New Horizons vs. New Leaf – Which Animal Crossing is Better?

We will explore the debate of which Animal Crossing game is better; New Horizons vs. New Leaf. Nintendo took time and care making its next game in the franchise, with 7 years of development time between games. We will look back at the most important improvements and the dire issues that New Horizons has compared to New Leaf.

new horizons vs. new leaf

After the monumental success of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and the shadow of its former self Animal Crossing: New Leaf still quite loved to this day, there’s one question wracking my brain. Which one is better? This article will explore the debate of New Horizons vs. New Leaf. Of course, anyone could simply look at Metacritic scores and let those decide it for them. But I want to revisit my time with both amazing games and figure out which one I believe is truly better.

At first, I wanted to say that of course, New Horizons was better in every way! But there were so many little things holding this claim back, that I couldn’t just say that without solid proof. Sequels in any series should always strive to be better than the one before it, but Nintendo has one big problem; quality vs. quantity. In this debate, I’ll be exploring the importance of both these factors, and whether New Horizons lives up to the expectations set after New Leaf.

Quality – Improvements

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Animal Crossing: New Horizons looks and sounds better than any of its predecessors. From the 3DS that released in 2011, to the current-gen Switch released in 2017, that’s 6 years of graphical improvements. Not only that, but New Horizons released 3 years later in 2020, meaning there was even more time for Nintendo to polish the look of the game.

Animal Crossing New Horizons on Switch: Revamped Tech For a New Generation

The game runs at a stable 30 frames per second, it’s based on the same engine as Nintendo’s Splatoon 2, and every aspect of your character and world reacts to lighting based on different light sources. It’s amazing just realizing that Nintendo made sure that every shadow and shine looked as realistic as possible, but without losing the cartoony aesthetic. Also, did you know that if you have a fan in your house, it will blow actual air, and affect a plant’s movement?

What’s also impressive is the sound design. Not only is this game’s hourly soundtrack killer and a staple to each game in the series, but background noises are immersive as well. Depending on where you’re standing, music from a stereo, a mole cricket chirping, or a flying balloon will be affected, and you’ll hear the sounds move around your speakers or headphones.

Quality – Issues

The one specific quality issue that’s been affecting players around the world are accurately named “quality of life” issues. These types of issues, if fixed, can drastically change the usability. These don’t have to do with fuzzy graphics or bad music, but the operations inside of a game and how much of an issue they are to utilize. 

Great, another flimsy axe to break on me in ten hits!

Great, another flimsy axe to break on me in ten hits!

As mentioned in one of our articles, there are many small details that could really help players not get so frustrated easily. One of those problems is not being able to craft in bulk. Yes, this may seem like a silly thing to get annoyed over. But once you find yourself in a situation where you need a dozen lamps for your town so your neighbours can get home safe without tarantulas chasing them home, you’ll get it.

Another issue at hand is the tediously tiring terraforming system; say that three times fast. When you get bored of your layout and want to re-do your island, there are way too many steps involved. Get enough money, waste that money on moving all the buildings onto the beach, spend days upon days planting every single hill and stream, and use the last of your money on moving everyone back.

This really isn’t suitable for players who have a knack for designing. Even if there are many more customization options than New Leaf, the way Nintendo designed the terraforming system just takes way too long. It’s surprising that even months after launch, they haven’t released an update to fix some of these quality of life issues.

Quantity – Improvements

Quantity of content in New Horizons is still pretty high, compared to the last game. When looking at how many items there are, the developers have created so many new items and clothing, most of which are from the crafting system. There seems to be an endless amount of recipe cards one can receive, and even a few months into the game I’m discovering new items.

Nintendo definitely upgraded their clothing as well. With the new changing room option in the Able Sisters, it allows for an endless amount of clothing colours and designs. The great part about this is how new items appear on the daily.

With the new wand feature, you can have different outfits for different occasions!

With the new wand feature, you can have different outfits for different occasions!

We can’t forget about the upgrade in status. In New Leaf you were mayor, and in New Horizons you’re a god. Well, not literally. But you can do some crazy terraforming. As much as I prattled on about it before, terraforming is still a huge improvement to the game. This lets players create islands through any means and any desires. There are definitely tons of new systems and items in this game, but here comes the bad news.

Quantity – Issues

Ever since launch, I’ve had this problem gnawing at the back of my head. It all started when Nintendo explained that holiday content would be updated in real-time. In New Leaf, they had already packaged in all the content they needed. This was mainly because games back then didn’t provide constant online updates as games do today. Still, it was a slight disappointment that the game was going to need monthly updates.

Sure, every game has updates to improve them over time, but somehow the game felt weirdly unfinished. It was as if they knew they couldn’t wait any longer or delay it anymore. They had to release it without as much content as they would want it to have. The game may seem large, but when comparing it to New Leaf, the game starts to end much faster than we’d want it to.

No skipping to Christmas to open your presents early, sorry!

No skipping to Christmas to open your presents early, sorry!

Of course, Animal Crossing games don’t ever really finish. You may feel accomplished with everything, but you can always come back and continue playing, with no real end credits scene to stop you. What I mean by “finish” is that New Leaf seems to last much longer than New Horizons. In the former, it could take months and months just to complete Main Street--where all your shops were. All the staple characters in the series that would move into shops were like stepping stones towards the best town imaginable.

What sucks for New Horizons is that most of the NPC characters--apart from the villagers--aren’t in the game whatsoever. Yes, we got a small update where we can see Cyrus and Reese for a month, but that’s only temporary. What New Leaf holds against New Horizons is the long-lasting charm of having to really work for that 5-star town. I already have 5 stars on my new island, but I don’t feel accomplished enough, especially after comparing my island to others.

Conclusion – Which is better?

It’s difficult to compare New Horizons vs. New Leaf when I seem to only look at New Leaf with rose-colored glasses. Back then, I was still in middle school and even skipped classes just to come home and play it. Now as a University student and an adult, was crying at the New Horizons reveal trailer at E3 2019 really necessary?

First of all, don’t come at me for getting emotional over one of my most beloved franchises. Secondly, yes. Of course it was worth it. And I do, genuinely believe Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a better game. Even if New Leaf reigned over quantity, the sequel needed a fresh start. I still have the memories of the 3DS game, and they will never equate to the new memories I make with the Switch game. It’s nice to know that in a year, New Horizons will be packed full of content.

The game’s director said herself that they just wanted to make the best game possible. Aya Kyogoku knows that us fans have fond memories of past games, but I know the developers have the same memories too, and they wouldn’t want to tarnish such a beloved franchise. I still play New Horizons nearly every day, if that counts for something.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons - New Friends Await! - Nintendo Switch

What do you think? Is Animal Crossing: New Leaf better than its sequel? Or is New Horizons the best in the series? Let us know in the comments below, or by using the feedback button!

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prisoner233D

All I know is there are A LOT of issues with New Horizons. At launch it 1000000% was undeniable in early access. It’s gotten better since but still, there’s a lot of valid criticism that can be leveled at it. The Salt Factory on YouTube has a really solid video on the topic. I’d check it out. I still play the game, I don’t time travel, and really only putz around on it. I still sorta have fun.

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