"It's impossible to review Animal Crossing: New Horizons here on March 16, 2020, without writing in the shadow of the coronavirus," opens Forbes' Dave Thier in his 10 out of 10 review of the game.
"There is something about the particular escapism of Animal Crossing's simple life that feels particularly vital at a time when death tolls and infection rates are rising, whole cities are shutting down, the global economy is fumbling to a halt, and millions of people are choosing to spend their days indoors, alone. In the past few weeks, a collective howl to just release the game early has come up on social media in a way that it can't quite for any other game. We need a new life right now because this one is looking tenuous."
It is impossible to tell if the narrow consensus critics have come to on Animal Crossing: New Horizons is by its merits alone, or if something in the current global climate of quarantine and anxiety has made it especially necessary. But whatever the case, at the time this piece was published, there were no reviews for New Horizons below an 80 out of 100 on Metacritic, and not a single unscored review that didn't highly recommend it.
"In the past few weeks, a collective howl to just release the game early has come up on social media"
Dave Thier, Forbes
Furthermore, critics were nearly unanimous in what they loved about the game, and why. For example, Jeff Cork wrote in his 9 out of 10 Game Informer review that New Horizons' hook of a Tom Nook-arranged trip to a deserted island gave the game's early hours a low-stakes survival feel that was a "refreshing change of pace from being the new kid in town," and that he enjoyed being in control of the design and destiny of his island with the game's abundant customization tools.
"That sense of taking charge of your destiny is core to New Horizons," he wrote. "Need a fishing pole? You're going to have to fashion your own, at least early on. Foraging for materials is one of your first tasks, and you can use components like rocks and sticks at DIY tables to build tools, furniture, and other goods. Your homemade tools are adequate, but they break after a few uses. You get recipes for stronger versions before too long, but get used to watching your creations vanish in a puff of smoke.
"I'm torn about these fragile tools, because I like how they steer new players toward crafting. On the other hand, I grew weary of creating half a dozen fishing rods at a time to prep for longer angling sessions. Plenty of materials are available to replace broken tools, making the problem about scarcity and more about filling time -- which is something I've never had a problem with in Animal Crossing."
GameSpot's Kallie Plaggie praised the way the game's customization wasn't limited to the island itself, but -- in a first for a core Animal Crossing game -- allowed players to properly represent themselves in their villager avatars.
"New Horizons balances all this with fantastic detail and charm, as well as incredibly flexible options for customization and self-expression," she wrote in her 8 out of 10 review. "This starts with your character. You can actually choose your appearance for the first time in the series, including skin color, and none of the options are locked to gender. In fact, villagers will exclusively refer to players with gender-neutral pronouns -- so when a friend visits, your villagers will talk about 'them' instead of him or her.
"No one can say there's 'nothing to do' now, because we have goals to work toward"
Caty McCarthy, USGamer
"All hairstyles and clothing options are available to anyone, and you can change your face and hair at any time. Dressing up is further improved by a dedicated outfit menu that lets you preview a full outfit rather than switching in and out of clothes until you find something you like. It has never been easier or more enjoyable to express yourself through your character's appearance in an Animal Crossing game, and I've been having a ton of fun trying on goofy outfits and changing my hair to match just because."
Aside from the hefty customization, the other major feature new to the Animal Crossing series that reviewers took note of is the addition of Nook Miles -- a currency used to obtain certain in-game rewards, earned by accomplishing small tasks around the island each day.
USGamer's Caty McCarthy praised the feature in her 4.5 out of 5 review, written as a letter to one of her animal villager friends from a previous Animal Crossing game:
"It's another solution to what our neighbors in nearby towns used to often complain about. No one can say there's 'nothing to do' now, because we have goals to work toward. We can spend Nook Miles on neat things like recipes or furniture, or a flight on Dodo Airlines to another deserted island to explore for supplies like wood, weeds, flowers, even-shudder-tarantulas."
Tech-wise, Animal Crossing: New Horizons received some criticism leading up to its launch over the decision to limit games to one island per Nintendo Switch system, and only allowing cloud saves to be recovered in specific situations. Forbes' Thier acknowledged the complaints, but also pointed out that after playing the game for review, he was sympathetic toward the limitation.
"There are the tiniest details that show Nintendo has pulled out all the stops when it comes to this social sim"
Imogen Donovan, Videogamer
"I can understand, in a practical way, why these are insane, anti-consumer decisions that are bound to cause unnecessary heartbreak," he wrote. "But I also understand them. The utility of Animal Crossing relies on a sense of being real. There's only one island on Switch because that island is real, and it lives on that Switch. You're not meant to change date to switch the season because it's just not that season yet. It seeks peace in surrender, core to the Animal Crossing experience."
There is an overwhelming consensus that Animal Crossing: New Horizons, whatever its technical or customizable quirks, is a necessary, pleasant experience. Imogen Donovan praised for the game's iterations in her 9 out of 10 review for VideoGamer, but also lauded the minute improvements over its predecessors that make New Horizons feel considered:
"There are the tiniest details that show Nintendo has pulled out all the stops when it comes to this social sim. Voices echo in empty rooms, raindrops pitter-patter on the canvas, and residents will relax, chow down on doughnuts, read, do yoga poses, fish, water flowers, and catch bugs. It makes it feel like a real island, and, though I wasn't so sure about the idea of transforming the land to my own ends, the possibilities captivate me."
For Vice, Gita Jackson criticized the cartoonish colonialism of New Horizons' conceit, but ultimately said that its focus on community building made it a warm, affirming experience -- one that had a particularly uplifting message in a tense political and social climate.
"New Horizons is asking you to create a society from scratch, to build a community out of a deserted island, but making a community isn't dependent on how many trees you cut or weeds you pull," she concluded. "Community in New Horizons is built in the same ways it is built in the real world: by talking to your neighbors, and listening to them in return."