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The trailer for "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" promises expanded gameplay and, of course, cute new details. (Illustration by Dorothy Timan, Indiana University)

‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ Takes the Series in a New, Even Cuter Direction

The game’s surprise announcement at E3 blew Nintendo fans away.

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animal crossing

The game’s surprise announcement at E3 blew Nintendo fans away.

Tom Nook stans rejoice! “Animal Crossing” is back with a new mainline game for the first time since “Animal Crossing: New Leaf” in 2013 (2012 for Japan) and it looks better than ever. Things to look forward to in “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” include enhanced crafting, HD graphics (for the first time, thanks to the Nintendo Switch), your own island, eight-person multiplayer and more.

“Animal Crossing,” a life-simulation series first introduced on the Nintendo 64 and GameCube in 2001, has become one of the most beloved franchises of all time for players from all walks of life. Whether you’re 9 or 20-something and beyond, “Animal Crossing” has something to offer you, from simply interacting with cute, virtual animals, to building up your dream village over the course of years.

However, it has been six long years since the last mainline game, and most dedicated fans have already finished their towns. In fact, they’ve been finished for a while now and they’re ready for a change. That’s why when Nintendo teased a new release for the Switch back in September of 2018, the internet went into a frenzy. No longer would players have to stay content with lackluster spin-off games like “Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer” or “Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.” They would finally get what they had been asking for — a full-fledged mainline installment with new gameplay and the familiar longevity of past games.

After the initial tease, Nintendo stayed completely silent on development and news regarding the new game. Fans were given virtually nothing besides the promise of a broad 2019 release. Months went by with nothing. When E3 began to approach, rumors started to spread about what, if anything, would be announced about this new installment at the giant gaming expo. Some fantasized about an entire Nintendo booth dedicated to the franchise. Others were less optimistic, expecting a trailer at most. Still others believed that the silence thus far meant the only possibility was the announcement of a delay, or simply further silence.

Then, it happened. Nearing the end of the pre-E3 “Nintendo Direct” livestream, the first trailer for “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” began to play. Later on in the day, players were given almost half an hour of live gameplay to further quench their thirst for “Animal Crossing” news. And boy, was it worth the wait.

As previously stated, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is set on the player’s own deserted island that can be decorated and designed any way one pleases. Unlike in “Animal Crossing: New Leaf,” in which players took on the role of mayor and had certain public works projects that could be placed in certain areas, you can now place any item anywhere in the field, similar to “Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer,” but expanded beyond a fenced-in yard. Instead of choosing a certain big project that you must later pay off, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” will allow you to collect recipes for crafting items yourself out of materials found around the island, akin to the structure of games like “Minecraft” and “Harvest Moon.”

Along with the enhanced solo play comes the heavily-lauded, new, eight-person multiplayer gameplay. Like in previous “Animal Crossing” games, players will be able to invite others to their town/island via the internet or local wireless. In the past, the number of players in one town was limited to four; however, with “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” up to eight people can play in one town at once. And what’s more, for the first time ever, players that live in the same town/island can play at the same time — up to four at once. This is something that has been requested every single time a new mainline game has been announced and it’s finally coming to fruition.

The real star of the show, however, is all the cute new details. This is the first time an “Animal Crossing” game is in HD and it is absolutely brilliant. Sure, there was the 3D element in “Animal Crossing: New Leaf” if you played on a 3DS, but that is nothing compared to what Nintendo has in store for us now. The Switch brings a whole new level of power to the franchise, leaving everything looking pristine and beautiful, while still keeping the classic cartoony cuteness we all know and love.

The difference really is in all the small touches: the trees blow in the wind, the weeds look like real plants rather than pixelated clovers, the animals wear clothes properly and carry new items and the player’s hair shines and moves as they walk; there’s even new accessories like flower crowns, backpacks and shorts that are actually short. This might sound silly to the average gamer, but avid fans of the franchise know how important these tiny aspects are to the overall gameplay as a whole. It’s nice to know that even our nit-picky suggestions were listened to.

The only downside is that the game was, indeed, delayed until March 2020. It came as no surprise to most viewers, as there had been no news whatsoever about the installment since its announcement nearly nine months earlier. However, judging by what we have seen so far, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” will be well worth the wait. It appears to be the most well-crafted game in the series and needs to be the best it can be since “Animal Crossing” games are known for their extremely lengthy play lifespans.

Even with a long wait and uncertain details still ahead of us, one thing is for sure: “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” will expand the reach of this relaxing, cute, life-simulation game to more players than ever before. The new graphics and added sandbox and crafting abilities stretch the franchise’s reach into uncharted waters, allowing people with different gameplay styles to see it in a new light. If the overall professionalism and cuteness overload can’t bring them in, the newfound godlike control surely will. “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is the future of lifelong gameplay for all ages.

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