As many frustrated Animal Crossing fans will tell you, there are several reasons for that. For one, it hasn’t seen a major update in over half a year. That’s just the beginning of a very, very long list of grievances that have gone unaddressed since the game’s release in March 2020.
Animal Crossing is a long-running series of social simulation games from Nintendo that use your game console’s internal clock to progress in real-time. As the town’s only human resident, you cultivate a community of anthropomorphic animal villagers. In the franchise’s latest entry, “New Horizons,” your reign expands to that of an entire island.
While “New Horizons” added a slew of new features to the franchise like terraforming, crafting and the ability to place furniture items outside, for many Animal Crossing fans, it still felt unfinished to a degree. Where were fan-favorite characters of the franchise like Brewster, a cafe-owning pigeon, or the fashionista giraffe, Gracie? Gyroids, furniture items based on Japanese haniwa figurines that have been in every previous Animal Crossing game, are inexplicably absent from “New Horizons” (with the exception of the only NPC gyroid, Lloid), as are several other furniture series. Villagers seem to have fewer dialogue options than in previous games, and what they do say is bland enough to bore you to tears. Widely requested quality-of-life updates spanning back to the game’s early days, such as the ability to craft items in bulk or access your home’s storage remotely, have also failed to materialize.
With this in mind, the anticipation for this week’s “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” Direct can’t be overstated. Nintendo is dedicating a 20-minute news conference to new content for “New Horizons” and already teased one major addition: Brewster’s cafe, The Roost, is coming to the museum. However, over the past year and a half, Nintendo has racked up a laundry list of highly requested “New Horizons” updates from fans, who hope it has much more in store on Friday.
One of the main charms of Animal Crossing is its hundreds of villagers, each with a different personality type and cutesy design, who you can meet and get to know as your town grows. Villagers are divided into eight personality types — normal, peppy, sisterly, snooty, smug, cranky, lazy and jock — that determine how friendly they are, what dialogue options they have or how they get along with other villagers. In “New Horizons,” villagers that have traditionally been rougher around the edges, like those with snooty or cranky personality types, feel sterilized of their characteristic sassiness and prickly attitudes.
The dialogue in the series has gradually toned down since the original “Animal Crossing,” following reports that some characters were so mean that they made kids cry (myself included). “New Horizons” takes this to the extreme. Villagers feel dull and lifeless, and those with the same personality type now have virtually identical dialogue options.
Similarly frustrating is Isabelle, another fan-favorite and the assistant at your island’s Resident Services building, who delivers daily announcements whenever you boot up the game. These announcements are impossible to skip, get repetitive quickly and inexplicably leave out the kind of information players would actually want daily updates about, such as which traveling merchants are visiting the island that day, what the weather forecast is or whether there are likely to be meteor showers that evening.
By the end of 2020, “New Horizons” surpassed more than 31 million units sold. The franchise’s previous best-selling title and last mainline game, 2012′s “Animal Crossing: New Leaf,” sold less than half that at 12.82 million. But while “New Leaf’s” fan community lasted for the better part of a decade, many players have already dropped “New Horizons,” in part because some of its core systems are aggravatingly limited and more frustrating than fun. For longtime fans and newcomers to the series alike, the newest entry fell short of the kind of user interface players have come to expect from a modern game. Meanwhile, those who stuck around were left to enjoy a mere trickle of new content and updates.
Most of the updates in “New Horizons” since its release have added holidays celebrations — something every previous entry in the series came with straight out the box. To be clear: It’s understandable that Nintendo would space out its holiday rollout to avoid time travelers, or players who manually manipulate the game’s time, from potentially spoiling the fun for those who opt to play the game in real-time. What most fans have issues with, though, is Nintendo billing these as “updates” to the game when they were reasonably expected to be included from the start. Nintendo also rolled out the same holiday-themed items and content in 2021 as it did in 2020 with few variations, a move that was heavily criticized given the dearth of significant content updates during that timespan.
