challenge players to play long-term, even just for a few minutes a day, but the repetitiveness of the activities and dialogue, combined with no significant updates or new additions, meant New Horizons’ welcome wore out far more quickly than any previous entry in the series.

Brewster and the coffee shop are returning from past games in the Animal Crossing series.

Right off the bat, yesterday’s Nintendo Direct offered a lot of new content, and it’s coming soon – in just under three weeks’ time. The addition of a coffee shop, new islands to visit by boat, a parade of shops (on a separate island), the return of classic characters, more customisation options, more DIY options (including cooking), and an expansion of other aspects of island life, with new items, more storage space, and the like are all incredibly welcome additions. The new update will give players a lot to sink their teeth into – and will probably convince me to either pick up the island I haven’t touched in months or restart the game for a new experience.

However, I do have a few points of criticism. The first is that these updates feel, for the most part, like features that could and should have been part of the game when it arrived in 2020. New Horizons wasn’t exactly threadbare when it launched, but it was missing a number of important features that were part of older games in the series that hampered its longevity. As I’ve said on more than one occasion, New Horizons is basically a “release now, fix later” title.

Kapp’n is another returning character from past games in the series.

The second concern I have, and perhaps the most significant one, is that I don’t see these updates improving the game’s long-term prospects in any meaningful way. They’re going to be a ton of fun… at first. Players who’ve stuck with New Horizons since launch will be thrilled at finally having new things to do, and new players will discover a game that feels much more feature-rich. But when it comes to long-term playing, things like new island tours by boat or a first-person camera are going to lose their shine pretty quickly – just like terraforming and other features did when the original version of the game launched last year.

These new features paper over the cracks and don’t do anything to address New Horizons’ longstanding issues. There was no mention in the Nintendo Direct broadcast of new villager dialogue, for example, which is something the game desperately needs. Anyone who’s sunk a significant amount of time into New Horizons can tell you that villagers simply don’t have much to say after a while, and what they do say is incredibly repetitive. This also extends to Isabelle’s utterly useless “announcements” at the beginning of each day – she usually has nothing of consequence to say, has only a handful of different lines of dialogue, and ignores many goings-on around the island.

No, Isabelle… it really f**king doesn’t.

New Horizons wants to offer players a home-away-from-home on a fantastical island, and the neighbours players will have and befriend are a vital part of that experience. But because the villagers have so little to say, with some common in-game occurrences literally having only one line of dialogue, it makes playing the game feel incredibly repetitive to the point of becoming off-putting. Add into the mix that there are only eight villager “personality types” yet ten villager slots, and you’re always going to have at least two villagers who have identical dialogue even under the best possible conditions.

This was a prime candidate for an overhaul. Unlike adding new gameplay features, new dialogue requires far less development time and far fewer resources. The game’s modest file size could easily handle double the current amount of dialogue – if not more. While the addition of new features like the coffee shop will give villagers a few new things to say, at the end of the day they’re still going to largely be saying the same things that they always have. Once the novelty of some of these new features has worn off, players will be back where they started.

Failing to improve and expand villager dialogue feels like a wasted opportunity – one which seriously hampers New Horizons’ long-term prospects.

Also missing from the update were multiplayer mini-games. This is a feature I’ve argued needs to be part of New Horizons on several occasions now, and while it’s possible it will come in future as paid DLC, I don’t think that’s good enough. New Horizons currently offers incredibly bad value for players who want to play with friends – Switch Online isn’t free, after all – as there really isn’t anything substantial to do in multiplayer. Nothing in this update will change that, because players will be stuck with the same things to do as before: tour their friend’s island, talk to villagers, and that’s it.

Even some of the features that this update has added feel less than they could’ve been. The coffee shop and parade of shops are in fixed locations – in the museum or on a different island. Yet with a small amount of extra effort, surely Nintendo could’ve given players the option to place new shops and new buildings around their islands? As things sit at the moment, players have one shop, one tailor’s shop, and the museum as buildings that can be placed. Islands are decently-sized, so there was scope to add at least two or three new buildings. Giving players the option to create their own parade of shops would have been fun, and it feels like a missed opportunity that the update has added no new buildings at all.

Couldn’t some of these shops have been optional additions to a player’s island?

I’ve heard some fans argue that they’ve finished designing their island now, so they wouldn’t know where to place a new building. But that’s why something like the coffee shop could have been an option: either included as part of the museum or as a separate building like it was in New Leaf.

The main shop itself has also been ignored by the new update. New Leaf offered players five levels of shop expansion, but New Horizons only has one – and it seems like that’s all there will ever be. The shop doesn’t carry a huge amount of stock: six items at the most (if seasonal items are available). There was scope to expand the shop in the same way as the museum has been expanded, growing it to make it more useful – and to give players something to aim for and work towards.

The shop is staying in its current form.

The aforementioned parade of shops, which will be present on a separate island, could have been part of a shop expansion as well. Gardening items, different wallpapers and rugs, and other such things could have been given their own section within the shop if adding more new buildings to the island was off the table – or as an alternative option.

Kapp’n doesn’t feel like he has a lot to offer based on what we saw in the broadcast. Players have already been able to visit random islands via the airport, and adding a second way to visit a second set of random islands feels like something that will have limited use and, at least based on the way I play the game, is likely not to be used very often. Even if there are multiple new plants, shrubs, and trees, once these have been found and collected I don’t really see what else Kapp’n is going to be useful for – and this really comes back to what I was saying about the update’s longevity.

Players could already visit random islands via the airport… Kapp’n doesn’t seem to offer much that’s different.

Gyroids were never my thing in past Animal Crossing games, but they were always a part of the series so it’s nice to see them return. Brewster, the character who runs the coffee shop, was a big fan of Gyroids, so it makes sense that they’d be part of the update that brought him back. The addition of new items, new furniture, wallpapers, and the like is good, and the ability to hang items from the ceiling is likewise an extra dimension to customisation. None of that will be earth-shattering, but I love a game with customisation options, so adding more ways to customise and to make the island and player’s home feel unique is certainly a good thing.

The addition of town ordinances, which were present in New Leaf, will change things up a little and improve the quality-of-life for some players. Being able to shift the island’s activity to earlier or later in the day should allow some players with tight schedules the ability to play more at a more convenient time, and that’s a positive thing. Again, though, I feel like this should really have been part of the game from the beginning – it was part of New Leaf in 2013, so it can hardly be called a “new” feature.

Ordinances return from New Leaf.

Perhaps the one addition that interested me the most was the DIY expansion, particularly cooking. The addition of new vegetables and new crops seems to have opened up a range of new DIY recipes for food – and this looks like something that has the potential to be a lot of fun. New Horizons does have a number of food items already, but adding new ones and different ones that can be created is certainly something I find interesting.

DIY has been a double-edged sword in New Horizons sometimes, though. Item durability – a feature copied from the likes of Minecraft – is almost never handled well in any game, and it doesn’t work well in New Horizons. Having to constantly replace broken tools rapidly stops being fun – if it was ever fun – and the fact that DIY doesn’t work particularly well or especially intuitively has hampered the experience. For example, being able to craft more than one item at a time – particularly for one-time use items like fish bait – would massively improve the experience, as would the ability to craft tools in one step instead of two. Neither of these quality-of-life improvements has been added to New Horizons.

Being able to cook different dishes seems like a fun feature – and something actually new!

The addition of a first-person photo mode looks like fun, but the kind of gimmicky fun that I might use a few times at the most. New hairstyles might be fun for some people – and being able to represent different types of hair in a game is no bad thing. More K.K. Slider songs might be your thing… but it’s definitely not mine!

Being able to set up ladders at particular cliffs is something I can see being useful, even as the number of available inclines is slightly expanded. Also allowing players to navigate smaller gaps in between furniture is likewise something that will be useful in certain circumstances. I wouldn’t say that either are groundbreaking, but smaller quality-of-life improvements like these were definitely needed.

The ability to permanently set up ladders is a small addition, but a decent one.

So let’s talk about money. Everything we’ve discussed so far will be added for free, and that’s no bad thing. New Horizons did promise free updates when it launched. But this update will be the last free one for New Horizons, and the first paid DLC has already been announced.

Considering that there are still missing features, and that some quality-of-life additions, like new dialogue and improvements to crafting, haven’t been made, I can’t be the only one who feels it’s rather bold of Nintendo to begin demanding $25 for an expansion to the game – especially considering the expansion is based on 3DS title Happy Home Designer, and thus is hardly something we can call “new.”

New Horizons is getting its first paid DLC.

It also means that multiplayer mini-games – if they ever come to New Horizons, and it would be such a shame if they didn’t – will now almost certainly be paid DLC as well. The Happy Home Paradise DLC seems like it could be the first of many, and next year could see at least one or two more paid DLC packs as well – which would greatly increase the cost of playing New Horizons in full.

