Animal Crossing New Leaf vs New Horizons

It has been over a year since Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ final major update. I remember excitedly and gleefully watching the video showcasing the new additions and returning features. Before the update, there was not much left to do, and the New Horizons players were starving for new content.

The final update did not disappoint, though. You can plant vegetables and cook dishes to spice up your home décor. You can dig out gyroids and expand Harv’s island to house special NPCs like Harriet, Tortimer, and Katrina. They added new and returning villagers. Even Brewster and The Roost returns!

Releasing simultaneously with the game’s DLC, Happy Home Paradise, it changed New Horizons in a huge way. However, how does the full game compare to the previous main installment, i.e., New Leaf? The two games, while similar in their core gameplay, have vast differences.

If you are new to the franchise, you might find it hard to pick between the two. They both consume a lot of your time because of how fun they are, and you might not have that much leisure time. So, this article will help you out on picking which game suits your style and needs best.

new leaf

Main Differences between New Leaf Vs. New Horizons

Both games belong to the same franchise, so they share core gameplay mechanics. However, with New Horizons being released eight years after New Leaf, there are glaring differences between the two, namely:

  • New Leaf is playable on the Nintendo 3DS, whereas New Horizons is playable on the Nintendo Switch.
  • You act as the town mayor after moving into town in New Leaf, whereas you act as the island representative after purchasing the Deserted Island Getaway Package from Tom Nook in New Horizons.
  • You cannot terraform your island and craft tools and furniture in New Leaf, whereas you can in New Horizons.
  • You decorate your island by establishing Public Works Projects in New Leaf, whereas you can do the same by simply placing furniture outside in New Horizons.
  • You can play minigames in New Leaf, whereas you cannot in New Horizons.


Can I… New Leaf New Horizons
Buy tools? Yes
Craft tools and furniture? No Yes
Catch bugs? Yes
Catch fish? Yes
Plant trees and flowers? Yes
Dig up fossils? Yes
Donate to the museum? Yes
Harvest fruits? Yes; there are 12 different kinds Yes; there are six different kinds
Grow gyroids? Yes Yes, but only after the 2.0 Update
Play minigames? Yes No
Play multiplayer? Yes; up to four players Yes; up to eight players

Gameplay in New Leaf

new leaf gameplay

In New Leaf, you can catch bugs and fishes, dig up fossils, and sell them to earn Bells. You can also donate your catch to the museum. This game is special when it comes to the fruits. Unlike the other installments, New Leaf is the only one that has 12 unique fruits.

Once you have access to Tortimer Island, you gain access to the six non-native fruits, namely bananas, coconuts, durians, lemons, lychees, and mangos. Additionally, you can play minigames on the island, and if you have a friend with you, they can tag along to multiply the fun.

Gameplay in New Horizons

new horizons gameplay

In addition to the core gameplay mechanics, you can now craft your tools and furniture in New Horizons; in previous installments, you can only buy them. Crafting materials come from the various resources on the island, including weeds, fruits, wood from trees, and stone and clay from boulders.

Gyroids did not make a comeback in New Horizons during release. However, the developers later added them during the last major update. Sadly, there are no minigames in New Horizons, but with enough creativity and imagination, you can use the furniture and make various minigames for yourself.

Verdict on New Leaf vs. New Horizons Gameplay

The two games’ mechanics have a lot in common, which is not a problem if you love diving into life simulators (like me). If you have played New Leaf or any Animal Crossing game in the past, you would have no issues understanding what to do in New Horizons.

Since these activities are the franchise’s key points, I think New Leaf comes out as the better of the two, mainly due to the lack of New Horizons’ multiplayer gameplay. In this era (especially during its release when the pandemic was at its peak), having something to do with your mates online is vital.

While, yes, New Horizons offers multiplayer connectivity, it does not offer as many things to do. Nintendo should have fully utilized their newest features of placing furniture outside or terraforming (which I will talk about in the next sections) to apply in multiplayer.

Does the lack of multiplayer outweigh the additions to new gameplay features of New Horizons (minus the town customization and terraforming)? In my experience, yes. I do not often craft furniture, and you can buy tools especially during the late game where Bells do not really matter anymore.

