Image: Nintendo Life

Today marks exactly ten years since Animal Crossing: New Leaf was first released on 3DS. Outside Japan, we had to wait until June the following year to become mayor in our autostereoscopic 3D hamlets, although its Switch counterpart, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, would be the first game in the main series to get a simultaneous worldwide release.

Recency bias is something all gamers will be familiar with, and something reviewers take into account before waxing lyrical over a series entry that, with time, may not be quite as exciting as when it was the new hotness. Throw in nostalgia for the one you played first and things get even more confused.

Still, a decade on from the 3DS game, and two-and-a-half on from New Horizons' Switch launch (and one year on from the Happy Home Paradise DLC), all of us are in a better position to evaluate the pros and cons of each entry and decide our personal favourite between the two. And that's just what we're going to do.

Of course, preferring one doesn't consign the other to the dumpster and the dizzying number of hours we've cumulatively pumped into both of these brilliant games is proof of just how much we adore the pair of them. However, in the interests of polarisation for entertainment's sake, let it be known that all the writers below utterly detest the one they didn't pick, whatever they say with their words.

So, here are our personal preferences and general thoughts on the relative merits and failings of these great games. And at the bottom of the page you'll find a poll to cast your vote and have your say, too.

We begin with our resident Horizons hater, Mr. Ollie Reynolds...

Ollie Reynolds, Staff Writer

I absolutely adore Animal Crossing: New Horizons; heck, I should, I poured well over 100 hours into it (which, I now realise, is probably child’s play compared to more hardcore fans).

New Horizons focuses far too much on crafting mechanics for my liking

Having said that, my fondest memories of the franchise lie with New Leaf on the 3DS. I’ve tried to boil down why this might be and I’ve come to two main conclusions. The first is that New Horizons focuses far too much on crafting mechanics for my liking; I’ve never much been into crafting items in video games, so the process of chopping down trees and chipping away at rocks to get the required materials was a bit of a bore at times.

Otherwise, New Leaf simply came at a time when I was perhaps more sociable with my video games. I used to hang around internet forums dedicated to swapping friend codes and I honestly visited so many towns and made friends with people that I still converse with to this day. With New Horizons, on the other hand, I’m just in a completely different place in my life and have barely touched its online features.

It’s a great game, but my heart belongs to New Leaf.

Jim Norman, Staff Writer

Animal Crossing New Horizons Resetti
Image: Gavin Lane / Nintendo Life

I’ll confess, New Leaf was the first Animal Crossing game that I ever played. To make matters worse, bar New Horizons (and a small amount of time in Pocket Camp), it is the only other one I have played. I manage to sleep at night just fine knowing that my 100+ hours on New Horizons makes up for my lack of play elsewhere (I won’t be told otherwise), but this was always going to come down to a battle of nostalgia vs. recency bias for me.

New Horizons is not only the better Animal Crossing game, it is one of Nintendo’s best games

Fortunately, it’s no contest. New Horizons is not only the better Animal Crossing game, it is one of Nintendo’s best games. Full stop.

The customisation and crafting is precisely what makes it so. The thought of landing on an island in the future without the prospect of digging rivers and raising hills? Yuck. No thank you. It would be easy to say that New Horizons just caught me at the right time (and seriously, who doesn’t have a story like that), but the fact of the matter is that its way of finding beauty in the mundane was, and still is, the reason why it’s the better game of the two.

Alana Hagues, Staff Writer

Animal Crossing is among my favourite Nintendo franchises – I imported the GameCube version from the US long before its EU release because I just had to play this adorable little life sim. The DS and Wii entries never really grabbed me in the same way that first foray into the forest did. Then, New Leaf came along.

I was at university, at a time when a lot of my friends and I were living in entirely different locations. But Animal Crossing: New Leaf was a connecting thread. It brought the cosiness of Animal Crossing to the 3DS along with a little extra power fantasy, in letting you become mayor. I could choose my own trousers and design my own! And going for my morning coffee every single day became a routine I didn’t drop for over a year.

A winner whichever one you play — Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

I loved how there was a small shopping area just outside of my little town. I could go for a little wander, dye my hair bright pink, get some new clothes, and get my shoes shined all within a few steps. And it expanded over time. After a rubbish day studying and struggling, just curling up over the weekend and just living in the little town of Calypso was heaven.

New Leaf’s concise vision and cosy vibes really win out for me

New Horizons is almost up there. I truly adore it, and so many words have been said about how it became a lifeline during the early months of the pandemic – heck, I would know. Hours of meticulous planning, building, money making, rebuilding – it’s an even bigger power fantasy, with so many new things to go. But I dropped it pretty soon after the summer. Redd felt really elusive for a while. Brewster came in a bit too late. And building and rebuilding an island feels like a pretty overwhelming task. I love the minutiae of managing and building, and I could get sucked into a crafting loop for hours, but the game doesn’t make it easy.

New Horizons is brilliant. But New Leaf’s concise vision and cosy vibes really win out for me over the many little niggles that New Horizons’ vast open waters brought to the table.

Gavin Lane, Editor

It's a poser, isn't it? I don't think anyone would disagree that New Horizons polished the template and introduced a great many features and nods to convenience. And yet! There's still so much more it could have done, and New Leaf's simpler approach has a charm all of its own.

Still, I'd stick with the most recent game all the same. The ability to terraform would be hard to give up now I've been able to sculpt my island to my liking, but it's the improved custom design tools that I really couldn't do without. How else am I going to ignore the ills of the world if not by constructing a massive repository of Star Trek uniforms and LCARS wall elements so I can recreate the bridge of the Enterprise in my house and turn my attic into Ten Forward, eh?

Ten out of Ten
Time exceptionally well spent — Image: Nintendo Life

So yes, Horizons for the win. That is if you're not going to let me vote for my boy Wild World. Everyone knows that's the best one.

So, those are our thoughts — an even split. But what about you? Let us know which one you'd prefer to be stuck on a deserted island with below...

Which do you prefer, New Leaf or New Horizons?