Happy Home Paradise looks like an updated riff on the Happy Home Designer concept. It does add new things, like partition walls, countertops, and so on, some of which can be brought to a player’s main island home as well. I’m not going to argue that Happy Home Paradise should’ve been free – though it absolutely could have been if Nintendo was a more customer-friendly company – but I’m not sure the timing is right considering that the base game will still be missing key features even after this latest – and final – update.

One of the features present in the DLC pack is the ability to build partition walls.

Version 2.0, which will be the final free update for New Horizons, still doesn’t get it over the line. The game is still going to be missing important features that previous entries in the series had. Some of these features – like multiplayer mini-games – gave the Animal Crossing series much of its long-term value, and without them it’s hard to see New Horizons being a game that will live up to the legacy of its predecessors. Don’t get me wrong, practically all of the additions and updates look like fun… but they look like short-term fun at best.

In addition, the game’s final update will do nothing to address player criticisms and complaints about a number of quality-of-life issues, some of which are pretty major. The lack of expanded dialogue for villagers, the lack of fixes for basic DIY issues, and a number of other points have all been ignored by Nintendo in their rush to blitz through New Horizons’ free updates so they could begin selling paid DLC. As a result, New Horizons in its base form is still not good enough for the kind of game it wants to be – and even the addition of this first paid expansion pack won’t address these concerns.

Adding a coffee shop doesn’t fix what’s fundamentally missing from New Horizons.

There are things to look forward to on the fifth of November, and I’m debating whether to jump back into the game or even start a new file in the run-up to the update going live. However, I’m already predicting that many of the new features added into the game will have a relatively short shelf-life, and while they may very well carry New Horizons into the beginning of 2022, the game’s longer-term prospects are still pretty poor.

I judge New Horizons based on how much I enjoyed its predecessor, New Leaf. I played that game on and off for more than seven years because it just had so much to offer and so much going on to convince me to keep coming back. I got bored of New Horizons within a couple of months, and while two months and 100+ hours is definitely a lot of time when compared to many other games, by Animal Crossing standards that’s nothing. Unfortunately everything I’ve seen from this update, and its paid DLC companion, tells me that New Horizons is going to get a short-term fix that will tide fans over for a little while but ultimately does nothing to address the game’s real longevity.

Maybe I’m the one who’s wrong – maybe New Horizons was never meant to be the kind of long-term project that its predecessors were. Perhaps gaming has just changed too much in the past decade or so such that a long-term experience was never something that most players were interested in. If that’s the case then I’m judging New Horizons unfairly. Maybe it was just never meant to be the long-term experience that I expected.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is out now for Nintendo Switch. Version 2.0 will launch on the 5th of November 2021 as a free update, and Happy Home Paradise will launch also on the 5th of November 2021 as paid DLC. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons needs a BIG update this summer

Some of the biggest fans of Animal Crossing: New Horizons are beginning to sour on the game, having come to realise something I commented on last year: New Horizons feels incomplete, as though it were released before it was ready. At time of writing it has been basically three months since the game was last updated (version 1.10 came out on the 28th of April) and that update hardly added anything of consequence to the game.

New Horizons was released along with the promise of a plethora of updates, with many publications picking up the same figure: updates would continue to roll out for the game for at least three years. Less than half of that time has elapsed, yet many fans are questioning whether the next update will be the last, such has been the lack of care and lack of communication from Nintendo.

Nintendo has not done a good job at updating New Horizons, nor at keeping players informed about what’s coming next for the game.

Nintendo seems content to roll around in the money it’s made from sales of the game, no longer caring that the players who paid £55 or $60 are becoming increasingly dissatisfied. The company’s attitude seems to be “we’ve already got your money, so piss off.” After such a long time with no news and no updates, in order to win back the support of the folks who should be the game’s biggest fans Nintendo has to go all-in with the next update and bring something big to the table.

There are many, many things wrong with New Horizons in mid-2021 that make the game so much less than it could be, and a poor relation in many respects to its predecessor: 2013 Nintendo 3DS title Animal Crossing: New Leaf. As I said recently, New Horizons effectively offers players nothing to do in multiplayer, and is not worth paying for a Switch Online subscription. There simply isn’t anything to do aside from visit a friend’s island, because when you get there and you’ve had a look around, that’s it. There are no mini-games to play, there’s nothing different to collect, and compared to New Leaf – a game with such a fun multiplayer mode that I was still dabbling in it with friends more than seven years after the game’s release – New Horizons is absolutely boring.

Multiplayer mini-games on the tropical island were a huge part of New Leaf and are wholly absent in New Horizons.

The addition of multiplayer mini-games would be transformative for New Horizons as an online social experience, even if a dedicated level or area to play them wasn’t included. Simply being able to play a selection of mini-games on your island or a friend’s would give players a reason to return to the game and play together; such an incentive is sorely lacking in the current version of the game. It doesn’t seem like something that would be too difficult to implement, either, especially if it were done from the town square on a player’s island with no new characters or areas needing to be added to the game.

The next thing New Horizons needs is something it shouldn’t need… last year’s holiday events. For some inexplicable yet typically stupid Nintendo reason, 2020’s updates only added holiday-themed events (Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) for the calendar year 2020. That means that the holidays are not present for 2021 and onward, and since New Horizons has an in-game calendar and strongly encourages players to play in real-time, this makes no sense. Why were the holidays even removed for 2021? Which incompetent moron thought that made sense?

Why were holiday events (like Toy Day, pictured above) not added for years other than 2020? That makes no sense at all.

Re-adding the holidays means Nintendo has created more work for its developers at a time when coronavirus is still having an impact on the games industry, disproportionately so in Japan. This has arguably slowed the pace of development on updates for the game, as the need to go back and re-do last year’s content is going to take time away from other aspects of development. It shouldn’t have happened to begin with, but at the very least the holiday events need to be re-added as soon as possible – and not just for 2021, either.

There are myriad quality-of-life improvements that the game is crying out for, too. Villager dialogue is perhaps the biggest, because to call the things villagers say “repetitive” would be unnecessarily kind. I’m by no means the world’s biggest New Horizons player (I sunk a little over 120 hours into the game in 2020) yet I’m completely burned out on talking to any of the villagers on my island. Even returning to the game after an absence of several months quickly became dull and boring because most of the villagers have only a handful of things to say in any given situation.

Villager dialogue is incredibly bland and repetitive.

For example, when walking into a villager’s home and finding them crafting an item, each villager “type” (of which there are only eight) has literally only got one line of dialogue that they repeat every single time. There are only eight villager types, yet there are potentially ten villager spots on a player’s island, which means a minimum of three characters will always have identical things to say. This compounded the lack of dialogue variety for me, especially when I found myself with three or four of the same villager type.

While we’re on the subject of dialogue, Isabelle’s daily announcements should either be changed to actually tell players what’s going on or else scrapped altogether. Isabelle was a popular character in New Leaf, but with Tom Nook assuming a larger role in the Resident Services building in New Horizons she takes on a much smaller role, and the daily announcements were clearly intended to expand that. But as with the villagers, Isabelle has only a handful of things to say, and these get incredibly repetitive.

No, Isabelle. No it does not.

Her daily announcements would be a great way to communicate to players things that might be taking place on the island: visiting special characters, for example. Yet Isabelle never mentions any of these, instead repeating the same uninspired line about what she supposedly watched on television. It’s just boring.

New Horizons doesn’t need voice actors to come in and record new lines for hours and hours. All of this is text-based, so writing a few more lines – or a few thousand more, even – wouldn’t be beyond Nintendo’s capabilities, and would scarcely even pad out the game’s modest file size when compared to some of the other things fans have been requesting, such as bringing back absent characters and items.

The game is in dire need of more updates and more things to do.

Speaking of which, there are several characters who could make an overdue return to the game. One of the most-requested absent characters is Brewster, a pigeon who ran a coffee shop in past games. The coffee shop could return too, either as an addition to an existing building or better yet, by being a brand-new building for players to place on their islands. Timmy and Tommy’s shop could also be expanded further, allowing it to sell more than the half a dozen or so items it currently offers each day. There’s also scope to bring in a dedicated shoe shop, gardening shop, fortune teller’s shop, or Gracie’s ultra-luxurious item shop. Whether any of these shops, which were present in New Leaf and City Folk, will make it is anyone’s guess, but many fans are asking for more shops and places to visit on their islands.

Tortimer and Kapp’n, who were present in New Leaf and earlier entries in the series, could also make a return, perhaps appearing in the town square to oversee mini-games. Though of course it would be great to get a new location for the mini-games à la New Leaf, in order to simplify things I’m sure players would be more than happy to see them visit their island like other special characters do.

The Roost – another missing feature from past games in the series.
Picture Credit: Animal Crossing Wiki

Games have a natural lifespan, and for folks who’ve sunk hundreds or even thousands of hours into New Horizons, perhaps they were always eventually going to hit the wall and arrive at the end of the road. But considering that, for me at least, the previous entry in the series managed to give me seven years’ worth of casual enjoyment, for New Horizons to have lasted less than eighteen months before even its biggest fans have become bored and burned out is poor. I think we were all expecting better from Nintendo.