Graphics and Performance

  New Leaf New Horizons
Which console is this game playable? Nintendo 3DS family of consoles (3DS, 2DS, and XL and New variations) Nintendo Switch
What is the average frame rate? 30 FPS
What is the game’s native resolution? 400 x 240p (Top Screen), 320 x 240p (Bottom Screen) 1920 x 1080p (Docked); 1280 x 720p (Portable)
Does the game support Amiibo? Yes, but only after the 1.4 update (i.e., the Welcome Amiibo update) Yes

Graphics and Performance in New Leaf

new leaf graphics

New Leaf plays on the Nintendo 3DS family, and for its time, it was a fantastic addition to the franchise. It runs on 30 frames per second, which is not a big deal for a life simulator like Animal Crossing. As others have pointed out, if you are critical of the frame rate of Animal Crossing games, you are missing the point.

As for visuals, it was limited to the small screen of its handheld console. It featured compressed yet detailed graphics. You can notice jaggies (i.e., spikes on round or curved objects) here and there, and you may find it hard to see and notice trees, flowers, or villagers on the horizon.

Graphics and Performance in New Horizons

new horizons graphics

New Horizons is a massive leap from its predecessor. It went from 240p to 720p in a snap, if you can define a snap as eight years. While it still runs at 30 frames per second (which, again, is not the main focus for Animal Crossing games), the improved resolution definitely helps a lot.

It is all thanks to its console, the Nintendo Switch. The resolution can even go to 1080p due to the Nintendo Switch’s docking capabilities, which turn it from a handheld to a home console. The visuals have more detailed textures, and you can especially notice it on surfaces of furniture, clothes, and fruits.

Verdict on New Leaf vs. New Horizons Graphics and Performance

When New Leaf was first released in 2012, it felt revolutionary, but looking back, the graphics did not age well, especially compared to its next title.

I know that graphics are not everything, but for a series all about designing, making your house look pretty and presentable, and dressing up villagers, it can make a difference.

Without much debate, New Horizons is more pleasing to the eyes, although I cannot blame New Leaf for its visuals as it was simply a product of its time. The surfaces of things on New Horizons visually represent well their material, as if you can touch them in real life.

Theme and Story

  New Leaf New Horizons
You play as the… Town Mayor Island Representative
You assume the role… By default, after you move into town via train Because you purchased the Nook Inc. Deserted Island Getaway Package
Upon arrival, you are greeted by… Isabelle Tom Nook
At first, you live in a… Tent, but upgradeable
Your job is to… Become an effective mayor Expand the island’s capabilities
You do your job by… Increasing your approval rating Completing Tom Nook’s requests
You pay for things using… Bells Bells or Nook Miles
There are [number] new special characters. 13 8
There are [number] new villagers. 100 16

Theme and Story in New Leaf

new leaf story

In New Leaf, you act as the town’s mayor after moving in. Throughout the previous games, you replace an old tortoise known as Tortimer in his role as the town mayor. At the start of this game, Tortimer is no longer the mayor; he has instead retired to a secluded island known as Tortimer Island.

When you first start New Leaf, a new special character named Isabelle will be there to guide you in your journey as the mayor. This cute dog will act as your secretary throughout the game.

You unlock various buildings and features in different ways, but the main methods are by allowing time to pass or investing in Bells. New Leaf added a ton of new stuff from its predecessor; 100 villagers, two new personality types (big sisters and smug villagers), and two new species (deer and hamster).

Theme and Story in New Horizons

new horizons story

They changed the formula when it comes to New Horizons; instead of being a mayor, you are a lucky customer of Tom Nook’s Deserted Island Getaway Package. So, you enter the game not as someone bearing responsibility, but as someone going on a vacation.

Since Tom Nook owns the vacation plan you bought, he will greet you and two other villagers upon arriving on the island. He will give you some tasks to flourish the island, but the story’s setup makes you feel less guilty about ignoring them.

New Horizons introduced only 16 new villagers; eight of them came during the game’s release, and the rest came during the major 2.0 update. Also, some of the previous special villagers were removed due to them being irrelevant while adding eight new ones.

Verdict on New Leaf vs. New Horizons Theme and Story

I find New Horizon’s theme and story more fitting for the type of game Animal Crossing is. I can’t count how many times I have thought of going to the beach, and relaxing while sipping on coconut juice, instead of being at work in the office.

