Nintendo had a fantastic E3 showing this year; Pokémon Sword and Shield, Banjo-Kazooie in Smash Ultimate, Fire Emblem Three Houses, and a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, among a ton of other things, were either announced or showcased during Nintendo’s conference, and fans couldn’t be happier. We got a glimpse at the new Animal Crossing title as well, and, while it does appear to be a solid entry in the long-running cutesy sim series, it comes with a few caveats.
Though it won’t exactly be a new feature for the franchise, multiplayer will be making a comeback. Players will be able to hang out with their friends by way of local co-op as well as via Nintendo’s online service. Up to four players can partake in some local Animal Crossing fun, while that number can be doubled should players take to the Internet. That’s also twice the amount of players allowed on the 3DS’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which, it should be noted, came out nearly eight years ago.
Nintendo Switch Online Sucks
While we don’t mean to berate the beloved franchise or look down on the millions of fans excited for the game’s March 2020 release, we would be remiss were we not to point out the fact that the New Horizons experience will almost certainly be marred by Nintendo’s shoddy online multiplayer track record with the Switch. Sure, the system is selling undeniably well and has served as a tremendous resurgence for the big-N following the underwhelming Wii U years, but they’ve definitely dropped the ball when it comes to online functionality.
Nintendo Switch’s online service has been a meme since before it debuted in September of 2018, and the gaming titan has done very little to improve things since then. It may be a cheaper alternative to something like Sony’s PlayStation Plus or Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold, but the reduced price point, in the minds of many gamers, does little to ameliorate the service’s numerous failures and drawbacks.
Cloud Saves Gated Behind Paywall
One of the primary complaints is Nintendo’s totally backward approach to cloud saves; while the competition offers them by default, the Japanese hardware developer has not only gated them behind its online service, but it has refused to offer them for all games on the grounds that they could be used to manipulate leaderboards and certain elements of online functionality. This is particularly horrendous in relation to the new Animal Crossing, as it could result in literally hundreds of hours of town construction and friendship evolution being lost at the drop of a hat—or, more accurately, an undocked Switch console—for those who aren’t subscribed to Nintendo’s service.
Nintendo Just Doesn’t Get Voice Chat
That’s to say nothing of the major elephant in the room: Nintendo’s absolutely, unequivocally terrible voice chat setup. While things may have improved slightly from the outright laughable wire-spaghetti rigamarole Nintendo put Splatoon players through in the days before Switch Online officially launched, the company still seems to think that it’s 2001 and expects its users to connect their consoles to a mobile phone to access all of a game’s relevant features.
There is quite literally no reason why gamers should be expected to link a cell phone to their Switch in order to enable voice chat options. In an era in which Discord has long since become a de facto means of gaming-based communication, Nintendo’s online app is an absolutely unacceptable means of getting the job done. The New Horizons experience will be diluted by Nintendo’s dated approach to online voice chat, and the whole thing will be a degree or two less enjoyable as a result.
While Nintendo should be commended for primarily catering to gamers who prefer to play solo in an era in which publishers like EA and Activision seem to believe that this group is too niche to bother with, it’s no secret that their multiplayer components sometimes feel just a little bit half-baked. Sure, they’ve knocked it out of the park in some cases; Splatoon 2, Smash Ultimate, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are all spectacular multiplayer experiences, but we’ve also seen a few massive duds, especially in relation to the Animal Crossing franchise.
While the famous series didn’t see a mainline release on the Wii U, we did get Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival, which was so abhorrent that most fans opt to pretend that it doesn’t exist. We’ve also seen some very scant examples of multiplayer functionality in their mobile outing Animal Crossing Pocket Camp. That may not totally count, but player interaction in that game was so limited that it may as well have been scrapped.
The only real multiplayer-enabled Animal Crossing experience came packaged with Animal Crossing New Leaf on the 3DS, and even that it felt just a bit stunted. It may have been fun for some, but we have yet to see a fully-featured, no-holds-barred multiplayer Animal Crossing experience, and it seems like New Horizons still won’t entirely cater to those looking for a multiplayer fix.
While two players will finally be able to play the game at the same time on a home console, it has been confirmed that players won’t be able to set up houses on their friends islands, which seems to confirm that New Horizons’s multiplayer component will again be more of a tacked-on extra than a genuine method of play. We could certainly be proven wrong, but, based on what we know so far, that doesn’t seem to be all that likely.
Get It Together, Nintendo
Animal Crossing: New Horizons will doubtlessly be a fantastic game, but it won’t change the fact that Nintendo’s attitude toward online play has lagged more than a decade behind the competition. They’ve treated it almost entirely as an afterthought on the Switch, and it’s time for them to get it together and introduce a console-defining online experience to a system in dire need of a network revamp. Nintendo seems to be the only major publishers willing to support games that aren’t built from the ground up to feature microtransactions and DLC, but their outdated ideas are definitely beginning to negatively impact some of their releases.