A big update this summer would go a long way to making up for it, and would bring back many lapsed players – like myself, as I haven’t checked in with my island in months at this point! The addition of new buildings, like the coffee shop, would be fantastic, but what the game desperately needs is mini-games and a compelling multiplayer offering, and that really ought to be Nintendo’s focus. As I said last time, New Horizons doesn’t have a multiplayer mode in its current form. It pretends to, but when you actually try it out you find very quickly that there just isn’t anything to do. Folks who bought Switch Online to play this game surely feel they got swindled.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf can feel rather empty or even boring.

New dialogue for existing characters and villagers would also spice things up and give players a reason to actually play the game once again. A game that aims to be a gentle, slow-paced “life simulator” loses so much when the villagers on your island who are supposedly your friends feel like one-dimensional, incredibly repetitive video game characters instead of making a basic effort to make them seem like more than that. Considering all of the in-game dialogue is text, I don’t see why New Horizons can’t simply add more. It would be incredibly easy to do and wouldn’t compromise the game in any way, nor even make it significantly larger on disc.

So there we go. New Horizons needs to do something big in fairly short order to pacify its remaining playerbase and to convince folks that this once-celebrated game isn’t just a one-trick pony. Well over a year on from its release it still offers less than New Leaf did at launch in 2013, and for a game that had such promise I think that’s a real shame. I ended my original review of the game last year by saying this: “I was still playing New Leaf earlier this year, seven years on from its release. Will I still be playing New Horizons after such a long time? If I’m still alive and kicking in 2027, remind me to come back and tell you.”

Unless the game gets a significant update – and soon – there’s not even a question of playing New Horizons in 2027. I won’t even be playing it in the second half of 2021.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is out now for Nintendo Switch. The Animal Crossing series – including New Leaf, New Horizons, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Nintendo. Some promotional screenshots courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is still missing an incredibly basic feature

It’s been just over a year since the launch of Animal Crossing: New Horizons for Nintendo Switch, the latest entry in a series that has been running since the GameCube era. And New Horizons has been incredibly popular, rising rapidly to become the Switch’s second best-selling game, behind only Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Considering Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a glorified Wii U port (as are many Switch games, but that’s a battle for another day), I’d say that makes New Horizons the best-selling game that was made from the ground up for the new console! Am I splitting hairs? Well, maybe.

I spent a lot of time with New Horizons in the weeks after its launch. With over 120 hours played it became one of my most-played games of 2020, and I gave it the “best casual game” award as the year drew to a close. But shortly after publishing my review of the game – which you can find by clicking or tapping here, by the way – I put it down for almost six months. When I picked it up again, although there were a handful of updates which added different features, I was surprised to see that New Horizons is still missing something incredibly basic, a feature that would make the game infinitely more fun and increase its longevity substantially. I’m talking about mini-games.

New Horizons is missing something important.

New Horizons has a shit multiplayer mode. In fact, its multiplayer mode is so utterly threadbare that it isn’t a stretch to say that there’s literally nothing to do when playing with friends. You can exchange gifts if you have an in-game item your friend desperately wants, and you can check out the designs and scenery on their island, but that’s it. There isn’t anything to do together at all – and especially for players who paid extra for Nintendo’s Switch Online service only to be able to play New Horizons, that’s incredibly disappointing.

I wouldn’t have picked up Switch Online but for New Horizons. I certainly wasn’t going to pay to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe online after Nintendo gated off what had previously been a free online mode behind their new paywall, and I was content to skip Switch Online altogether. But New Horizons – and a couple of friends of mine who play – convinced me to sign up, and were it not for the fact that I’ve played a couple of other titles online (and will hopefully pick up Fall Guys when it arrives later in the year) I’d feel I 100% wasted my money.

Do not buy a Switch Online subscription just to play New Horizons… it isn’t worth it.

To understand why, and why I’m so sour about this, we need to step back one iteration in the Animal Crossing series, back to 2013’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf. New Leaf introduced a number of new features when it debuted on the Nintendo 3DS, and unlike New Horizons, felt like a game that was actually complete when it launched. One of the most fun features, and the main reason I was still playing New Leaf seven years after its release, was an area outside of the main map called the “tropical island.” This area is absent from New Horizons – as are a number of other Animal Crossing staples, despite the game having a full year’s worth of updates under its belt.

The tropical island in New Leaf was more than just a different area to visit with different fruit trees and bugs to catch. It offered mini-games to play, and these could be played with friends – for free, by the way – via either of the Nintendo 3DS’ two multiplayer options (local or online). These mini-games were so much fun, especially when playing with a friend, and gave New Leaf a whole extra lease of life that, frankly, the main game did not have. New Horizons does not have this, and thus a key component of the Animal Crossing experience is lacking.

An example of a tropical island mini-game.

The mini-games New Leaf offered were incredibly varied. Some would put a timer on everyday Animal Crossing activities – like fishing or popping balloons. Others were entirely new for the tropical island, such as using a soft mallet to hit an out-of-control robot. For me – and practically everyone else I knew who played New Leaf – these mini-games were an incredibly important part of the fun, and a mainstay of multiplayer sessions.

The mini-games aren’t the only feature New Horizons is missing. There are many others we could point to, like the coffee shop, the ability to set town ordinances, additional expansions of the shop, the fortune-tellers, the shoe-shop, the gardening shop, and so on. Holidays were also missing at launch, including Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. These were patched in later… but that’s no good for players who don’t have their Switch connected to the internet, or for whom data caps apply. Many kids play New Horizons, and I’m sure not all of them are allowed to connect their consoles to the internet.

“Toy Day” – a.k.a. Christmas – should not have been an update, it should’ve been part of the game at launch.

As I said once before, it’s hard to escape the feeling that New Horizons was released in an incomplete state. Although no major bugs or glitches are present, the game itself is missing key features, and can feel rather threadbare. New features, like terraforming, don’t make up for the lack of things like mini-games, not least because terraforming is a single-player-only activity!

I plan to do a full update of my review at some point soon, so I won’t dive too deeply into all of the missing or removed features here. But I would certainly make the case that these “free updates” are a lot less generous than they appear to be on the surface. All Nintendo is really doing is adding into the game features that should have already been present – features that were part of previous Animal Crossing titles that were removed, or not ready, when New Horizons launched.

At least we can still listen to K.K. Slider’s songs…

If I were in charge of the project, getting mini-games back into New Horizons in some form would be a priority. Nintendo spent much of 2020 adding holiday-themed events, including the aforementioned Halloween and Christmas, so perhaps now is the time to switch focus and make a big push to get mini-games back. Even if the tropical island itself doesn’t return as its own entire area of the map, the ability to play mini-games with villagers in single-player and with friends in multiplayer would quite literally transform the game and make it so much more enjoyable.

Right now, New Horizons doesn’t feel worthwhile to play with friends. After collecting all of the five different fruits (previous games even had more types of fruit!) and seeing their island, there’s really nothing to do. You can “make your own fun,” is what some super-fans and defenders of the game will say. But what fun can you make, exactly? Hide-and-seek works fine, I guess, with other players. But there’s no timed events, no special events like popping the most balloons or matching the right fossils; these things used to be part of Animal Crossing, and Nintendo opted to remove them. By doing so, New Horizons’ multiplayer is incredibly weak, and far, far worse than New Leaf offered eight years ago on much less impressive hardware. That shouldn’t have happened, and we shouldn’t let Nintendo get away with it.

2013’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf had a superior multiplayer experience.

I’ve already called out New Horizons for the incredibly poor way it handles save files; only allowing one island per console is a cheap trick to force players – and especially parents – to buy more Switch consoles. But the lack of in-game content, especially for multiplayer, deserves criticism too. Considering the game invites players to pay extra for Switch Online, the very least Nintendo could do is ensure that there was something for us to do.

I held off writing this piece for a long time, hoping that the next update or the next one after that would add in mini-games, the tropical island, or both. But after more than a year, New Horizons’ multiplayer remains in a useless state. There’s very little fun to be had playing with friends, and that situation shouldn’t go unnoticed. I’ll happily recommend New Horizons to players looking for a fun single-player experience – albeit with the caveat that it will probably be better and have more to offer in another year or two’s time. But as a multiplayer game, and especially as a reason to buy a Switch Online subscription? 0/10. Impossible to recommend New Horizons in its current state.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is out now for Nintendo Switch, and is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Yesterday’s Nintendo Direct – reaction

Nintendo struck gold with their Nintendo Direct broadcasts a few years ago, advertising their upcoming games straight to their biggest fans. Nintendo Direct broadcasts have become one of the premiere events in games marketing, and the format has been emulated by a number of other companies – especially with the pandemic forcing the cancellation of big events like E3.

Yesterday’s Nintendo Direct was the first major broadcast that the company has done in some time, though. Over the last year or so, Nintendo Directs have focused either on third-party titles being ported to the Switch or on single games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This one promised to be different, showing off Nintendo’s plans for the first half of 2021.