New Horizons still has its shortcomings over New Leaf. For instance, the latter introduced a hundred villagers with many of them having cute designs.

My personal favorites are Zucker and Merengue because they resemble food I love. The former looks like an octopus ball, i.e., Takoyaki, while the other is like a strawberry shortcake.

Thankfully, New Horizons retained the new villagers in New Leaf. Plus, New Horizons’ new villagers also have great designs. I can’t forget how the internet got so crazy for Raymond; people started to spend lots of real money just for his Amiibo card. It is crazy!

Overall, New Horizons has this category in the bag. It feels more connected to the spirit of Animal Crossing games compared to New Leaf. While New Horizons introduced fewer villagers, they still have a lot of them to choose from.

Character Customization

Can I… New Leaf New Horizons
Choose my gender and name? Yes
Change my gender after setup? No Yes, by interacting with a mirror
Change my name after setup? No
Change my hairstyle and hair color? Yes, through the Shampoodle Yes, by interacting with a mirror
Customize my face in the beginning? Yes, through Rover’s dialogue Yes
Change my face after setup? No Yes, by interacting with a mirror
Wear different clothes? Yes

Character Customization in New Leaf

After picking out a name and gender during your conversation with Rover on the train, you can no longer change it. Thus, you have to be careful in deciding what you want.

Your choice of gender and face style is dependent on your answers to Rover’s questions, and the questions can be vague. I recommend watching a tutorial about it if you want something specific.

You can change your hairstyle, hair color, and eye color at a store called the Shampoodle, but it is not immediately available. Like in previous games, you can buy and wear clothes to make your character fit your style.

Character Customization in New Horizons

new horizons character customization

Character customization is more direct in New Horizons; at the beginning, you decide everything about your character including your hairstyle, face, gender, and name. Furthermore, you can change these settings almost immediately after getting a mirror.

You do not need to go to a store; instead, you can interact with a mirror to change them. However, you can unlock more customization options like new hairstyles, skin colors, and eye colors by buying them.

Verdict on New Leaf vs. New Horizons Character Customization

Without a doubt, New Horizons did a better job in this aspect; character customization in New Leaf is more indirect in comparison. I think the better game (in this situation) is the one where you do not have to look up things on the internet to get what you want. It is all about convenience and quality of life.

I think people who enjoy cryptic quizzes like what Buzzfeed does will enjoy New Leaf’s approach, and I understand. I love the concept of a system deciding things for you based on how you answer a handful of questions. However, it just does not work for character customization.

When I customize characters, I want them to be accurate. I get stuck on the Sims’ and Skyrim’s character customization for hours because of how fun they are, and the same goes for New Horizons.

Town Customization

Can I… New Leaf New Horizons
Decorate my house interior? Yes, using furniture
Change my house exterior? Yes, through Nook’s Homes Yes, through the construction consultation counter at the Resident Services building
Place furniture outside? No Yes
Construct town infrastructure? Yes, through the Public Works Projects at the Town Hall Yes, through the construction consultation counter at the Resident Services building
Place custom paths? Yes
Place fences? Yes, but limited to a Public Work Project Yes
Decide where to place villager houses? No Yes
Relocate villager houses? No Yes
Change the landscape? No Yes, using the terraforming tools
Relocate shops and facilities? No, because they are all centralized in the Main Street Yes
Upgrade the shops and facilities? Yes
Unlock more shops and facilities? Yes

Town Customization in New Leaf

new leaf town

Town customization in New Leaf is pretty limited compared to New Horizons. Technically, the game does not allow you to freely place furniture outside. However, there is a way to populate your town with furniture through Public Works Projects.

This feature is similar to the structures you can construct in the previous games. By requesting it, you must reach the required funds to complete the construction. You can also create custom paths and place them on the ground.

You can find all the stores in New Leaf in an area called Main Street. At first, it will look empty and barren, but as you progress through the game, you can unlock more shops. Like the previous games, you can customize your house using furniture.

Town Customization in New Horizons

new horizons town

New Horizons is a massive step forward when it comes to town customization. Compared to all the previous titles, you can finally place furniture outside. Due to this feature, Public Works Projects became limited to bridges and stairs.

