Animal Crossing: 10 best tips to play the zen game for Nintendo Switch

Tom Nook, Blathers and all the other denizens of your island community celebrate all your major milestones. Here’s how to get to those milestones even faster.

Screenshot by David Priest/CNET

Animal Crossing: New Horizons only arrived last week for the Nintendo Switch, but the beloved franchise is already creating a sensation. The slow-paced, anxiety-free island life simulator just might be the perfect antidote to the realities of social distancing and quarantine during the coronavirus spread.

I’ve already discovered a few nuggets of wisdom that will go a long way in the early days of gameplay, making the game smoother and more rewarding as you build your life on the island. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, a little direction can help you navigate the game so you’re not just collecting everything you see — there’s a little more structure than meets the eye. 

So here are a few tips and tricks for players of all kinds, whether Animal Crossing is already at home in your Switch or still on your personal horizon. I’ll update this post as more tips come along.

Travel back in time before you move forward

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Time travel is a major theme in Animal Crossing, but a controversial one. Since the game takes place in real time, you actually have to wait a real day for buildings to get built and plants to grow. And Animal Crossing starts slow. So if you suspect you’ll want a quicker start, consider setting your Nintendo Switch’s clock back seven to 10 days. That way, as you play, you can bump it up a day every few hours to cover some of the early, slower-developing portions of the game more quickly.

By setting the clock back before you start rather than zooming forward afterward, you also give yourself the chance to get back on real time. That way you can pretend you never cheated (and you don’t have to have a wonky clock forevermore).

Don’t put off paying your debts

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Tom Nook, the wealthy business-raccoon funding your adventure and constantly persuading you to spend more money than you have, puts you in what feels like deep debt on your first day. It takes a little time to build up Nook Miles — an achievement-based currency — early in the game, but work to earn them quickly and pay off that first debt ASAP. The faster you pay back your first loan, the faster Tom will build you a home and, most crucially, give you the extra storage you need for everything you’re about to start collecting.

Use a stone ax, not an iron one

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If we’ve learned anything over the past few millennia, it’s that iron cuts down trees better than stone does, right? Well, in Animal Crossing, you might not actually want to cut down your trees: you might just want wood, soft wood or hard wood for crafting. Luckily, the stone ax extracts those types of wood without chopping down the tree.

Make and use fish bait

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As you go for long, peaceful walks on the beach, you might notice little jets of water spraying up from the sand. When you see them, get out your shovel and dig! Manilla clams are hiding under the sand, and you can craft them into fish bait. When you’re angling for rare fish, you can use that bait to give yourself better odds, luring in more fish in specific spots like mountain streams and at the end of the pier.

Catch all the fish and bugs

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The other first thing you should do is catch every animal you see — which pretty much consists of fish and bugs. Keep your eye on flowers for stinkbugs and mantises, snag butterflies in the groves and shake trees and rocks to find pill bugs and spiders. Here’s how my colleague caught the elusive stringfish.

As soon as you craft your first bug net and fishing pole, start handing over your collected critters to Tom Nook. Sure, you could sell these creatures to Timmy and Tommy, the island’s resident traders, but Tom Nook will send each unique discovery to his friend, Blathers the owl, who lives off-island.

Long story short, after enough donations, Blathers the owl will come build a museum on the island and set you on a much larger collection project, opening up the game considerably. 

Learn to creep

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Catching fish takes a little practice, but I didn’t realize I was catching bugs wrong until a few days into the game. Instead of rushing up and swinging the net wildly, you can creep forward by holding down the A button when the net is in hand. This will get you close enough to snatch up a bug before they escape.

Always hold a net while you’re shaking trees

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During your first day or two on the island, when you’re running around shaking trees to get sticks (how else are you going to build that ax?), wasp nests will occasionally fall from the branches. Find yourself on the wrong side of a stinger without medicine and you’ll pass out. Once you build the bug net, though, it’s a good rule of thumb to always hold it while you’re shaking trees. Not only can you catch vengeful wasps, but you can also snag spiders and other creepy crawlers dislodged from their homes overhead.

Plant plenty of fruit (and even money)

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Fruit trees are a great way to get income early in the game, and once you get a shovel, planting a pear or apple tree is super easy and pays off quickly. Another semi-secret form of income: money trees! 

Around the island, golden beams occasionally shine up from the ground. Dig them up and you’ll find a bag of bells (the island’s primary currency). Instead of pocketing the bells and covering the hole, you can plant the bag to grow a money tree. In fact, if you select the bells in your inventory and portion out a bag of 10,000 bells, you can grow a tree that drops bags of 10,000 bells when it grows up. Get a grove of those growing, and you’ll be rich in no time.

Don’t let Gulliver sleep in!

A few days into your island adventure, you’ll notice a gull washed up and asleep on the beach. If you talk to him, he’ll mumble something comical and sink back into his slumber. Don’t stop! Keep talking to him until he wakes up, and he’ll give you a short quest to complete and a small reward to reap. And no, this won’t be the first time Gulliver graces your beaches.

Fruit gives you superpowers

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If you eat fruit, you’ll notice a counter in the upper lefthand corner of the screen. This indicator shows how many pieces of fruit you’ve eaten (up to 10), and for each one, you can perform a super feat, such as breaking a stone or digging up a full tree. Digging up trees helps make groves easy picking, and when you visit other islands, it helps transplant new fruit trees without having to wait for them to regrow. All that said, DO NOT BREAK ROCKS! In fact…


Screenshot by David Priest/CNET

Iron, clay and stone are all useful resources early in the game, but they’re hard to come by. When you hit a rock with an ax or shovel, it spits out one of these three resources. But you only get a handful. “So,” you’re thinking, “let me eat some fruit and hit a rock. Then I’ll get ALL the resources, right?” WRONG! When you break a rock, you will get a single resource, and you’ll have to wait for another rock to spawn elsewhere on the island (which, remember, takes real time days). Unless you’re trying to clear space for something, don’t break rocks. Just don’t.

Crafting is king (especially on the go)

Crafting tools and items out of the refuse you discover around the island is a huge element early in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and you’ll often want to craft while you’re roaming far from home. If you keep a workbench in your inventory at all times, you can just plop it down anywhere and get your craft on without the inconvenient trek back to your tent or house.

Once you put these tricks into action, Animal Crossing: New Horizons will truly begin to open up to you. Keep discovering and crafting, keep chatting with your island friends and most of all, keep destressing while you do it.

Now you know how to jump start your island getaway in Animal Crossing, check out some other tips for getting the most out of your Nintendo Switch and the seven other games you need to play on the console.

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