There’s never been a better time to get into the life simulation genre. As life around us gets more and more hectic, there’s a charm in games that just want you to relax and have fun, and these two are some of the most charming there are. This week we’re putting Gameloft’s Disney Dreamlight Valley up against Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons to determine which is right for you. For simplicity, we’re just going to refer to Animal Crossing: New Horizons as Animal Crossing from now on. We’ll tell you where the games are similar and how they differentiate, what you can expect from them, as well as which we recommend. A special thanks goes out to Nirav and Kate from the GameLuster team for assisting with this comparison.
It’s worth keeping in mind through the comparison that this isn’t the fairest fight. Disney Dreamlight Valley is still in early access, whilst Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been out for two years and received significant updates. It’s only the start of our journey with Disney Dreamlight Valley, but there’s still plenty to unpack. Another thing to consider is what platforms you have access to. Animal Crossing is only available on Nintendo Switch, whilst Disney Dreamlight Valley is available on Switch, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC. Now without wasting any more time, let’s compare!
Both Disney Dreamlight Valley and Animal Crossing use a cute cartoonish art style, but there are some differences. Firstly, things are much more realistically proportioned in Disney Dreamlight Valley. Characters from classic Disney and Pixar movies appear almost exactly as they did in the films, because the art style of the game fits them perfectly. The cartoon-like art of humanoid characters is somewhat reminiscent of The Sims 4. This contrasts with the heavily stylized and iconic visuals of Animal Crossing. Characters in Animal Crossing have big heads, short limbs and rounded joints, for a chibi appearance.
The settings of these games are very different too. Disney Dreamlight Valley has a variety of biomes, such as a Moana-inspired beach, or a Frozen-inspired tundra. This is compared to Animal Crossing which only has one main island. The island does change appearance with the seasons however, whereas Disney Dreamlight Valley’s areas stay the same.
In terms of perspective, Animal Crossing is played top-down mostly, so you’re seeing the action from a high angle. The camera is mostly locked here, as your island has a ‘rolling-log’ style effect where things at the edge of your view begin to sink below the horizon as you walk away from them. Due to this, Animal Crossing players can mostly only see the front and side of their buildings. Disney Dreamlight Valley on the other hand has a more immersive and traditional camera experience, where players can freely rotate the camera to look all around their valley.
As life simulation games, Disney Dreamlight Valley and Animal Crossing both heavily focus on daily life in a cozy environment. You will be cleaning up mess from your scenic areas, interacting with wildlife, fishing and hanging out with your neighbors. Both of these games are tied to the real world time, with day and night events happening simultaneously to the real world.
This does ask a lot of some players to be present on the game at times when they may be occupied in the world world. One difference within this mechanic is that Disney Dreamlight Valley does not tie real world seasons to wildlife such as the collection of plants and fish though, so for players who are more restricted with play times it may be a better choice. In Animal Crossing, a full collection of fish will involve actively playing the game in every season of the year.
Disney Dreamlight Valley utilizes what you collect in an extensive cooking minigame, and eating these meals will restore energy. Energy is used up while exploring the world and doing certain things, such as tending to your crops. In return for this energy expenditure, you must eat your own cooking creations to get yourself revitalised. This is a similar system to Stardew Valley. Farming receives a heavy focus in both using and restoring energy, so gamers who enjoy the farm lifestyle in their gaming will find a lot to enjoy there. In Animal Crossing, farming is a lot less prevalent. It exists and can be used to craft food items, but it’s not necessary for game progression, nor is it as expansive.
In Animal Crossing the gameplay cycle is about having fun, decorating your house and your island, whilst gradually bringing in more residents. There are very mini quests in the form of doing favors for your islanders, completing small achievements for currency, or the overall goal of having a five-star island. This type of game is a better choice for people who want a calmer experience to take at their own pace. The game won’t ask a lot of you, and you can drop in and out as you like without feeling like there are unfinished goals to be completed. You always leave an Animal Crossing play session feeling satisfied, because you probably met a bunch of small goals and earned some rewards just for playing.
The quests system is far more expansive in Disney Dreamlight Valley, where story and characters push the game forwards. The aim of both titles is to ultimately keep earning more characters, but in Disney Dreamlight Valley they bring rewards with them. The heroes and villains you meet bring quest lines, which will unlock real rewards like upgrades, new areas and even more characters.
Whilst these characters are all very famous faces, they have considerably less personality than any Animal Crossing character. They are all played very safe so they lack a bit of charm. Completing quests for these characters will raise your friendship level and your overall player level, which makes character quest lines a key focus point of the game for progression. There is no combat in either game, but Disney Dreamlight Valley’s quest system being almost RPG-like in nature will definitely appeal to gamers who are a fan of those games.
A huge part of life-sim gameplay that needs its own section is customization. The games are designed to be your own, so it’s important to be able to create a world uniquely yours. Both Disney Dreamlight Valley and Animal Crossing deliver in this regard, with a lot to unlock and decorate. Stores sell a rotating variety of furniture and clothes, so there’s always something new to pick up and incorporate into your style.
Disney Dreamlight Valley does get the edge here by having a variety of shops to buy different fruits and vegetables, whereas Animal Crossing only really has one central clothing shop and one furniture shop, with some stall vendors. As Disney Dreamlight Valley will be free-to-play it uses a season pass-like system, with frequent content updates that will cost money to unlock everything.
The titular valley of Disney Dreamlight Valley allows you to reshape your town with a great overhead UI system. Trees, rock and buildings can all be organized and moved with just a few clicks, using a grid system similar to The Sims. Redecorating the outside world in Animal Crossing is much slower and hands-on. Decorations need to be picked up and shifted around by hand. This does make the end product feel more rewarding because it was all done by hand, but it is also a little cumbersome.
What Animal Crossing offers is the ability to terraform the land. Higher and lower sections of land are easy to build, and rivers can be moved too. This is not possible in Disney Dreamlight Valley, but this game does allow you to move buildings around in a much easier way than Animal Crossing, which charges the player in-game currency to do so. Both of the games have equally good interior customization for houses. Animal Crossing even breaks its own rules, and allows a 3D view when inside houses to perfect your homes.
The gameplay of both Disney Dreamlight Valley and Animal Crossing will appeal to any life-sim game fans. To decide which is best for you will ultimately depend on how you like to play your games. If you prefer a more quest-focused narrative with deeper gameplay, then Disney Dreamlight Valley is the right choice. This game also offers bonus appeal to those who are already fans of Disney franchises. Alternatively, for a more casual, calmer and simpler experience, the better choice might be Animal Crossing. This game certainly isn’t shallow, but it’s just a lot easier to jump in and out of than the other title.
As for a personal decision, I’m drawn to Disney Dreamlight Valley more at this time. Animal Crossing is a lot of fun, and building your island day-by-day is a relaxing and rewarding experience. Whilst I like both of these games, the ultimate factor for me is the game’s support. Nintendo stopped supporting Animal Crossing with regular updates just two years after release, whereas it’s only the beginning of what Disney Dreamlight Valley has to offer. The game is still being worked on by a dedicated team at Gameloft, so we, the players, can give our feedback to shape the game into the perfect life-sim experience.
Did this help you make your decision? Which of these games are right for you? Let us know in the comments below, and keep your eyes on GameLuster for more gaming comparisons and news.