The pre-Direct spiel sounded interesting.

2021 is an interesting year for Nintendo. The company has often used the anniversaries of major releases as the springboard for themed events, and this year marks a number of such anniversaries. The Legend of Zelda was released in 1986, making this year the series’ 35th anniversary. Additionally, it marks the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Nintendo 64 – along with the 25th anniversaries of such classics as Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, Wave Race 64, and even Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. As you may recall, I’ve never been all that interested in the Zelda series, but I was very curious to see if there would be any mention of the Nintendo 64’s anniversary.

2021 is also the 20th anniversary of the launch of the GameCube – and with it such titles as Luigi’s Mansion and Super Smash Bros. Melee. The Wii launched in 2006, making this year the console’s 15th anniversary… so you get the picture. There are potentially a lot of anniversary-themed events coming from Nintendo!

It’s Mario Kart 64′s 25th anniversary later this year.

My most recent experience with a Nintendo game was underwhelming. Super Mario 3D All-Stars was fine… but not great. Nintendo’s approach to only release the game for a limited time meant that I rushed to pre-order it, but on reflection I wish I hadn’t. The version of Super Mario 64 contained in that package is actually worse in some ways than either the original or emulated versions – it has a weird aspect ratio meaning that, whether you play in handheld mode or docked, you’re stuck with thick black bars on all four sides of the screen. It’s really offputting.

But we’ve drifted off-topic! I went into yesterday’s Nintendo Direct with cautious interest but no plans to rush into a purchase or pre-order. However, with Nintendo’s predilection for anniversaries and the rumours of news about Mario and/or Zelda, plus the fifty-minute advertised runtime, I was expecting at least something of note.

Senior Nintendo manager Shinya Takahashi presented yesterday’s Nintendo Direct.

There were a few points of interest, but nothing that blew me away. This kind of “event” broadcast can be a double-edged sword for Nintendo, because on the one hand there was a lot of hype and interest over the last couple of days – but that hype can come crashing down if expectations are not met. And while I would say that, from my point of view, what was shown off was perfectly fine, there was nothing spectacular or that felt like an immediate must-buy. Fans expecting to hear about Breath of the Wild 2 or a big Zelda or Mario event will have certainly come away disappointed.

So let’s get into the announcements that were of interest to me. First, Fall Guys is finally making its way to the Switch! I suggested way back in August when I first played the game that it would be an absolutely perfect fit for the Switch, and I’m so glad to see developers Mediatonic agreed. The Switch has an install base of some 60+ million players, many of whom are interested in this kind of fun, pick-up-and-play title. I’ve recently got back into playing Fall Guys just in the last couple of weeks, and I’m seriously considering getting the Switch version too. The only downside is that Fall Guys will require Nintendo’s paid Switch Online service.

Fall Guys is coming to the Switch.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is getting a number of Super Mario-themed items. This is something that fans of the game had been expecting; a Mario crossover had been teased as early as last year. But from what we saw in the broadcast the items look like fun, and they’re all very much on theme! Earlier Animal Crossing titles had Nintendo- and Mario-themed items included, so this is one more missing feature that has been re-added rather than something altogether new – but that’s been a pattern with New Horizons since it was launched. My first impression was that the items look very similar to those in Super Mario 3D World – the remaster of which has just been released for Switch. Perhaps that is not a coincidence!

I’ve never tried the Splatoon games, though they’ve always looked like fun. Nintendo opted to use Splatoon 3 as the broadcast’s big finale – I’m not sure how well that worked given that the game isn’t coming until 2022, and that it’s very much a second-tier series in the Nintendo library. But it looks like more of the same – another fun game in what is held up as a fun series.

Splatoon 3 was announced… but it isn’t going to be released for a while yet.

Speaking of 2022, there were several titles discussed or shown off that were coming either much later this year or not till next year. Ordinarily I wouldn’t remark on something like that, but the pre-broadcast statement (which you can see above) said explicitly that what would be shown off were games coming in “the first half of 2021.” Why set that expectation only to break it? If they had said “coming soon,” or something like that, there’d be no reason to comment. It just struck me as a little odd.

A notable port was that of battle royale first-person shooter Apex Legends. I’m not convinced Apex Legends will find a huge Switch audience, but if it allows players to sign in using their existing account then perhaps being able to play on the go will prove popular – as it has with other titles already. Hades, one of the best indie titles of last year, was already available digitally on the Switch but is now getting a physical release too. Hades was already a great fit for the Switch, and Nintendo’s console with its cartridge system is the one remaining place in gaming where physical copies of games are still widely popular!

Indie game Hades is getting a physical release.

Mario Golf: Super Rush is the latest in a long line of Mario sports titles, and looks like fun. Its Wii-like motion controls (using the Joy-con controllers) will surely win it some praise, and these arcade-style sports games are usually well-received, especially on Nintendo hardware. That was the only new Mario title announced. As for the Zelda series, after the director sought to reassure fans that Breath of the Wild 2 is coming along nicely, the Zelda series was treated to a remaster of Skyward Sword – which originally released in 2011. Not sure how well its mapping of the Wii’s motion controls to the Switch’s thumbsticks will work – but the option to retain the motion controls using the Joy-con controllers will still be present.

There was a strange re-release announced of 2005 Xbox/PlayStation 2 game Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse. I vaguely remember that game from the Xbox era – it has a fun premise but, if I recall correctly, was little more than average. So I was surprised to learn it’s being re-released not only for the Switch but also for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One!

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword can be played using motion controls.

And that’s it really. There were some updates and new characters for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Hyrule Warriors, as well as updates announced for a couple of other titles. Nothing in yesterday’s Nintendo Direct was bad, but nothing really leapt out at me as being fantastic or a wonderful surprise. It was just… okay.

Therein lies the danger with hyping up an event like this. Nintendo hadn’t done a proper Direct broadcast in a while, so expectations were high for what may be announced. The pandemic has certainly slowed work in Japan – just as it has everywhere else – so it’s no criticism that they haven’t got more to say. That’s something I feel most people will understand. But given that there really wasn’t that much to say – and that some of what was shown off isn’t coming any time soon – perhaps there was a better way to do it than by hyping up a big broadcast like this one. I have no doubt that some Nintendo fans – especially those invested in Zelda and expecting something big – came away at least a little disappointed.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective developer, publisher, and/or studio. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.


You can watch the full Nintendo Direct broadcast below:

Five things to watch at New Year (instead of fireworks)

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

This year has seen a lot of cancellations, and as the end of the year approaches that has extended to New Year celebrations too. Around the world, fireworks displays and other big events are being shut down due to the pandemic, and while I’m sure most of you are too sensible to have even considered attending such an event in person, many of these parties and countdowns were scheduled to be televised, which leaves us with a gaping hole in our New Year’s Eve viewing. With parties also off the agenda for most of us, I thought I’d put together a fun list of things to watch instead as the minutes tick closer to midnight.

I’ve never been particularly impressed by fireworks. A professional display can be fun to see if you’re there in person, but on television much of the impact is lost. Despite that, for the last few years I’ve spent my New Year’s Eves with the London fireworks display on television – one of the many events that has been cancelled this time around – simply because there aren’t a lot of other options. At least, there weren’t until now!

I started thinking about other things to watch, and I came up with five potentially fun ideas (and a couple of bonus ones!)

Number 1: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Timestamp: 2:50:20 (Extended Edition Blu-ray)

“So it begins.”

I have to admit this one is not an original idea (I stole it from a meme). But if you want to begin the new year with Théoden of Rohan proclaiming “so it begins,” you can! If you start The Two Towers at precisely 21:09:40 (assuming you have the extended edition on Blu-ray), Théoden will utter that line at the stroke of midnight. Not only that, but you’ll begin the year with one of the best fantasy battles ever filmed: the Battle of Helm’s Deep.

Why not make New Year’s Eve a Lord of the Rings marathon while you’re at it? I could think of far worse ways to start the new year than with three of the finest films of the genre.

Number 2: Phineas & Ferb Season 4, Episode 2: For Your Ice Only/Happy New Year (2012)

Timestamp: 00:19:26 (Disney+ version)

Perry the Platypus.

Episodes of Phineas and Ferb come bundled in pairs on Disney+, so if you want to celebrate with Phineas, Ferb, Candace, Perry, and Dr Doofenshmirtz you’ll have to start this duo of episodes at precisely 23:40:34 on New Year’s Eve. That will ring in the New Year with a countdown, a ball drop (from outer space, no less) and one of Dr Doofenshmirtz’s wacky inventions.

The song from this episode, which itself is titled Happy New Year, has to be one of the show’s best, and is well worth a listen even if you don’t watch the entire story. I’ve been a fan of this Disney Channel cartoon since it premiered, and I recently reviewed Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe.

Number 3: Ghostbusters II (1989)

A crowd singing Auld Lang Syne in Ghostbusters II.

