During Nintendo’s E3 Treehouse Livestream, they showed off gameplay from early moments in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the long-awaited entry in the Animal Crossing franchise coming to Switch March 20, 2020.
The developers shared a ton of mechanical details about the game while giving a brief tour of the player residence on the game’s deserted island setting, as well as a facility called the Resident Service building established by Nook Inc. where Tom, Timmy, and Tommy have set up shop to collect your bells for goods and services. I did my best to jot down as many details as I could during the presentation, so let’s dive in!
Why the deserted island setting? The game’s developers gave two reasons:
1. In past games, players always arrived at preexisting, already established towns and the shift to a deserted island provides players with a new starting experience.
2. This fresh start gives the players more choice and freedom to build everything on the island from scratch, including their own home and tools.
Life on the deserted island starts with the tent you receive from Nook Inc. and you can choose where to pitch it including on the beach, a location you could never place your home in past Animal Crossing games. Decorations and furniture can be placed inside or outside of your home, a feature new to mainline Animal Crossing games, though reflective of mechanics present in Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer in which you could decorate both the interior of buildings as well as the front yard. Items can be placed anywhere outside, allowing for a lot of customization with regards to placing campfires or decor around the island. Further adding the variety and customization, furniture can be moved in half-unit increments instead of full-square spaces like in past games.
One way to acquire furniture, items, and tools is to craft them from “DIY Recipes.” These can be found in an app on the smartphone called a “Nook Phone,” granted to the player by Tom Nook upon arrival on the island. These recipes can be learned from villagers, purchased at the Resident Service building, or even discovered by the player character upon finding new crafting materials around the island. Items and materials can be held in the player inventory which begins with 20 open slots. There was no mention of increasing this inventory space, but if past games are any indicator, the player pockets will remain the same size and we’ll likely be able to craft furniture which can store more items.
The Resident Service building is also where you will craft items like furniture and tools on a workbench placed in the building, but you can also purchase tools if you don’t feel like scouring the island for materials. Tools are breakable, so this may be a more convenient option for players with extra bells on hand that want to just buy a new axe and not sweat about finding more minerals and wood to build a new one.
You can hit rocks with your shovel for mineral materials and bugs and fish will be catchable, as with past games, including new clams which can be dug up on the island’s beach and made into bait with which the player can fish. There’s a river cutting through the island, which suggests there will be both river and ocean fish as in past games. On the subject of the environment, wind could be seen blowing through the leaves of the trees in the presentation, and the developers specified that the wind’s intensity will vary, which can be noticed by the movement of the leaves. It’s a small detail, but one not present in past Animal Crossing titles and really fleshes out the natural beauty of the game.
As with past titles, the game clock will be tied to “real life” time (or rather, the clock on your Switch system) and not only will seasons change to reflect the real passing on time, but in this new title, they will even reflect the hemisphere you live in, so if you live in the southern hemisphere, June will be a winter month, rather than being a summer month regardless of where you live in the world.
Another app on the Nook Phone features a new mechanic called “Nook Miles.” As you complete activities on the island, you will earn Miles, similar to MEOW Coupons in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which can be redeemed for items. Another app on the Nook phone shown was the “Call and Islander” app which ties into the game’s multiplayer function.
By calling another islander with a residence on the island — meaning, another player character with a save file and residence on the island — you can pass a Joy Con to a friend and play couch co-op in Animal Crossing for the first time! Up to four players can join you at one time for local co-op, but there will also be online multiplayer with up to eight player characters playing together on one island. Players can work together to gather materials and play on the island and those memories can be captured with the Nook Phone’s camera app. For the purposes of local co-op, you will select a “lead player” which the camera will center on. If other players leave the screen or are left behind as the lead player moves, they will quickly pop over closer to the lead player. The lead player can be changed at will so players can take turn leading the group around during local multiplayer. It’s unclear how the camera will work with eight players in online co-op.
The camera app on the Nook Phone serves as a kind of photo mode for the game, where players can take screenshots of the game with various filters and have their character smile and pose for the camera with a menu that showed a variety of emotional poses. Past games have also featured mechanics that allow your character to emote, and many more than those shown on the menu wheel featured in the presentation. It remains to be seen if more poses can be unlocked as you play the game.
The last thing I noticed during the presentation was the map of the island shown in the bottom right corner. The map has clear borders, so this may be all the play space available to the player. No other areas were shown, so it’s unclear if we’ll be taking boats to a city area like the one in City Folk or some other place where we might find characters like the Able sisters or Harriet setting up shop. Hopefully, as in past titles, the island layout will differ from player and the player will have some choice as to which layout they prefer, as was the case in New Leaf.
Those are all the noteworthy details I noticed from the Treehouse Presentation, but hopefully there will be a dedicated Animal Crossing direct before the game’s release in March!