In the July episode of the DenPod (my new unscripted podcast) I talked about how some of the biggest fans of Animal Crossing: New Horizons are beginning to sour on the game, having come to realise something I commented on last year: the game feels incomplete, as though it were released before it was ready. At time of writing it has been basically three months since the game was last updated (version 1.10 came out on the 28th of April) and that update hardly added anything of consequence to the game.
New Horizons was released along with the promise of a plethora of updates, with many publications picking up the same figure: updates would continue to roll out for the game for at least three years. Less than half of that time has elapsed, yet many fans are questioning whether the next update will be the last, such has been the lack of care and lack of communication from Nintendo.
Nintendo seems content to roll around in the money it’s made from sales of the game, no longer caring that the players who paid £55 or $60 are becoming increasingly dissatisfied. The company’s attitude seems to be “we’ve already got your money, so piss off.” After such a long time with no news and no updates, in order to win back the support of the folks who should be the game’s biggest fans Nintendo has to go all-in with the next update and bring something big to the table.
There are many, many things wrong with New Horizons in mid-2021 that make the game so much less than it could be, and a poor relation in many respects to its predecessor: 2013 Nintendo 3DS title Animal Crossing: New Leaf. As I said recently, New Horizons effectively offers players nothing to do in multiplayer, and is not worth paying for a Switch Online subscription. There simply isn’t anything to do aside from visit a friend’s island, because when you get there and you’ve had a look around, that’s it. There are no mini-games to play, there’s nothing different to collect, and compared to New Leaf – a game with such a fun multiplayer mode that I was still dabbling in it with friends more than seven years after the game’s release – New Horizons is absolutely boring.
The addition of multiplayer mini-games would be transformative for New Horizons as an online social experience, even if a dedicated level or area to play them wasn’t included. Simply being able to play a selection of mini-games on your island or a friend’s would give players a reason to return to the game and play together; such an incentive is sorely lacking in the current version of the game. It doesn’t seem like something that would be too difficult to implement, either, especially if it were done from the town square on a player’s island with no new characters or areas needing to be added to the game.
The next thing New Horizons needs is something it shouldn’t need… last year’s holiday events. For some inexplicable yet typically stupid Nintendo reason, 2020’s updates only added holiday-themed events (Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) for the calendar year 2020. That means that the holidays are not present for 2021 and onward, and since New Horizons has an in-game calendar and strongly encourages players to play in real-time, this makes no sense. Why were the holidays even removed for 2021? Which incompetent moron thought that made sense?
Re-adding the holidays means Nintendo has created more work for its developers at a time when coronavirus is still having an impact on the games industry, disproportionately so in Japan. This has arguably slowed the pace of development on updates for the game, as the need to go back and re-do last year’s content is going to take time away from other aspects of development. It shouldn’t have happened to begin with, but at the very least the holiday events need to be re-added as soon as possible – and not just for 2021, either.
There are myriad quality-of-life improvements that the game is crying out for, too. Villager dialogue is perhaps the biggest, because to call the things villagers say “repetitive” would be unnecessarily kind. I’m by no means the world’s biggest New Horizons player (I sunk a little over 120 hours into the game in 2020) yet I’m completely burned out on talking to any of the villagers on my island. Even returning to the game after an absence of several months quickly became dull and boring because most of the villagers have only a handful of things to say in any given situation.
For example, when walking into a villager’s home and finding them crafting an item, each villager “type” (of which there are only eight) has literally only got one line of dialogue that they repeat every single time. There are only eight villager types, yet there are potentially ten villager spots on a player’s island, which means a minimum of three characters will always have identical things to say. This compounded the lack of dialogue variety for me, especially when I found myself with three or four of the same villager type.
While we’re on the subject of dialogue, Isabelle’s daily announcements should either be changed to actually tell players what’s going on or else scrapped altogether. Isabelle was a popular character in New Leaf, but with Tom Nook assuming a larger role in the Resident Services building in New Horizons she takes on a much smaller role, and the daily announcements were clearly intended to expand that. But as with the villagers, Isabelle has only a handful of things to say, and these get incredibly repetitive.