The climactic final act of Ghostbusters II takes place on New Year’s Eve in New York City, and if you’re up for some comedy to ring in 2021, this could be the way to do it! Though not as spectacular as the 1984 original, Ghostbusters II is nevertheless decent, and manages to have heart despite the ridiculous nature of its premise.

If you start the film around 22:30, you’ll get to the scenes on New Year’s Eve by midnight, and will have started the new year with a funny, heartwarming, and slightly spooky tale.

Number 4: Futurama – Season 1, Episode 1: Space Pilot 3000

Timestamp: 00:01:52 (DVD)

Fry in Space Pilot 3000.

Futurama premiered in 1999, and fittingly its pilot episode was set on Millennium Eve. Fry, a pizza delivery guy, ends up alone – before falling into a cryogenic stasis chamber and waking up 1,000 years later! If you begin the episode – at least, the DVD version – at 23:58:08 on New Year’s Eve, you’ll begin the new year not just with Fry, but with a surprisingly fun multilingual New Year’s countdown.

If you haven’t seen Futurama in a while, this could be a fun way to get back into it. So what do you say? Wanna go around again?

Number 5: Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 3, Episode 26: The Best of Both Worlds (1990)

Timestamp: 00:43:58

Commanders Shelby and Riker in The Best of Both Worlds.

It wouldn’t be a Trekking with Dennis list without some Star Trek, right? If you begin watching The Best of Both Worlds (part one or the omnibus version on Blu-ray and Netflix) at precisely 23:16:02 on New Year’s Eve, you will begin the new year with Locutus proclaiming that “resistance is futile!” The Best of Both Worlds would be many folks’ pick for the absolute best episode of The Next Generation, and it’s an engrossing watch even thirty years later.

Stick around for the second part to see how Riker and the crew manage to overcome the Borg incursion into Federation space, and start the new year with one of the best and most iconic Star Trek stories there is. I’d challenge even non-Trekkies to be underwhelmed with that!

Bonus #1: Last year’s London fireworks!

The fireworks displays in London are centred around the London Eye.

This one is a total cheat because I said we would look at things to watch instead of the usual fireworks displays. But on YouTube you can find the official broadcasts of many different New Year’s Eve events, including the London fireworks. If you go for the official (BBC) broadcast of the 2019-20 fireworks show, you’ll need to start it at eleven seconds to midnight in order for the countdown to line up. That’s not a lot of room for error if you’re planning on having a busy evening!

There are many recordings of these shows available online, and you can check out the New York ball drop, Hogmanay in Scotland, and many more. Out of everything I’ve put forward, picking one of these would make for the most “normal” feeling New Year’s Eve, so if you’ve had anxieties or worries this year, or if you’re caring for someone who is keen on a return to normalcy, this could be a good option. You can even pick which year you’d like to relive. Personally I might go back and re-celebrate the Millennium!

Bonus #2: Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch, 2020)

No that’s not the New Year’s event… but it could look similar.

Though I believe it hasn’t yet been officially confirmed, every past game in the Animal Crossing series featured a New Year’s Eve event, complete with countdown, party poppers, and an in-game fireworks display. New Horizons will almost certainly follow suit, with events taking place either side of midnight. If you’ve been spending a lot of time on your island this year, it could be fun to spend New Year with your animal friends.

Games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons provide players with these kinds of experiences. If you’re missing the party atmosphere and want to feel like you’re participating in an event instead of simply watching along, this could be perfect. Well not perfect, but a reasonable substitute nevertheless.

So that’s it. A few silly suggestions for what to watch on New Year. It’s not long now till 2020 will be finally over, and with the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine having already begun – at least here in the UK – hopefully by the time we’re thinking about the next New Year’s Eve, things will be much closer to normal.

Stay tuned because I have more festive and holiday-themed things to come before we reach 2021!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, broadcaster, distributor, or production company. Header image courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Release now, fix later

The rise of the internet, and the fact that more and more people around the world have a reliable connection to it, has changed the way video games are being made and released. Many games are no longer finished – or even close to finished – when they launch. “Release now, fix later” has become the standard model across the games industry, but I feel it does gamers a disservice – as well as being potentially costly for games companies.

This column was prompted by – of all titles – Animal Crossing: New Horizons. In a video a couple of days ago, Nintendo announced the latest update for the game, bringing the ability to have a cloud save backup (for those players who paid for Switch Online), as well as a few other additions to gameplay. This is the third major update to the game, and a fourth was teased right at the end of the video. While New Horizons’ updates have brought new features to the game – most of which have been longstanding features of the Animal Crossing franchise that were missing at launch – shouldn’t it beg the question why they weren’t included in the first place?

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is getting an update.

Before you say “coronavirus”, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released on the 20th of March, before the worst effects of the pandemic and its associated effects on working were strongly felt. And this business model has been used for years; expansion packs used to be additions to already-complete games, like Age of Empires adding its Rise of Rome expansion, for example. But sometime in the mid/late 2000s, companies began changing the way expansions worked. Increasing internet connectivity and faster download speeds meant it was possible to release all kinds of post-launch patches and DLC, even on consoles, which had previously lacked internet connectivity.

Many gamers remember Oblivion’s infamous “horse armour” DLC, which was one of the first examples of a small piece of cosmetic paid-for DLC that came to prominence. At the time I remember thinking that no one would pay money for something that silly, but enough people bought it – and similar items – that companies like Bethesda realised they had a huge opportunity on their hands.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s infamous Horse Armour DLC.

There are really two issues here – paid DLC that could and should have been part of the base game, and unfinished games that are subsequently updated either through paid DLC or for free. These issues can be related, and both are pretty crappy from a consumer standpoint. Even when updates are free, it really does leave me wondering why a games company would risk releasing an incomplete title.

Reviews for Bioware’s Anthem, released last year, were mediocre. The game was criticised for a number of issues, including repetitive gameplay, a lack of fun items, and a bland story. Bioware and EA planned Anthem as one of these “ten-year experiences”, but within a single year the game’s updates had been dropped from the schedule and as of right now it seems pretty dead. This is the danger of launching an incomplete title – it receives negative or mixed reviews, putting people off. Why should I, as a consumer, invest £55 into a game that’s average at best with vague promises of getting better later? That’s no way to market a product.

Anthem was incomplete at launch and received mediocre reviews as a result.

My review of Animal Crossing: New Horizons made note of some of the missing features that have subsequently been added to the game. I don’t want to give myself too much credit here, but if a potential buyer had read my review, in which I said that I enjoyed the experience overall but that it felt a little threadbare compared to the previous entry in the Animal Crossing series, they may have chosen not to pick up a copy. While New Horizons generally received glowing reviews, there were others like mine which took a more nuanced approach to the game, pointing out some of its big missing features.

Including these missing features now is a good thing, and I’m glad it was done for free instead of as paid DLC. But waiting an extra couple of months to release the title with everything already included would have been better – and it would have meant, from my point of view, that some of those points of criticism and negativity could have been omitted from my review. I don’t want to give a company much credit for adding a missing feature after launch that should have been present from the start.

This feature, soon to be added to New Horizons, should have been available at launch.

I’m not disappointed by Animal Crossing: New Horizons adding a free update that brings in more features, but I am confused as to why those features weren’t part of the original experience. I had fun playing New Horizons overall – I played it almost every day for two months, and sunk over 120 hours into the game in that time. I’m tempted to jump back in to see what the update has to offer, but I’m also disappointed to have missed out on playing the complete game the first time around.

Microsoft showed off a first look at Halo Infinite a few days ago, and as I noted at the time the response was lacklustre. I felt the game looked okay – if clearly current-gen – but upon hearing that it’s planned to be another “ten-year experience”, alarm bells started to ring. That kind of live service business model almost always results in games that are released incomplete. “Release now, fix later” is the mantra. And I can think of only a few such titles that came anywhere close to lasting ten years.

Who genuinely believes Halo: Infinite will last ten years? If you put your hand up, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

The 2014 game Destiny – released, somewhat ironically, by the Halo series’ former development studio Bungie – was one of the most high-profile underperfomers. Its promised decade of updates and improvements lasted barely two years, and a full sequel was released only three years after the first game launched.

With the exception of a minority of gamers who dedicate most of their time to a single title, people like having a variety of things to play. After completing a game, they’re ready to move on to the next. This surely means that the entire concept of live services and ongoing updates is flawed – most players won’t stick around no matter what the update brings as they’re already planning their next title.

I’ve just completed Jedi: Fallen Order and I’m ready to find something else to play. Even if it was promising updates and DLC I wouldn’t be sticking around for years playing the same game.

These business decisions are taken by executives and managers; they see the success of a title like Grand Theft Auto V and think they can replicate its accomplishment with their own “ten-year plan”. Some poor team of developers is then tasked with bringing that experience to life, but without the same resources as a studio like Rockstar, which puts years and years of development time into its biggest titles. The result is a half-baked game that players abandon – if anyone even played it in the first place.