In lieu of placing furniture outside, you can now place fences however you want. Another first for the game franchise is the ability to shape the landscape of your town through the power of terraforming. As you progress, you will unlock this ability.

The game introduced quality-of-life features that New Leaf lacked; for example, you can now decide where villagers and buildings should move in on your island. You can even relocate them! However, it will cost you Bells, so plan ahead of time.

Verdict on New Leaf vs. New Horizons Town Customization

The ability to place furniture outside is instantly a win in my book, and the landscaping capabilities boosted that win to even new heights. It offered New Horizons players the freedom to be more creative with their islands, something New Leaf struggled with.

Like with the graphical upgrade, it is hard to look back on New Leaf and stick with it considering New Horizons has so much more to offer. To some people, however, the freedom New Horizons gives is a bit too much.

They look at the incredibly well-made islands constructed by incredibly talented players and feel defeated. I also fell into the same slump for a while before I came to a realization: Animal Crossing is not a competition.

You do not need to compare your island if it makes you feel negative. It is your island, and you do whatever you want with it.

Overall, New Horizons’ town customization is a huge improvement with no downsides. It still needs some quality-of-life updates, though, especially on terraforming. Still, compared to New Leaf, it is miles better.

Final Verdict: Which is Better?

Choice: New Horizons

Taking my nostalgia goggles off, I prefer New Horizons to New Leaf because of many reasons. Firstly, you can place furniture outside which is a big step for the Animal Crossing franchise. Another big step is the ability to change the landscape of your town. The freedom that New Horizons brought is astounding.

I also love the updated visuals of the latest entry. The textures are nicer and smoother, although it is to be expected since the Nintendo Switch is more powerful than the 3DS. Aside from the visuals, I love the theme and plot around New Horizons. Being on a deserted island definitely makes me feel more relaxed.

However, despite New Horizons’ appealing features, there are still some aspects that New Leaf excels at. One huge gripe I have with New Horizons is the lack of minigames. After spending days and weeks addicted to the game, I felt burnt out. I had nothing left to do for the game, and all I did was wait for updates.

Thankfully, the DLC gave us more to do, but it is not a solution since it feels like a different game rather than a small, simple, and fun minigame. While my friends and I invented minigames to play around with, it is pretty limiting.

animal crossing new horizon

Close Alternatives

Not everyone can play Animal Crossing games because they are Nintendo exclusives. Growing up, I envied my friends who got their Gameboy before me because I could not play the games they were playing. Meanwhile, some people want a fresh mix of something familiar.

The list below contains games that follow Animal Crossing’s essence, e.g., life simulators.

  • Stardew Valley
  • Doraemon: Story of Seasons
  • Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town
  • Sims 3 or 4
  • Coral Island
  • My Time at Portia or Sandrock
  • Harvestella

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can New Leaf and New Horizons connect?

Answer: No, New Leaf and New Horizons cannot connect. Players from both games cannot play with each other because they are both different games from different consoles. You cannot also port your save from New Leaf to New Horizons.

Question: Can you use New Leaf Amiibo cards in New Horizons?

Answer: Yes, but not all New Leaf Amiibo cards work in New Horizons. Cards of characters not programmed in the game like the crossover villagers will not work. However, there are cards that will work even if they do not appear in the game thanks to the 2.0 update, like Resetti, Copper, Booker, and Digby. You can have coffee with them in The Roost.

Question: Which New Leaf villagers are not in New Horizons?

Answer: The crossover villagers from different games like The Legend of Zelda and Splatoon do not make a reappearance in New Horizons, e.g., Epona, Ganon, Medli, W. Link, Cece, Inkwell, Bow, and Felyne. However, they might get readded since the Sanrio crossover villagers are in the game after the March 2021 update.

New Leaf vs. New Horizons: Final Thoughts

New Leaf and New Horizons are both life simulation games from different eras. They offer players the freedom to be creative and unique. Between the two options, though, I prefer New Horizons over New Leaf. The game offers more options to decorate your town however you want.

After playing New Horizons, I find it hard to overlook the lack of terraforming and options to place furniture outside your house in New Leaf. Plus, I find its theme more connected to the essence of Animal Crossing; you play the game to chill and relax, and being on a tropical island definitely helps.

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