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Animal Crossing: New Horizons terraforming guide

Transform your island with the Island Designer app

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An Animal Crossing character ponders whether to work on pathing or cliff construction Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon
Julia Lee (she/her) is a guides producer, writing guides for games like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Genshin Impact. She helped launch the Rift Herald in 2016.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Switch allows players to terraform their island using the in-game Island Designer app, which lets you tear down or put up cliffs, create paths, and even change rivers, lakes, and waterfalls.

In this guide, we’ll show you how and when you can unlock the Island Designer app, how to change simple terrain like grass and dirt, how to obtain permits that upgrade the terrain that you can change, and even how to create a custom path pattern.

How to unlock Terraforming in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Tom Nook has to gift you the Island Designer app. He’ll give it to you after K.K. Slider puts on his first show on the island. To get him on the island, you have to complete the game’s “story,” which involves building the museum, helping Timmy and Tommy setup Nook’s Cranny, getting more residents to move on to your island, and then upgrading the island to a three-star ranking. After you finish all that, K.K. will drop by and sing the game’s theme song, and Nook will give you the app.

At first you’ll only start with two terrain options: grass and dirt. To unlock more pathing choices, you’ll have to buy them individually from the Nook Stop at Resident Services for 2,000 Nook Miles each. A customizable pathing option where you can use a custom pattern as a path is available for 2,000 Nook Miles. You’ll also need permits to change cliffs and water, each of which costs 6,000 Nook Miles.

A menu showing off the costs of unlocking different functions for the Island Designer app Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

How to start terraforming in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Open your Nook Phone, and select the Island Designer app. Your character will equip a hardhat and be ready for some serious construction work. You can use the Plus button to change out what designing tool you want to work with, as long as you have them unlocked. You can also still access your other usual tools in case you need them.

Keep in mind the following tips as you fiddle with your island:

  • Paths will be removed if you later place a building over them.
  • Destroying the edge of a cliff or body of water will first slice it into a rounded corner — you’ll have to hit it again to completely get rid of it.
  • The provided paths can round out and have a more natural appearance, though if you use a custom path pattern, it will place it on the ground just the way a pattern normally would. This means that it’ll have the shape of your pattern, rather than the usual rounded path appearance.

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