It has been nearly eight years since the last "Animal Crossing" game. "Animal Crossing: New Leaf," was released for our getaway pleasures (we don’t talk about "Happy Home Designer" and "Amiibo Festival," but "Pocket Camp" is OK). As a big fan of the series, I have been looking forward to whatever version the game took on the Nintendo Switch, though I do wish it didn’t take a few years from the Switch’s launch. After some delays, "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" is finally here! The game was definitely worth the wait, and it was everything I hoped it would be.

Just in case you haven’t seen the game that is sweeping social media, allow me to give a brief synopsis of "Animal Crossing: New Horizons." You are a person looking to just take a nice vacation and get away for a while, so you end up taking a trip to an isolated island with some random animal friends. Eventually, you build up the island to whatever you would like, bringing in new friends and creating infrastructure to your liking. Build your house, your collections and your island to your choosing and have a trip like no other as you enjoy your island vacation.

I want to preface this review by saying that I am not the most die-hard "Animal Crossing" fan. I can’t name every villager, bug or fish just by looking at them, but that has not diminished my enjoyment of the game. During this time of shelter-in-place, I have something to look forward to every day that isn’t homework, and it is all thanks to this game.

People may ask what "Animal Crossing" is about or what you do, but I can’t really answer that. You can make this game whatever you want it to be and do as much or as little as you want. Do you want to be a museum curator? You can be one! Do you want to be a tarantula wrangler and salesman? You can do that! Want to make millions via the turnip trade? Be careful with that one, but you can do it too. The game allows you to play your own way and shape your island to whatever you would like.

With new upgrades both visually and mechanically, this is the best "Animal Crossing" game yet. Allowing full customization of your island, you will eventually be able to change the entire place to your liking. Similar to past games, you can customize small things like your town’s tune (mine is from Yoshi’s Island) and the town flag (which is currently a Metroid, drawn by yours truly). But ramping it up for "New Horizons," you can choose where you want every structure: from shops to homes, and even terraform the island by creating lakes, waterfalls and multilayered landscapes. This is the first time the player has had this much freedom in "Animal Crossing," and it feels like a natural and fun next step for the series to take.

There were some things I did not enjoy, surprisingly enough. I hated it in "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild," and I hate it here: item durability. I love that they introduced crafting and resource gathering to the "Animal Crossing" world, as it gives you something else to do each day and brings a new sense of accomplishment as you finally build that piece of furniture you wanted. Despite this, I hate having to craft new tools constantly. I feel like it is just a way to waste materials, and after the first few times you build a shovel or net, it gets old, fast.

The other thing I don’t like is how difficult it is to get an island resident to leave. You can only have so many, and they have to want to leave on their own. I personally invited people as I found them, thinking that I could eventually have them leave, but it was not the case.

These minor setbacks do not take away from my enjoyment of the game too much though, as there is just so much to love. I am starting to build a fun town to live in, and with a constantly evolving game that brings new features, events and collectibles every month, there is so much to look forward to. Pro tip: don’t time travel, that’s cheating and ruins the fun. Just take it a day at a time, play for a bit while you are bored and stuck indoors, and have a vacation every time you boot up your Switch.

Rating: 9/10

Aleah Green, assistant director of illustration

The year is 2012. A 12-year-old me is trying to find myself amid the convolution that is puberty and middle school. During this time, I found comfort in a game called “Animal Crossing: New Leaf,” where I could reinvent my gawky self by getting lost in a world that was all mine.

Come 2020, and COVID-19 has taken the world by storm. The days of quarantine and social distancing become uncertain as the number of cases seem to climb by the hour. Once again, I am lost and at times feel that scared 12-year-old within me. However, all my angst was put to rest when Nintendo presented the newest “Animal Crossing” installment.

The heavily anticipated Nintendo release, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” hit stores March 20. "New Horizons" gives players the opportunity to immerse themselves in what starts as a deserted island they build from the ground up. Players start a small tent and begin to complete challenges in order to receive Nook Miles, which are a new form of currency in the franchise that work similarly to airline miles. From this point, players can pay off their first debt and begin to earn bells, which are the main form of currency, by either selling items they find on the island or discovering them in balloons, trees and even underground.

The majority of the game centers on building a community as more villagers and vendors decide to join the island. In addition to paying off any debts that accumulate with home upgrades, players are tasked with donating island species and fossils to the museum, as well as formally inviting visitors to join their island. Most importantly though, the game creates a platform where players can design their homes and the player-controlled character to their heart’s content.

Moreover, character design is no longer confined to one gender option. The game has divided the choices into two “styles” that can be changed at any time, which eliminates the binary structure that most games implement within their character customization. While subtle, this little change in customization opens so many doors to the game’s diverse players who may find themselves on both sides of that spectrum.

In the two weeks the game has been out, I have thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay. "New Horizons" is simple, yet engaging. The island setting is calm and relaxing, and the overall graphics are an extreme improvement from the last “Animal Crossing” installment. In this game it’s easy to fall into a routine, yet critters like tarantulas and wasps keep me on edge so I am never bored.

One thing I have really enjoyed is the flexibility of pace the game offers. New Horizons works on a day-to-day basis with daily challenges, rewards and bells to earn. As someone who likes to balance out work, school and leisure evenly throughout my day, the day-to-day structure works best with my schedule. However, there is also the option to time travel.

While it is not recommended, players can fast track how soon things happen in the game. Some pros to this include quicker home upgrades, early seasonal critter options and more bell opportunities. Contrary to this, nonetheless, time traveling can increase your chances of having cockroaches and weed infestations on the island as well as missing out on random villager visits, so travel at your own risk.

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is just what the world needs in these trying times, a virtual escape to a world where the opportunities are endless. In a time where things feel unknown, it is nice to know I can still find comfort in a game like "Animal Crossing."

Rating: 9/10