Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been out for a month now, and it has captivated gamers everywhere. This fan-favorite Nintendo franchise hasn’t had a true sequel in eight years, and though New Horizons brings back the cute and soothing world fans love while adding some improvements to mechanics, at its core, the series is firmly set in some of its older and unwieldy ways. While still a great game, New Horizons seems stuck in the past with unintuitive mechanics that only exist to deliberately waste players’ time.
Animal Crossing has the social aspects of The Sims, with the collecting and crafting of games like Minecraft or Harvest Moon. However, those games don’t hamper the player’s time as much as Animal Crossing does. New Horizons obstructs players at every turn thanks to certain time-wasting design choices. For instance, any session of the game features an overabundance of loading screens, unintuitive menus, and repetitive dialogue. These are all minor problems individually, but when compounded, they make the routines of Animal Crossing feel much more like the busy work that critics of the series chastise it for.
Loading times are weirdly abundant in New Horizons, which seem unnecessary when the Nintendo Switch can handle more taxing games like Skyrim and The Witcher 3. Loading building interiors makes sense, but loading individual rooms? Players can’t walk from their living room to their bedroom without hitting a load screen, but they can traverse their entire island without an issue. There’s probably a programming reason for this, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying.
New Horizons also has a lot of repetitive dialogue, especially for characters that provide services like Isabelle or Tom Nook. The game expects players to build relationships and hold conversations with these characters, but the repetitive dialogue just makes it take longer to accomplish basic gameplay tasks. Players have to speak to these characters constantly, so shouldn’t these conversations be streamlined for efficiency?
A perfect cross-section of these issues exists in the frequent chore of donating fossils to the Museum. In order to identify the fossils they dig up to either donate, sell or display themselves, players must load the museum lobby, wake Blathers up (if you’re visiting the owl during the day), ask Blathers to appraise the fossils, hand the fossils to him, listen to him talk for longer than necessary and then get their identified fossils back. If you choose to donate them, that leads to even more dialogue. Then, when leaving the Museum, players will encounter another loading screen. All of this takes a minute or two, which seems like no time at all, but when it must be done constantly, it feels like a chore.
Then, there’s the new crafting mechanic, which just adds to these problems. Players have to interact with a DIY workbench, sift through recipes, sit through an animation, and, finally, another dialog box confirming that the item has been crafted. The process takes under a minute, but those minutes add up.
Players can’t double up on items with a button-press like in Minecraft, and the game doesn’t count crafting materials not in your inventory (even when using a workbench located inside your home), so you may find yourself having to leave the crafting menu to go into storage and get a piece of wood you need. Plus, certain items, like upgraded tools, require you to have other crafted items, meaning you’ll have to go through the menus and animations twice just to get a non-flimsy fishing rod. You also can’t switch to cosmetic options without exiting and reentering the menu entirely. Crafting doesn’t need to be instant, but simple menu changes could make crafting feel less deliberately sluggish.
Perhaps Nintendo has adapted some mechanics from the mobile title Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, designed to waste a players time on purpose so that they’ll spend real money to speed things up. However, New Horizons doesn’t ask for more money. Instead, it features arbitrary wait-times for the sake of its own design philosophy. Animal Crossing is designed to progress slowly — it’s supposed to be played in short bursts over the course of days, months, and even years.
While it’s easy to dismiss these criticisms as a difference in playstyle or as a lack of patience, taking up lots of time doesn’t mean being deliberately slow. New Horizons features tons of updates to the series, but it doesn’t innovate the moment-to-moment gameplay, making it feel more time-consuming than ever before. This may work for some who don’t mind investing their time into the game, but it’s also why some players choose to cheat by changing their Switch’s date and time. And while the freshness of the game may make some of these charming for now, the cracks may begin to show as time goes on. While this doesn’t stop New Horizons from being fun overall, Nintendo shouldn’t be so afraid to embrace mechanics that would make things move a little faster.
While Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a fun, slow-paced game, certain mechanics make gameplay drag more than necessary.