In short, the internet has made it very easy for companies to try their luck by releasing an unfinished game. Many titles in 2020 have day-one patches that fix bugs and improve gameplay, and while those things aren’t bad in and of themselves, it’s something that titles in the past couldn’t get away with. Because on the developer side it’s relatively easy to roll out a patch, there’s a temptation for games to be “good enough” at release with a view to fixing them later.

These decisions are taken by CEOs and managers who are trying to imitate the financial success of better titles.

The problem is that they usually aren’t “good enough”, and by the time updates, patches, and DLC plug the holes of an incomplete title, players have moved on. If a game has a bad enough launch these planned updates and DLC may never even see the light of day. The biggest example of this in recent years has to be Mass Effect: Andromeda, a game that massively underperformed at launch due to bugs and glitches that should have been fixed in pre-alpha. Andromeda’s DLC was scrapped and its story abandoned in the aftermath of bad reviews and online mockery, meaning that the players who stuck it out got screwed over twice: first by the crappy launch of a broken game, and second by the game’s abandonment.

The “release now, fix later” business model doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon, which is unfortunate. It really can harm games and make them less enjoyable at the moment where they have the most potential. If all the hype and excitement for a new title ends with a letdown, it can be impossible to recover from that. It can doom not only a single title but, as we saw in the case of Mass Effect: Andromeda, a whole franchise.

There is a frequently-overused quote from Super Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto: “a delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever.” Some games companies think that rule no longer applies. Unfortunately for them, in practically every case it still does.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective developer, studio, and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons – a review

I’ve sunk over 120 hours into Animal Crossing: New Horizons at time of writing, making it my most-played game of 2020 so far, even eclipsing Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition on PC. For a game to have well over 100 hours of playtime and enjoyment is no mean feat, especially for someone like myself – as I’ve written about a number of times here on the website, I find my ability and desire to sit down and play games has waned a lot over the last decade or so. And even with such a large amount of time spent on the game, I haven’t unlocked or accomplished everything; not even close. I am, however, at a point where I feel like I’ve achieved as much as I reasonably can with my current Animal Crossing: New Horizons save file, and as such I feel able to finally put pen to paper and review the game.

First thing’s first: there’s a debate among fans of the Animal Crossing series surrounding whether or not to “time travel” – that is, to deliberately change the in-game time and date to skip over waiting for things to happen, allowing multiple in-game days to be played without those days being tied to real time. I understand both sides of the argument, and as it’s a single-player title, I don’t really think it matters at the end of the day. My personal preference is for not time-travelling, so my island was built up in real time. For the purposes of a review, I think that’s probably a good thing as it means that I’ve played the game “as intended”. It’s taken me two months of regularly playing the game to get my island to this point.

New Horizons gives players a deserted island to tame.

I very rarely buy games when they’re first released. Waiting even six months can often mean a sale or price reduction, and it’s unusual for me to be so keen on a game that I’m willing to shell out £50-55 within days of its release. Yet that’s what I did for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The previous entry in the Animal Crossing series was released for the Nintendo 3DS in 2013, and that game – Animal Crossing: New Leaf – is up there with Mario Kart 7 as one of my favourite 3DS titles. Even earlier this year, seven years on from its release, I was still playing New Leaf. There aren’t many other games from seven years ago that I’m still playing!

New Leaf had been my introduction to the Animal Crossing series, and as it was a game I enjoyed so much, there will inevitably be comparisons to New Horizons – not all of them favourable.

For practically any other game, 100+ hours of enjoyment would be a great accomplishment. Just in the last few months we’ve seen brand new full-priced titles which only offer campaigns that last five or six hours, so for my money there’s no question that New Horizons offers good value. As I’ve written previously, the length of time I can expect to enjoy a title can be a factor in deciding whether to buy it or not, especially when we’re talking about a commitment of £50-55. In addition, those hours have been spread out over more than two months, with something to do in the game practically every day. That is not a small accomplishment, and there’s simply no way I could possibly argue that I haven’t got my money’s worth from New Horizons!

But the Animal Crossing series has always been somewhat of an outlier in this regard. It’s a series which is deliberately slow-paced and that encourages players to take their time. 100+ hours as a fan of the series and as someone who generally enjoys this kind of gameplay should be a given, and while I don’t have the numbers to back this up, I must’ve spent at least a thousand hours playing New Leaf – if not more.

What I question with New Horizons – at least at time of writing – is whether there’s any real longevity beyond that first 100+ hours in the same way there was for New Leaf. One of the biggest draws for New Leaf, and the primary reason I was still going back to it even seven years on from its 2013 release, is that there were great options for multiplayer. The Nintendo 3DS did not charge for multiplayer, either locally or online, and as a result anyone with a copy of New Leaf could participate. The Switch does charge for this feature – Nintendo introduced Switch Online a year or so after the console launched, even going so far as gating off titles like Mario Kart, which had previously offered free online multiplayer, behind a paywall. That automatically segregates players into those who can play online and those who can’t, and not all of my friends have shelled out for Switch Online.

Promo artwork for New Horizons.

This ties into a much broader point, but for those players who have paid for online multiplayer, there is far less to do than there was in New Leaf. One of New Leaf’s biggest features for multiplayer was the “Tropical Island”: a separate area of the game which offered timed cooperative and competitive mini-games. Some of these mini-games were based on New Leaf’s normal gameplay, like fishing or popping balloons, but others weren’t. There were fun games like matching fossils or playing hide-and-seek with some of the game’s anthropomorphic animals, and as silly as these mini-games may sound, they provided hours of entertainment. All of these mini-games are absent in New Horizons, and they aren’t the only feature from New Leaf to have disappeared with no replacement.

Without structured mini-games to play, there isn’t actually much on offer in terms of a multiplayer experience. Players can, of course, exchange furniture and different types of fruit, as well as talk to the animal residents of their friends’ islands and see what the islands look like, but beyond that there isn’t anything to do together. Players can of course try to make their own fun, and in a way that’s part of the Animal Crossing experience. But I can see no reason to remove what was a much-enjoyed feature of New Leaf. Speaking purely anecdotally, everyone I played New Leaf with over the last seven years enjoyed these mini-games, and visiting the Tropical Island together was basically all we did when playing multiplayer. With the mini-games gone, and with nothing substantial to replace them, it’s hard to justify buying a Switch Online subscription purely for New Horizons; the novelty will wear off fast, even for someone with dozens of friends who all play the game too.

I question the longevity of New Horizons as a fun multiplayer experience.

I mentioned that missing features was a bigger point than just multiplayer, and the Tropical Island with its mini-games isn’t the only feature missing that had been present in New Leaf. There are fewer kinds of fruit trees in New Horizons – six (including the coconut palm tree) as opposed to twelve in New Leaf. This is something I genuinely don’t understand. All fruit behaves in the same way – three of them grow on a tree, they can be planted to grow new trees, eaten, given away, or sold. All it would take to add the missing six fruit types (or to add brand-new ones) would be an image and a single word of text. This would have practically no impact on the game’s file size, nor complicate matters in any way. Yet there’s less fruit types available than in the previous game.

That should make collecting all six types of fruit easier, but it doesn’t. A player’s island has one type of “native” fruit when they arrive, and it’s possible to acquire the coconut palm and one other type of non-native fruit through normal gameplay. But that’s it. If you want the other three types, the only option is to shell out for Switch Online and get them from someone else. These not-so-subtle pushes from Nintendo to get players to pick up the bad value paid online service are not appreciated; there should be a way to get everything the game has to offer through regular single-player gameplay. While it doesn’t actually matter in terms of the way the game plays (all non-native fruit is worth the same amount of Bells to sell and otherwise behaves identically) for completionists or for players who want a particular aesthetic to their island, it should be something they can accomplish in-game.

Another big missing feature is diving. In New Leaf, players could acquire a wetsuit which would allow them to swim in the sea off the beach of their town (or on the Tropical Island). When swimming in the sea, players would be able to dive underwater, and there were a number of underwater critters that could be caught in addition to the standard fish. All of this is missing from New Horizons.

To compensate, New Horizons does introduce some new features. The first is crafting – something which seems like a natural fit for both the Animal Crossing series and this title’s “deserted island” theme. The second is terraforming, allowing players to shape the island’s cliffs and waterways. Let’s look at these in turn.

The crafting mechanic is fun, but it isn’t without its problems. This will vary from player to player, but I only found myself crafting a handful of furniture items: chairs, tables, and the like. Most of the furniture I used in my house and around the island were bought from the shop, and the reason is that these items were – in my subjective opinion – better-looking and more interesting. A handful of interesting items could be crafted, like a brick pizza oven for example, but most of what was available didn’t look as good as what could be acquired by other means. This kind of rendered a large portion of the crafting mechanic invalid for me, as not much would have changed if I had picked up those few items from the shop.

Crafting has pros and cons in New Horizons for me.

