Animal Crossing: New Horizons is out today. I’ve spent a lot of time with this massive game over the last few weeks, and while that may not be enough to truly grasp the entirety of what it has to offer, I do have a few tips for folks looking to make the most out of the early days on their personal island. Here’s a guide to help you out.
The first thing you’ll do after landing on your island is choose a spot for your home. Tom Nook, the affable tanuki to whom your life now belongs, hands you a small tent and sends you off into the wilderness with your travel buddies to find room for your makeshift shelter.
You won’t have a lot of real estate to choose from at first—the island is mostly cut off by rivers at this point—but I would suggest placing your tent somewhere near the area where Nook has established his own camp. This will eventually become Resident Services, the central feature of the island where you’ll plan additions to your home and island, order items from the Nook Terminal, and eventually visit Isabelle just to say hi. Your fellow villagers will also congregate in this area frequently, making it easier to find them while they wander around the island.
And hey, if you end up not liking this initial spot, you’ll eventually be able to move your house anywhere on the island.
Speaking of the Nook Terminal, you’re going to want to visit this ATM-looking machine frequently. It’s where you’ll spend your Nook Miles (a secondary currency Nook awards players for completing tasks around the island), pay off your loans, and browse your catalog.
One of the most useful items you’ll find at the Nook Terminal early on are pocket organization guides, which is just a fancy way of saying inventory upgrades. At first, you won’t have much space to carry things around, but your pockets will grow unbelievably large once you grab these guides. They appear periodically in the early days of your island adventure, so keep an eye on the Nook Terminal and grab them as soon as possible.
Just like with the pocket organization guides, you’re going to want to check in on the Nook Terminal often for upgraded tool recipes. While the flimsy tools you start with are easy to make with a few common resources, upgraded tools have better durability. Many of these recipes will involve combining flimsy tools with iron ore, which you can find from bashing rocks with your shovel, so stock up early.
I’m unsure if these upgrades are tied to days spent on the island or progression, but it’s smart to visit the Nook Terminal at least once a day anyways to check out its latest offerings and collect a few free Nook Miles for your dedication.
Eventually, Nook’s twin sons Timmy and Tommy will open their very own shop rather than selling stuff bootleg out of their dad’s tent. Nook’s Cranny functions much like it has in previous games by acting as the main place to buy and sell items, but they also offer recipes via a cabinet in the back. At first, these will just be recipes for flimsy tools, which you should already have, but over time they’ll start to stock different types of flowers and recipe books full of DIY projects.
These recipe books don’t include anything essential, and you probably won’t be able to immediately build several of the items within because of the materials they require, but they do help fill out your recipe database for just a few Bells. If you’re stuck on how to decorate your house, grab a couple of these recipe books and see what they have to offer. You might just find your next accent piece.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons isn’t a massive open-world adventure or a survival game, but it’s good to plan ahead before your outings on the island. Nothing is more frustrating than being in the middle of digging up fossils and having your shovel break, forcing you to leave a big, ugly hole behind as you run back to a workbench to make a new one.
Take inventory of what you hope to accomplish after leaving the house. Are you going to whack away at some trees for wood? Do you need to replenish your supply of clay? How about fishing? You should always be fishing! Depending on your goals, you should carry multiples of the same tools so you can swap to a fresh axe or fishing pole when the need arises. They break faster than you expect.
This is especially important when traveling to other islands. By purchasing a ticket at the Nook Terminal, the local airport will fly you to a random island full of resources. The pilot that drops you off offers flimsy tools for a few Nook Miles, but upgrading them can be tedious if you didn’t bring materials with you. Once your inventory has been upgraded, it shouldn’t be an issue to take two or even three of your favorite tools with you in order to minimize interruptions.
The biggest draw of Animal Crossing, at least in my opinion, is its persistent world. Time moves at the same speed in New Horizons as it does in real life, so the game will pull the time and date from you Switch before getting started to make sure it matches the real world. Naturally, this means certain events will only happen at specific times or dates.
You’ll want to check in on Animal Crossing for a little bit every day, but when is entirely dependent on what you want to do. The general and clothing stores—both of which open at 8 a.m. and close at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., respectively—have schedules of their own, as do the bugs and fish you’ll encounter. Check the Critterpedia, a sort of encyclopedia for the island’s wildlife, for more information on when you can find certain species.
