Ahead of Animal Crossing: New Horizon’s launch later this month, The Washington Post had a chance to play an early portion of the game at PAX East. In the demo, I tried crafting, played local multiplayer, went clothes shopping and experimented with fishing, chopping trees and catching bugs. Animal Crossing fans will be familiar with this gameplay loop for the most part, but crafting is a new addition for the mainline series, bringing a Stardew Valley flavor to the life simulator.

Another revelation, which we first learned about in a Nintendo Direct, is terraforming. Instead of limiting your creativity to clothes, infrastructure and furniture (each of which you can customize), you also get a chance to mold the very ground your villagers walk on. With a special tool in hand, you form rivers and cliffs from thin air. This is unlocked later in your progression.

I loved what I played of New Horizons. Even from my short time with it, it felt cozy, like a warm hug. If you’re like me, there’s a lot you may already have learned about the game from Nintendo’s online info drops. So, what about the little details? What are the small touches that make a big impact? I analyzed my filmed footage of gameplay and came up with the list below. Here’s everything I thought was interesting, but keep in mind there’s also some speculation in this piece with the things that aren’t confirmed.

Island gameplay

  • Your NookPhone (a virtual phone that acts as part of the UI) lets you invite friends to play, take in-game pictures and look at a full-size map. It also helps keep track of DIY recipes, which are used to craft items.
  • Eating fruit makes you more powerful. After eating a peach I was able to uproot an entire tree with my shovel — which I couldn’t do on an empty stomach — and then plant it elsewhere full-grown. Consuming fruit also lets you destroy rocks with your ax in one big swing.
  • The tool wheel is a wonderful addition, letting you swap tools on the go a lot more quickly than before.
  • An extendible ladder, one of your tools, enables you to scale cliffs. It’s very cute, and also very helpful for accessing and exploring higher areas.
  • There are a lot of weeds. The volume of unkempt greenery means you’ll likely be spending a lot of time early on pulling those out (that is, if you care about your island looking well-kept and pretty, like I do). It’s unconfirmed whether a version of town ordinances — player-chosen improvement options that impact your town on a whole — make a comeback. If they do, maybe a beautification ordinance can help keep things in order.
  • The tools I used in the demo all had the word “flimsy” in their titles. In past games, some tools like the ax would break after prolonged use, a la Breath of the Wild, so this may mean the same thing.
  • You can hop over small rivers, but for larger ones, you need the vaulting pole.

Customization

  • Customization continues to be a big piece in New Horizons, and I was excited by the wide array of clothing styles I saw, which included berets, denim jackets, hair clips, raincoats, and even a clown nose or dog snout for your face.
  • Fitting rooms let you try on different clothes before purchasing them. While in a fitting room, your character reacts when you put different clothes on them by striking poses, and choosing different facial expressions.
  • House customization is streamlined with a furniture placement system similar to Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, but with a variety of different camera angles, including pulled back and top down. You can also hang things on walls, which opens up a wealth of possibilities. It’s reminiscent of The Sims 4’s build mode.
  • It looks like you can (probably) customize your furniture with different colors, or at least collect color-coded items. As I explored a house, the bedroom had all-green decor including the bed, wardrobe, couch and so on.
  • In the living room, I noticed a TV set with what looked almost like an appearance from Wii Fit trainer on the screen, but it’s hard to say. It could also be a generic exercise show. Still, it would be fun if villagers can watch different channels.
  • You have a lot more storage options, which is great since your inventory is limited. While perusing the storage menu of a home, I noticed something that looked like an intercom. Maybe villagers can ring this and talk to you from outside?
  • I also noticed a dark chocolate wall, which I want to put inside my virtual house, stat.

Multiplayer

  • To start multiplayer, you use your NookPhone to call a friend, after which they can join. New Horizons supports local and online co-op. A single Nintendo Switch can be used by four players, whereas online multiplayer allows up to eight.
  • During multiplayer sessions, friends follow a designated leader around the island. If you go into a shop, for example, your friend will appear inside automatically. If you want to switch leaders, you can quickly do so with the press of a button.
  • When playing multiplayer, items gathered by players who aren’t the leader can later be grabbed from the recycling bin. You can go grab those things whenever to add them to your inventory.
  • At least while inside buildings, if you move too quick and your friend is off-screen, an icon of their avatar will appear at the corner of your screen, pointing you to their location. If you walk too far away, they’ll immediately respawn beside you in a puff of white smoke. Note that this is what we experienced in local co-op, not online, since we didn’t try the former.

Nook Miles

  • Nook Miles are a new currency (don’t worry, bells still exist too) tied to progression. You redeem these Miles doing things you normally would during a play session, like catching certain fish. I saw a number of these quests in the Nook Miles menu, including quests that reward you for talking to villagers daily, planting flowers, how much fruit you’ve sold and how much furniture you’ve placed in your home. Even small tasks, like writing on the bulletin board, can earn you Nook Miles.

Other observations

  • You can change the camera perspective to a slanted, top-down view similar to the original Animal Crossing on GameCube. This makes it easier to see behind buildings, trees and cliffs that would otherwise obscure your view.
  • Just like in New Leaf and City Folk, a yellow bird sits atop the bulletin board when new messages are available.
  • Fishing and catching bugs is largely the same experience, at least when it comes to mechanics. As someone who always found fishing in Animal Crossing rudimentary, this is slightly disappointing.
  • This isn’t a tiny detail per se, but I couldn’t end this list without saying: The museum is gorgeous. Every fish, fossil and insect you donate will have its own place in these halls, whether that be in a large aquarium (we saw some fearsome sharks!), in a garden or on an exhibit stand.

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