This cycle of repetitive dialogue and events has had fans clamoring for new content — and even for Nintendo to simply bring back features from previous games. Some of the most requested additions include: multiplayer minigames; the ability for villagers to visit the player’s home, as they could in previous games; and additional customization options for your island’s general store, Nook’s Cranny (there’s only one available upgrade in “New Horizons” whereas previous games featured multiple upgrade options). But beyond just new content, the “New Horizons” player base has also stewed over Nintendo’s silence around updates to some of the game’s most obtuse mechanics.
Running out of storage space has been another persistent and widespread issue. In November 2020, Nintendo expanded the number of items players could store in their homes from 1,600 to 2,400. This may sound like a lot, but “New Horizons” contains thousands of clothes and furniture options, many of which come in several colors, and that all adds up fast. A few items like raw materials or fences can stack in your inventory to save space, but most do not — and that’s just one of several weirdly arbitrary limitations.
Want to line your island’s entryway with 50 stone lanterns? Better free up 50 spaces in your inventory. Have a shirt you love in every color? Each one needs its own slot. Building a garden and want to store your flowers somewhere they won’t accidentally get trampled? Too bad, you can’t put those in storage.
Oh, and in case you thought those weird, arbitrary limitations only applied to storage, think again. Your island can have eight bridges and inclines each, and that’s it. When does “New Horizons” tell you that fairly important detail? It doesn’t. Resident Services lets you know when you’ve hit the limit with zero warning beforehand.
Have multiple tickets to mystery islands and want to hop from one to another? Sorry, you’ll have to return to your island and start a new departure each time. Want to have multiple visitors on your island at once? Be prepared to stop to watch a cutscene every time someone leaves or arrives at your island.
Another frustration: Despite having a tool — the Nook phone — that lets players bend the very Earth to their will, sculpting mountains and spawning rivers wherever they please, the ability to remotely access your home storage is apparently beyond its capabilities.
Having to trek back and forth from your house for that one item you forgot to grab isn’t game-breaking, but it is annoying. As is having to pull materials out of storage when you’re using a DIY workbench in your own home. That these relatively minor mechanics are irritatingly obtuse isn’t the problem; it’s that Nintendo hasn’t even acknowledged requests to streamline certain mechanics despite the fanbase’s vocal complaints for over a year.
For example, at this stage, if you want to craft 20 pieces of fish bait, you have to craft each one individually, going through the five-second animation 20 times in a row. It baffles me that Nintendo introduced crafting mechanics with “New Horizons” and didn’t include an option for players to make more than one item at a time.
Mass purchasing, too, is something the game desperately needs. Anything that would cut down the needlessly repeated dialogue as you go over the same options again and again would be greatly appreciated.
As for terraforming, one of the new features introduced in “New Horizons,” the process would be made infinitely easier if you could toggle a grid view on and off to actually see what square you’re working with (after all, the island is already divided up into a grid, just not one that’s visible to the player). Some sort of autopilot feature to allow players to preset and automatically carry out a list of terraforming commands, such as a sculpting mountains or digging out water features, would also streamline what’s currently a tediously drawn-out process. As would the ability to lock or unlock individual items so that you aren’t accidentally erasing your work or picking up junk you didn’t mean to while trying to sculpt your perfect island paradise.
Small, quality-of-life tweaks to address these issues have been suggested since day one. And yet, a year and a half later things are still just as frustrating as they were when the game launched. Not all of these requests may be easy adds. The Switch’s technical limitations — some players experience framerate drops while wandering around their islands, particularly when a large number of furniture items or flowers are outside — might tie Nintendo’s hands when it comes to overhauling some of the mechanics.
Fans hope Friday’s showcase will bring good news. It will be live-streamed on Nintendo’s official Twitch or YouTube channels at 10 a.m. ET. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the company can only do so much to win back the favor of Animal Crossing fans who feel burned and forgotten. So far, it’s only allotted 20 minutes to do so.