Nintendo abruptly broke a long period of uncharacteristic silence on Thursday with an announcement dedicated entirely to the forthcoming Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Due out March 20 for the Switch, New Horizons is a hotly anticipated new entry in one of Nintendo’s newer franchises.
In New Horizons, you play as a customizable villager who buys a “Getaway Package” from series mainstay and raccoon extortionist Tom Nook. You’re promptly dropped off on an empty desert island of your choice with a few amenities and left to your own devices. You can hunt for bugs, fish, scavenge for raw materials, and gradually build your humble campsite up into a full-fledged island home. While you may run the risk of getting stung by a wasp or scorpion, it’s a low-stakes, zero-danger experience that revolves around nonlinear gameplay and cheerful non-violent activities.
Naturally, as is now Animal Crossing tradition, part of the game is basically turning yourself into a captive audience for Nook’s various business ventures. You can sell your gathered bugs and fish to Nook, then give him the money in exchange for new features for your house, more clothes for your character, and other useful items.
Hello, hello! Tom Nook at your service! Today, I’m here in place of Isabelle so I can share some info with you all. There’s so much I want to tell you about my Deserted Island Getaway Package! pic.twitter.com/acMN8tfnuP
— Tom Nook (@animalcrossing) February 20, 2020
Your character is given a smartphone on arrival to the island, which features a camera and a map, but also hooks you up to a rewards program called Nook Miles that encourages you to vary up your experiences. By accomplishing certain objectives in-game, such as talking to set numbers of NPCs, you earn Nook Miles that can be used to buy exclusive rewards, or pay off any debts that you might happen to owe Nook.
New Horizons can be played cooperatively, with up to eight people at once able to share a single island via a single Switch. You can team up in Party Play mode with up to three other players at once, using a single controller, to explore the island, gather materials, and cooperate on projects.
Nintendo also announced the addition of a special program called NookLink, available within the Nintendo Switch Online app for smartphones. With NookLink, you can scan QR codes from previous Animal Crossing games to import your previous games’ designs (so if you really just can’t wait for New Horizons, you can kill time by going back to New Leaf and test-driving some ideas), or chat with friends with text or voice. NookLink is planned to arrive at some undefined point in time after New Horizons’s retail release.
The biggest new feature that debuted today, however, was the addition of a new Construction Permit. Players who unlock the Permit can actively start terraforming their island. You can build bridges, dig out new stretches of land at the edge of the water, reroute rivers, bust through cliffs, and cut down trees, among other things. (Notably, if you have other players visit your island, they need to be officially registered as a Best Friend before they can use tools like axes and shovels on your island. There’s no risk of a random stranger showing up and wrecking your house.)
That, in turn, enables you to start to develop your small island into an actual community. New villagers can show up to hold activities like fishing tournaments or open new buildings, such as a tailor, a museum, or shops, in areas that you’ve designated for the purpose. Eventually, by upgrading Residential Services, you can turn your island into an actual village in its own right, complete with a hand-picked roster of neighbors and merchants.
New Horizons will debut on the Switch on March 20, with a new Animal Crossing-themed model of Switch available for sale a week beforehand. Nintendo will support New Horizons with free updates after launch, with the first planned update launching on the same day as the game itself.
New Horizons is the fifth official game in the Animal Crossing series. The first game is actually a localized and updated version of a slightly older Nintendo 64 game called Dōbutsu no Mori+, “Animal Forest,” but it didn’t attain widespread popularity until it was enhanced and released internationally on the GameCube in 2001 as Animal Crossing. Subsequent games were released for the DS, Wii, and 3DS, racking up over 30 million units sold worldwide.