Crafting also requires crafting ingredients such as wood, clay, and iron. These can be found on a player’s island – but are not exactly in abundance. This was far more noticeable early in my playthrough, where finding a single iron nugget or piece of clay was important for crafting projects. And I have to say… that was kind of annoying and frustrating. For example, iron nuggets and clay can be acquired only by hitting rocks. Every island has six rocks, five of which dish out crafting ingredients and one of which dishes out money. When you’ve tapped your five available rocks, if you’re still missing a vital ingredient you only have two options: spend 2,000 Nook Miles (a form of in-game currency) on a ticket to a random island which you hope has more rocks to hit, or wait till the next day. There were many occasions, especially early in the game, where getting 2,000 Nook Miles was out of reach, and the only choice was to wait.

While we’re on the subject of things that are frustrating, New Horizons introduces that dreaded feature: item durability. After a few uses, tools break and have to be replaced. They can be replaced by crafting new ones or by buying new ones, but the way this is implemented is just plain annoying. Aside from Minecraft, I can’t recall a single game where items that regularly broke was fun or anything more than padding to make the game seem like it has more going on. Item durability in New Horizons simply is not fun and makes the game frustrating to play. Even the supposedly more durable tools that can be acquired later in a playthrough don’t last all that long, and if you’re faced with a big task – like chopping down dozens of trees or digging up a lot of flowers – be prepared to run back-and-forth to your crafting table. Tools also don’t provide any indication of how close they are to breaking – something which would at least allow for some forward planning.

The way tools are crafted is annoying, too, and demonstrates one of the disappointments of New Horizons’ crafting mechanic. There are two categories of tool: “flimsy” tools and just regular ones. In order to craft a normal tool – an axe, fishing rod, or shovel, for example – players must first craft the “flimsy” version. And there’s no way to skip the silly little animation that plays during the crafting process, meaning it’s a chore to craft practically anything, and a double-chore to craft regular tools. Fishing bait is another example of why this is annoying: this one-time-use item, which you may need to use a lot of if you’re trying to catch a specific fish or lots of fish, can only be crafted one at a time, with the dumb animation playing every single time. At the very least it should be possible – assuming the player has the required ingredients – to craft the standard version of tools without having to sit through two identical crafting animations every time. If tools were more durable this would be less noticeable, but because of the aforementioned irritating item durability, you’ll be crafting tools almost every day if you play for more than a few minutes. And that’s not to mention how annoying it is to be part-way through a task only to have to stop and build a new tool.

I ended up setting up a dozen or so crafting tables around my island so that there was always one nearby, but even then I found this aspect of the game to be annoying, verging on insufferable. I welcome the idea of crafting for decorative items and the like, but tied to these tools which don’t last very long and are annoying to craft it’s downright irksome. New Horizons is just the latest in a long line of titles that have tried and failed to imitate this feature from Minecraft, and I wish they hadn’t bothered. No other title has got it right, and it just isn’t fun.

The second major new feature New Horizons introduces is the ability to make changes to the physical landscape of a player’s island – terraforming. Both cliffs and rivers can be built and destroyed, and this does offer a significant amount of customisation. Cliffs are new in themselves to the Animal Crossing series, and they do add a new level – pun intended – to the landscape of the player’s island. I’ve seen online players who rearranged their entire island to look completely different, sinking hundreds of hours into the terraforming feature alone. My own experience of it was that it was interesting, but after I’d spent a little time getting my island into the form I wanted, the feature wasn’t revisited. There are also limitations to what it can do – for example, it can’t be used to change the island’s beaches in any way, nor where the river mouths are.

A beach in New Horizons.

Players are also able to lay down paths – officially, this time, and not just by dropping custom designs on the ground! – and move the island’s buildings. The latter feature is something that’s genuinely great, as it means the player can have control over where every island resident builds their house, as well as the locations of the museum and shops. The island’s town hall – renamed Resident Services for New Horizons – can’t be moved, though, and I don’t really see why not. As with terraforming, this particular feature was something I didn’t get a lot of use out of – after putting most buildings where I wanted them in the first place, there wasn’t a great deal of need to move everything around. However, in both cases, players who are more imaginative than I am may find themselves using those mechanics more often!

The ability to place most items outdoors also opens up a huge amount of customisation potential for the island. Players can create all kinds of themed areas, and there really are a huge number of furniture items to collect. One area I created was a kind of outdoor diner, placing a number of food-themed items as well as tables and chairs in one part of the island. With such a huge number of items, players could create almost anything from a sci-fi themed area to a Japanese zen garden. The only downside is that most items can’t be interacted with, and those that can only have a single short animation. If you’re happy to just decorate and enjoy the aesthetic that’s no problem, and it’s part of the Animal Crossing experience. But it can be disappointing to spend a lot of your hard-earned Bells on an item, or a long time scavenging for crafting ingredients, to find that it doesn’t do anything at all. For example, there’s a playground ride than can’t be sat on or ridden, a football that can’t be kicked around, a pool table that doesn’t do anything at all when interacted with, and many more besides. Some items do something, though: musical instruments all play a tune, seats can be sat on, and the aforementioned food items mostly have some kind of animation attached so that when interacted with they change their appearance at least.

Most in-game items are bought and sold with Bells – the currency of the world of Animal Crossing that has been present since the first entry in the series. A handful of others are only available for New Horizons’ second in-game currency, Nook Miles. I have a love-hate relationship with this second currency. Firstly, I do appreciate that the way Nook Miles are earned. Performing mundane in-game tasks, like plucking weeds, watering flowers, talking to islanders, etc. all yield Nook Miles, and this gives players an incentive to do these things even after the novelty of doing them for their own sake has worn off. But when it comes to spending earned Nook Miles, after a certain point there really wasn’t much I wanted to get. The roster of items and crafting recipes available for purchase with Nook Miles never changes, and there are only a handful of each. Otherwise, Nook Miles can be exchanged for terraforming options – including the ability to move water and cliffs, as mentioned above – and for Nook Miles Tickets.

The terraforming options, while individually expensive, are one-off purchases, and as I’ve already covered, after I’d used them a few times I was kind of done with that aspect of the game. The Nook Miles Tickets allow players to travel to a “mystery island”, where they will have the chance to gather crafting ingredients, pick up fruit and flowers, and occasionally meet potential new island residents, among other things. I know a lot of people have been having fun with the Nook Miles Tickets, but I honestly found that this aspect of the game gets old fast. 2,000 Nook Miles are required per ticket, and each ticket is only valid for one trip. But the so-called unique mystery islands, which in-game dialogue makes a big deal about how the pilot destroys the route map after each trip, are actually very samey. There are about ten islands – with several being very common and a few being incredibly rare, with a less than 1% chance to visit them on any given trip. After you’ve been to one of the “common” island types a couple of times you quickly realise it’s laid out identically to the last time you visited, with every tree and rock and pond in the same spot. In a pinch, to gather missing crafting ingredients for example, the mystery islands can be useful. But they aren’t particularly fun, and it can be frustrating to save up 2,000 Nook Miles for a ticket only to land on an island you’ve already been to or to not land on a specific island that you were hoping to – especially after arriving at the same mystery island three times in a row! On several occasions I set out in search of something specific – like extra wood, extra clay, extra iron, etc. – only to be annoyed to land on an island that had none of what I was looking for.

Chopping trees in New Horizons.

One feature of the Animal Crossing series is the placeholder icons used to represent different items – tools all look like a red toolbox, fossils all look like an ammonite, furniture items look like a leaf, etc. This made sense in past games, as I’m sure the older systems were much more limited in what they could display. But New Horizons is a Switch title, and some of those limitations should no longer be present. At the very least I’d have liked to see individual icons for each tool or category of tool, as well as seeing each individual item of furniture in my inventory. Having to sort through a dozen or more identical leaves to find one specific item gets old fast. This is one quality-of-life improvement that the upgrade to the Switch allowed, but for some reason Nintendo didn’t take advantage of it.

From the point of view of aesthetic and graphics, while we’re on the subject, New Horizons looks great. Even on a large 4K television it looks really good, and while I have seen a few minor graphical issues – fish often appear to have stray pixels when being caught, for example – none really spoilt my enjoyment of the game. New Horizons retains the Animal Crossing aesthetic, but upgrades and upscales it for the new console. In that sense it’s hardly innovative – trees, buildings, animals, players, icons, etc. all look the same as they have in previous games. But there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily.

In-game dialogue… this is a tricky one. The anthropomorphic animals which populate a player’s island have personality types, and each personality type has a set of dialogue. However, there don’t seem to be very many personality types: my island had three animals who all liked to talk about working out and hitting the gym (I called them the “gym bros”). Because the dialogue for each personality type is identical, if you’re unfortunate as I was to get three or more of the same type, conversations with the island animals gets pretty repetitive. And that’s not to mention that a number of in-game events, including pretty common ones, don’t have any variety at all in terms of dialogue. For example, if a player walks into an islander’s home while they’re crafting an item, the same line of dialogue always appears. At first it’s not noticeable, but after a few days of playing I started to see more and more lines of dialogue that I’d already seen. It was compounded by having multiple islanders of the same personality type in one case, but even with the others I quickly found what they had to say repetitive.