That said, if your fishing expeditions run late, you can drop items you wish to sell in the general store’s drop box for 80% of the full price. The money will be deposited in your bank account the following morning. Previous games allowed you to tweak the time of day shops were open, but I’ve yet to encounter that option in New Horizons yet. As someone who often plays late in the day, I’m crossing my fingers they haven’t completely forgotten night owls like me.
Crafting is entirely new to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which means many longtime players will have to come to terms with the system sooner rather than later. As such, I found it helpful to spend the first few mornings going around and harvesting my island of as many resources as possible. This means smacking rocks, whacking away at trees, and grabbing whatever manages to fall on the ground overnight.
Early on, you won’t have a lot to use these materials on, but once you start to build out your recipe book, you’ll be glad you have rocks and sticks in reserve.
A good strategy to use while searching for these resources is the “rock trick.”
Once you hit a rock with your shovel, you’ll have a limited amount of time to continue hitting the rock before it stops dropping resources. That said, every smack will push you further away from the rock, which means you’ll have to waste valuable time walking forward every few hits. Optimal shovel whacks will net you 7 items, but with the rock trick, you can push that up to 8.
Setting up the rock trick is simple: Before striking a rock, dig two holes diagonally near it in such a way that, when you hit it, the holes will keep you from being pushed away. It’s a little hard to explain the positioning with words, but check out my example in the GIF below for a better idea. After that, it’s as simple as mashing the A button and reaping the rewards.
This is especially helpful when you find the random rock that has been designated as your island’s money rock for the day. Money rocks drop, you guessed it, money instead of materials. Bells are dropped in increasing denominations, making the difference between 7 and 8 hits a massive 8,000 Bells. And you want those Bells!
Trying to dig the holes after you realize you’ve hit gold takes too long and ruins the trick. I use the rock trick on every rock I hit just in case I end up finding the money rock.
Storage space is a common concern in Animal Crossing games, but New Horizons is very good about giving players a place to put all their clutter. Once you upgrade from a tent to a proper house by paying off your first loan, you’ll be able to easily store hundreds of items. Storage also increases as the house gets bigger. I’m a hoarder, and I’ve never found myself without room to store various materials and furniture.
You can’t manually organize on the storage screen, unfortunately, but there are ways to sort items alphabetically, by the time they were added, and by type. Even if something doesn’t seem useful, like garbage from the ocean or a beehive, it’s smart to keep a few in storage since recipes might call for them in the future.
Seasoned Animal Crossing players will already know, but you can hold the A button while using your net to ready the tool and sneak up on skittish bugs. Catching bugs seems a lot more forgiving in New Horizons, but I have encountered a few that will disappear as soon as you get close. Use this simple trick to get the jump on them.
While talking along the beaches in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you might notice little spouts of water squirt up from the sand every so often. This indicates the presence of a manila clam, and digging it up will give you an easy recipe for fish bait. One clam equals one portion of bait, which can then be tossed into any body of water to immediately draw a fish to that area.
I still prefer walking along the beach and scouring my island’s rivers on fishing expeditions, but when you’re after some serious Bells, I highly recommend building up a few stacks of fish bait and heading to the pier. That’s where you’ll find rare, pricey fish like blue marlin and tuna, which sell for thousands of Bells apiece. Even smaller fish like barred knifejaw and red snapper can rake in the dough.
It can take some time before you find anything valuable, but keep at it and you’ll have a decent amount of Bells in no time.
These tips may make New Horizons sound like a grind, but the game is really what you make of it. I rushed through certain aspects in order to see as much as I could before the review embargo, but it’s really meant to be played for at least a year to experience everything. This is a life simulator, after all. You can take it as easy as you want or go hard on paying off loans and decorating your home.
My overall recommendation for New Horizons is to chill. Check in on your fellow villagers, send letters, take pointers from Nook on public projects, spend time chatting with Isabelle, and really just do what appeals to you the most on any given day. If you miss something, like a special visitor or event, there’s a good chance they’ll roll around again in a few weeks’ time anyway. A short daily check-in should be enough to gauge what’s happening on your island and whether or not you need to do anything.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is best treated as a retreat from the real world, especially during the times in which we’re currently living. Don’t stress about upgrading your house because Nook is a surprisingly lenient landlord. The island doesn’t need bridges right away because the villagers seem to teleport anyway. Hoarding resources isn’t necessary because they’re plentiful and constantly regenerating. Take some time to listen to the ocean waves and imagine what life could be like if the world was a little more like Animal Crossing.