Her daily announcements would be a great way to communicate to players things that might be taking place on the island: visiting special characters, for example. Yet Isabelle never mentions any of these, instead repeating the same uninspired line about what she supposedly watched on television. It’s just boring.
New Horizons doesn’t need voice actors to come in and record new lines for hours and hours. All of this is text-based, so writing a few more lines – or a few thousand more, even – wouldn’t be beyond Nintendo’s capabilities, and would scarcely even pad out the game’s modest file size when compared to some of the other things fans have been requesting, such as bringing back absent characters and items.
Speaking of which, there are several characters who could make an overdue return to the game. One of the most-requested absent characters is Brewster, a pigeon who ran a coffee shop in past games. The coffee shop could return too, either as an addition to an existing building or better yet, by being a brand-new building for players to place on their islands. Timmy and Tommy’s shop could also be expanded further, allowing it to sell more than the half a dozen or so items it currently offers each day. There’s also scope to bring in a dedicated shoe shop, gardening shop, fortune teller’s shop, or Gracie’s ultra-luxurious item shop. Whether any of these shops, which were present in New Leaf and City Folk, will make it is anyone’s guess, but many fans are asking for more shops and places to visit on their islands.
Tortimer and Kapp’n, who were present in New Leaf and earlier entries in the series, could also make a return, perhaps appearing in the town square to oversee mini-games. Though of course it would be great to get a new location for the mini-games à la New Leaf, in order to simplify things I’m sure players would be more than happy to see them visit their island like other special characters do.
As I said when I spoke about this on the podcast, games do have a natural lifespan, and for folks who’ve sunk hundreds or even thousands of hours into New Horizons, perhaps they were always eventually going to hit the wall and arrive at the end of the road. But considering that, for me at least, the previous entry in the series managed to give me seven years’ worth of casual enjoyment, for New Horizons to have lasted less than eighteen months before even its biggest fans have become bored and burned out is poor. I think we were all expecting better from Nintendo.
A big update this summer would go a long way to making up for it, and would bring back many lapsed players – like myself, as I haven’t checked in with my island in months at this point! The addition of new buildings, like the coffee shop, would be fantastic, but what the game desperately needs is mini-games and a compelling multiplayer offering, and that really ought to be Nintendo’s focus. As I said last time, New Horizons doesn’t have a multiplayer mode in its current form. It pretends to, but when you actually try it out you find very quickly that there just isn’t anything to do. Folks who bought Switch Online to play this game surely feel they got swindled.
New dialogue for existing characters and villagers would also spice things up and give players a reason to actually play the game once again. A game that aims to be a gentle, slow-paced “life simulator” loses so much when the villagers on your island who are supposedly your friends feel like one-dimensional, incredibly repetitive video game characters instead of making a basic effort to make them seem like more than that. Considering all of the in-game dialogue is text, I don’t see why New Horizons can’t simply add more. It would be incredibly easy to do and wouldn’t compromise the game in any way, nor even make it significantly larger on disc.
So there we go. New Horizons needs to do something big in fairly short order to pacify its remaining playerbase and to convince folks that this once-celebrated game isn’t just a one-trick pony. Well over a year on from its release it still offers less than New Leaf did at launch in 2013, and for a game that had such promise I think that’s a real shame. I ended my original review of the game last year by saying this: “I was still playing New Leaf earlier this year, seven years on from its release. Will I still be playing New Horizons after such a long time? If I’m still alive and kicking in 2027, remind me to come back and tell you.”
Unless the game gets a significant update – and soon – there’s not even a question of playing New Horizons in 2027. I won’t even be playing it in the second half of 2021.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is out now for Nintendo Switch. The Animal Crossing series – including New Leaf, New Horizons, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Nintendo. Some promotional screenshots courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.