Isabelle, who along with Tom Nook is one of the series’ main characters, is also incredibly repetitive in her “morning announcements”. Every time a new day begins, Isabelle will pop up and is supposed to let players know what, if anything, is happening that day. But there are two problems: the first is that she doesn’t actually inform players of what’s happening. Most days there will be something going on or a special character visiting, but Isabelle doesn’t inform players of that. And on days when there’s “no news”, she has only a handful of different things to say – and again, these get old fast. It would be better to just have her say in one line “there is no news” and skip the silly repetition.

Isabelle’s morning announcements are a wasted opportunity to keep players informed of goings-on.

While we’re talking about announcements, I was convinced for a long time that my island’s in-game noticeboard was glitched. After a couple of notices appeared there on my first day of playing, nothing else happened for the longest time afterwards – literally several weeks – despite many significant events going on. In New Leaf, the noticeboard would inform players of things like a bridge being built or a fishing competition, as well as a new resident moving in or someone moving out. My noticeboard, at time of writing, still has those two day-one posts, one post about an islander’s birthday, and one post about the shop being closed for renovation. And that’s all it has after two months. Between this and Isabelle’s morning announcements, I feel like something isn’t working right. I have no doubt I’ve missed goings-on as a result of the game not keeping me informed.

I have written about this previously, but it’s worth reiterating that the “one island per console” limitation is just an all-around shitty business practice. It’s anti-consumer, designed to use pester power to force families to purchase more than one Switch or buy the inevitable “second island DLC” whenever that may come. There is no technical limitation for New Horizons that means there can only be one primary save file, so it is purely a business decision. In households where more than one person wants to play the game, one player will get to be the “main” player, able to make all the decisions about the island and play the game to the fullest, and the others will be secondary players, unable to properly enjoy the game or take advantage of its features. That is unfair, it is anti-consumer, and Nintendo should fix it now and fix it for free.

Winter time in New Horizons.

After two months and over 120 hours, I’ve kind of hit the wall with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’ve collected as many items as I can be bothered to, I’ve reshaped the island as much as I wanted to, I’ve talked to the islanders as many times as I could, and now I’m ready to take a break. I might delete my data and start a new file, either now or in a few weeks. There is definitely more to New Horizons than I’ve seen, but almost all of that is just fluff. It’s different clothing or different items of furniture. I’ve played and “completed” the bulk of the game. After 120+ hours, that’s fair enough, right? Ordinarily I’d say heck yes, because I can hardly think of any other single-player games that I’d spend so much time with. But when I compare New Horizons to New Leaf, a game that I played way more and for way longer, I feel at least a little disappointed. New Leaf seemed to offer more to do when the shine of playing a new game wore off, and it certainly offered significantly more in terms of playing with friends.

Do I recommend Animal Crossing: New Horizons? It’s hard not to, really. The game is a lot of fun, despite some frustrating elements, and as a slow-paced game that can be played very casually for just a few minutes a day, there’s almost nothing else like it on the market. It’s cute and unique, and if you already own a Switch and have been considering it, I’d say go for it. Despite my criticisms, I wouldn’t have sunk so many hours into this game if I wasn’t enjoying myself at least most of the time! I do feel, however, that many early reviews glossed over some of the game’s limitations and issues. In a way that’s understandable, as some of them only manifest dozens of hours into a playthrough.

New Horizons makes a few changes to the successful Animal Crossing formula. Some of these changes worked perfectly, but others didn’t quite stick the landing. I miss New Leaf’s mini-games, without which I feel New Horizons’ longevity as a title to enjoy with friends is severely curtailed. I was still playing New Leaf earlier this year, seven years on from its release. Will I still be playing New Horizons after such a long time? If I’m still alive and kicking in 2027, remind me to come back and tell you.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is available now for Nintendo Switch. The Animal Crossing series is the copyright of Nintendo. All artwork courtesy of the Animal Crossing: New Horizons press kit on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons and its disgraceful business model

Nintendo’s biggest Switch release of the last few months is arguably Animal Crossing: New Horizons. If you aren’t familiar with the series, it can be hard to do it justice in words. As briefly as possible, it’s a very slow-paced, cartoon-styled “life-simulator”, where players spend their days (which play out in real-time) fishing, catching insects, buying and selling clothes and home decor, and just relaxing in a cute little village populated by anthropomorphic animals. See, I told you it was hard to explain.

After Animal Crossing: New Leaf in 2013 introduced a number of new features, many were wondering if New Horizons could top it. And now that reviews are in following the game’s release last week, the answer seems to be a solid “yes”. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has received praise across the board for almost every aspect of its design and gameplay, and many players who have picked up the game have been loving it.

But Animal Crossing: New Horizons has a flaw, and it’s an intentional flaw. An incredibly basic feature has been cut out, a feature which has been present in countless games going back to at least the 1990s: the ability to have more than one save file. That limits players to one save file per console.

Multiple save games were an option in 1994’s Donkey Kong Country – which was also published by Nintendo.

What this means in practice is that when the first player has played Animal Crossing: New Horizons and created their island, no other players can make their own island. They can create a character, but their character has to share the first player’s island. Not only does this mean that one player can mess things up for another – even unintentionally – but it also means that everyone aside from the “main” first player are “secondary” players, and they have fewer options for things to do during their time on the island. Basically, one player gets to set up the island how they want, and the others don’t.

This is not an oversight. Nor is it caused by some “technological limitation” in the capabilities of the Nintendo Switch. Save files in any game are minuscule compared to the size of the game’s own files, and the Switch is actually capable of supporting far more demanding games than Animal Crossing: New Horizons. So if it wasn’t a mistake, and it wasn’t mandated by technical issues, why is New Horizons lacking a basic game feature that has been present since before many players were even born? Obviously the reason is money.

We need only look to Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp – an Android and iOS game from a couple of years ago – for how Nintendo was content to shamelessly exploit the worst aspects of pay-to-play “micro” transactions in the Animal Crossing series. The lessons they learned there seem to have carried over to New Horizons. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that New Horizons’ in-game currencies – called Bells and Nook Miles – would be made available to purchase with real-world money one day. But only after all of the reviews have been written and they don’t need to put a warning label on the box, of course.

There’s only one reason why a games company would remove long-established features from a new game: they want to sell it as downloadable content later. This happened most egregiously with Electronic Arts’ The Sims series. The Sims 4 cut out many basic features that had been present in earlier titles – like the ability to build swimming pools – only to sell them later as DLC. It’s clear that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is taking a similar approach, so be on the lookout for a “second island” DLC some time soon. It’ll probably cost £10 or more.

Many games publishers have spent much of the last console generation pushing the boundaries of what they could get away with in terms of “micro” transactions and DLC. A lot of today’s biggest titles take their cues from mobile games and free-to-play games like Fortnite in terms of how they’re set up to make money after launch. Just because Nintendo is a family-friendly company doesn’t mean they get a free pass where other companies draw criticism. In fact, specifically because they’re a family-friendly company, and a game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons is marketed at children as much as adults, do they need greater scrutiny and to have their greedy, scummy, money-grubbing policies and practices called out.

Promo screenshot for Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Nintendo hopes that families with more than one person who might want to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons will have to either face interminable arguments about who harvested all the fruit, who sold what precious item, or who messed up who’s in-game garden, etc. or buy this DLC when they release it. I’m sure they’d also love parents to consider getting each of their squabbling kids their own Nintendo Switch – but obviously most families couldn’t afford that.

The sad thing is that this game should be incredibly fun. It should be something kids and adults can enjoy – together or separately. Nintendo has built up a lot of goodwill with families because of their lighter, cuter titles that aren’t focused on violence and gore or aggressive online multiplayer. But their recent moves to chasing the worst video game industry trends when it comes to nickel-and-diming players should be called out – and many players have taken to Metacritic and elsewhere to express their frustration.

If you’re considering picking up Animal Crossing: New Horizons, be aware of the game’s artificial limitation. It may not seem like a big deal, but it has the potential to cause problems, especially between siblings. When we were kids, my sister and I would get into arguments over the dumbest things sometimes; I can easily see New Horizons being the cause of many arguments in a household with several players and one Switch. In fact, it’s arguably been designed that way to try to drive sales of consoles and the inevitable DLC.

Nintendo: fix this. Fix it now, and fix it for free. It’s an incredibly basic feature, and stripping it out won’t make you any money or win you any fans. It’s patently obvious that the only reason for this is greed. As companies like Bioware and Bethesda have found out to their cost in recent years, players will only tolerate so much. And as Electronic Arts have discovered, a company’s reputation can end up in the gutter thanks to treating their customers this way. It’s shady and scummy, and the Animal Crossing series deserves better.

Oh and the first Animal Crossing game on the GameCube in 2001? That had multiple save files.

The Animal Crossing series is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.