Nintendo’s biggest Switch release of the last few months is arguably Animal Crossing: New Horizons. If you aren’t familiar with the series, it can be hard to do it justice in words. As briefly as possible, it’s a very slow-paced, cartoon-styled “life-simulator”, where players spend their days (which play out in real-time) fishing, catching insects, buying and selling clothes and home decor, and just relaxing in a cute little village populated by anthropomorphic animals. See, I told you it was hard to explain.
After Animal Crossing: New Leaf in 2013 introduced a number of new features, many were wondering if New Horizons could top it. And now that reviews are in following the game’s release last week, the answer seems to be a solid “yes”. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has received praise across the board for almost every aspect of its design and gameplay, and many players who have picked up the game have been loving it.
But Animal Crossing: New Horizons has a flaw, and it’s an intentional flaw. An incredibly basic feature has been cut out, a feature which has been present in countless games going back to at least the 1990s: the ability to have more than one save file. That limits players to one save file per console.
What this means in practice is that when the first player has played Animal Crossing: New Horizons and created their island, no other players can make their own island. They can create a character, but their character has to share the first player’s island. Not only does this mean that one player can mess things up for another – even unintentionally – but it also means that everyone aside from the “main” first player are “secondary” players, and they have fewer options for things to do during their time on the island. Basically, one player gets to set up the island how they want, and the others don’t.
This is not an oversight. Nor is it caused by some “technological limitation” in the capabilities of the Nintendo Switch. Save files in any game are minuscule compared to the size of the game’s own files, and the Switch is actually capable of supporting far more demanding games than Animal Crossing: New Horizons. So if it wasn’t a mistake, and it wasn’t mandated by technical issues, why is New Horizons lacking a basic game feature that has been present since before many players were even born? Obviously the reason is money.
We need only look to Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp – an Android and iOS game from a couple of years ago – for how Nintendo was content to shamelessly exploit the worst aspects of pay-to-play “micro” transactions in the Animal Crossing series. The lessons they learned there seem to have carried over to New Horizons. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that New Horizons’ in-game currencies – called Bells and Nook Miles – would be made available to purchase with real-world money one day. But only after all of the reviews have been written and they don’t need to put a warning label on the box, of course.
There’s only one reason why a games company would remove long-established features from a new game: they want to sell it as downloadable content later. This happened most egregiously with Electronic Arts’ The Sims series. The Sims 4 cut out many basic features that had been present in earlier titles – like the ability to build swimming pools – only to sell them later as DLC. It’s clear that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is taking a similar approach, so be on the lookout for a “second island” DLC some time soon. It’ll probably cost £10 or more.
Many games publishers have spent much of the last console generation pushing the boundaries of what they could get away with in terms of “micro” transactions and DLC. A lot of today’s biggest titles take their cues from mobile games and free-to-play games like Fortnite in terms of how they’re set up to make money after launch. Just because Nintendo is a family-friendly company doesn’t mean they get a free pass where other companies draw criticism. In fact, specifically because they’re a family-friendly company, and a game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons is marketed at children as much as adults, do they need greater scrutiny and to have their greedy, scummy, money-grubbing policies and practices called out.
Nintendo hopes that families with more than one person who might want to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons will have to either face interminable arguments about who harvested all the fruit, who sold what precious item, or who messed up who’s in-game garden, etc. or buy this DLC when they release it. I’m sure they’d also love parents to consider getting each of their squabbling kids their own Nintendo Switch – but obviously most families couldn’t afford that.
The sad thing is that this game should be incredibly fun. It should be something kids and adults can enjoy – together or separately. Nintendo has built up a lot of goodwill with families because of their lighter, cuter titles that aren’t focused on violence and gore or aggressive online multiplayer. But their recent moves to chasing the worst video game industry trends when it comes to nickel-and-diming players should be called out – and many players have taken to Metacritic and elsewhere to express their frustration.
If you’re considering picking up Animal Crossing: New Horizons, be aware of the game’s artificial limitation. It may not seem like a big deal, but it has the potential to cause problems, especially between siblings. When we were kids, my sister and I would get into arguments over the dumbest things sometimes; I can easily see New Horizons being the cause of many arguments in a household with several players and one Switch. In fact, it’s arguably been designed that way to try to drive sales of consoles and the inevitable DLC.
Nintendo: fix this. Fix it now, and fix it for free. It’s an incredibly basic feature, and stripping it out won’t make you any money or win you any fans. It’s patently obvious that the only reason for this is greed. As companies like Bioware and Bethesda have found out to their cost in recent years, players will only tolerate so much. And as Electronic Arts have discovered, a company’s reputation can end up in the gutter thanks to treating their customers this way. It’s shady and scummy, and the Animal Crossing series deserves better.
Oh and the first Animal Crossing game on the GameCube in 2001? That had multiple save files.
The Animal Crossing series is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.