Nintendo spiced up island life this July by adding a brand-new area to explore right off your own island’s coast.
Like so many others stuck in quarantine this year, I found myself in dire need of a distraction, and since I was already in the market for a new console, I treated myself to a Nintendo Switch Lite. I’m so glad I did, because that meant I was able to jump on the bandwagon of popular games and fall in love with a new-to-me franchise by playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a fun, quirky, cute game where your whole goal is to create the loveliest little island paradise you can, full of adorably friendly animals and pretty flowers. It’s a tranquil game with no time limits for goals and an easy, happy-go-lucky attitude that lets you completely explore your new little home and customize it to your heart’s content. It’s exactly the kind of game I love, and I was super excited when Nintendo announced a completely free update, released on July 3rd, with all new content to dive into (pun fully intended).
In its newest summer update, your Animal Crossing character can now swim in the previously inaccessible ocean surrounding the island! It’s full of new creatures to donate to the museum, and there’s even been a new villager encounter teased, a friendly otter named Pascal who will happily offer you new recipes in exchange for some of the fun critters you find while out exploring.
I tried out the new update today, as soon as it finished downloading. First thing’s first, you have to buy yourself a wetsuit from the Nook Shop or Nook Shopping Network. I bought both the horizontally-striped wetsuit and a cute blue floral wetsuit, but since the blue one is being mailed to me, I decided to test the waters in my classic red suit first.
I was also greeted with a little note from Nintendo in my mailbox when I booted up the game, thanking me for downloading the update and gifting me with a snorkeling mask (mine was green and I love it)! I thought that was particularly thoughtful of them to add in.
All suited up, I ran to the rocky outcropping on the nearest beach and dived right in. The dive animation is adorable! Your character does a little cannonball into the water and comes up paddling, ready to go.
I will say that the only annoying thing about the swimming mechanics is how slow you go. You have to tap A repeatedly to move at any kind of reasonable pace, so it’s a bit of a workout for your thumb, and you still don’t swim particularly quickly. Luckily, though, the encounters in the water don’t disappear as quickly as bugs and things do on land; they’re more like fossil spawns, staying in place while you come to them.
To gather things, you dive (by hitting Y) and chase the shadow until you can grab it and pull it up to the surface for a reveal. The sea critters are all kinds of fun designs, with bright, tropical colors to compliment the summer vibe.
There are sea urchins in full purple spikes, sea pineapples that look a bit like bright pink aliens, octopi that look mildly annoyed that you’ve pulled them out of the water, and my personal favorite, nearly-fluorescent sea anemones that pulse and sway in your hand. They’re all pretty easy to catch, too, meaning you can just focus on enjoying the hunting and gathering rather than worry if you’re going to miss out on a rare catch.
Of course, not all fan reactions were as positive as mine. A lot of people questioned the inclusion of an ocean update when players have been asking for more practical upgrades (as shown in this amazing video), like the ability to craft multiple items at once or to put paths down continuously instead of having to click individually for every tile. These little quality-of-life upgrades have been frequent requests since the game’s release, and continue to be the source of frustration for many players.
Players also questioned the inclusion of such a weird, self-contained activity. Twitter user @tanyaxshort put together a fantastic thread about the design issues with the update, saying that “swimming interrupts this flow [of self-directed activities].”
She laments that you can’t interact with anything other than the sea collectibles while you’re in the water; you can’t access your inventory, you can’t use your tools, and you can’t interact with fish at all. She does acknowledge that this was probably done for ease of marketing, saying that “nobody wants to report on” the kinds of small updates that would allow for more integrated gameplay, but that she, personally, would prefer those over this “big weird clamped-on update.”
People definitely seem to agree with Tanya, saying that they feel like the update breaks away from the usual gameplay feel and seems somewhat unsettling when you’re used to such a smooth, all-in-one experience.
Generally, though the update seems to be making a lot of people happy. People seem especially excited about Pascal the Otter, like Twitter User @OtterCoffee, who simply said “THE UPDATE HAS AN OTTER THE UPDATE HAS AN OTTER THE UPDATE HAS AN OTTER…” I haven’t run into Pascal yet, but just judging by the fun screenshots all over Twitter and Instagram, I can’t wait to meet him.
I think the summer update is a fun way of expanding the game and giving you more to do after the initial building phase of the game without detracting from the relaxed, stress-free feeling that it offers. The new clothes are cute, the new animals are exciting, and the new encounters make it feel like I’m brand-new to the game all over again, and I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait to see what the second update brings later in the year, but for now, I’m more than ready to enjoy everything that the ocean has to offer.