Let me start this off by saying that overall I’ve loved my time with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’m caught up on (most of) my backlog, and everyone’s stuck in-doors thanks to the pandemic, so it couldn’t have launched at a better time. I’d be embarrassed to say how many hours I’ve logged in that happy little animal world. At its best, its a soothing and rewarding experience that’s a joy to share with your friends. But much of the time, it’s a huge pain in the ass.
So much wasted time
It doesn’t take long to figure out that Animal Crossing is a game with a lot of text mashing. That’s fine. As a Pokémon fan, I’m pretty numb to it. But New Horizons feels like its menus were specifically designed to require as many inputs as possible. Instead of laying out all your options in a simple fashion, you often have to navigate a tree of inputs that reminds me of automated customer service calls.
This is especially frustrating when it comes to buying items. You know how almost every game made in the last three decades lets you select how many of an item you want to buy? Not Animal Crossing. That’d be too convenient. You buy your items one at a time, and there’s plenty of text mashing in between. Just look at how long it takes to buy a second Nook Miles Ticket in this clip. I wanted to capture two full purchases, but the Switch’s built-in video capture only takes 30 seconds at a time, and that’s just not enough time to buy two items.
As tedious as shopping can be, crafting is so much worse. As with purchases, you can only craft one item at a time. This is a general nuisance throughout, but the problem really hits home when a fishing tournament rolls around. You’ll want a stack of at least a few dozen Fish Bait ready to go, but you need to craft each one individually. That’s dozens of individual purchases. Dozens of button-mashing marathons. Dozens of crafting animations. And it could all be fixed by adding a quantity slider.
As an extra inconvenience, players will often enter crafting mode only to realize they’re missing a key material. It’s not that you don’t have that material, it’s just in your house’s storage rather than your personal inventory. Time to trek back to the house to go get it. At the very least, you’d think the DIY workbenches in your house would connect to internal storage, but they don’t.
Animal Crossing’s multiplayer woes
Here’s a familiar theme. A hugely successful first-party Nintendo game has mediocre online functionality. Shocking, I know, but it doesn’t stop being disappointing just because it keeps happening. Traveling to a friend’s island triggers an unskippable cutscene (to mask loading) of a light-up board tracking your plane’s progress. Bizarrely, this cutscene isn’t just seen by the person en route. Everyone on the target island has to stop and watch every time someone comes or goes. Guests can also only arrive one at a time, and they’ll get an error message if they try to do so while anyone on the island is reading text. It’s a mess. With up to eight visitors allowed, you often end up spending more time waiting than actually playing.
Once you’ve invited a friend over, the game suddenly slaps you with tons of restrictions. You can’t place, remove, or even re-arrange furniture at all. You can’t access the online catalog and order goods. If one person is buying clothes, no one else can… even if they’re not in the same room. You can’t have Blathers assess a fossil, nor can you give him donations. All ability to make meaningful progress comes screeching to a halt. You can forget about teaming up with a friend to build something together.
It’s not just the online multiplayer that has bizarre limitations either. Animal Crossing: New Horizons only allows one island per Switch console (regardless of separate profiles), so other players in your house will have to share. If you’re not the person who started the island, you’re treated like a second-class citizen. You can’t advance the plot, run errands for Tom Nook, or choose where to construct things like buildings and bridges. You’ve got your own house, but you’re not really welcome here. This type of barebones mode actually makes a lot of sense for a young child learning the ropes… but it sucks for anyone else. If we’re limited to one island per Switch console, at least give people the option of sharing it equally.
And so we wait…
Finally, there’s the waiting. Lots and lots of waiting. Virtually anything major event you set in motion (convincing Blathers to build a museum, upgrading the Nook Store, upgrading your house) takes at least one and sometimes two days. Early on, I didn’t mind. I had plenty of resource-gathering to do, and it was kind of nice to have an in-game event to look forward to the following morning. But the waiting never goes away in Animal Crossing. If anything, it just gets worse.
Here’s the personal Hell (or at least Purgatory) I’m currently facing. Now that I’ve unlocked the ability to terraform my island, it’s time to start moving houses around to create my dream island. I’ve got big plans, and I knew exactly where to start. Diva’s house is in the way, so it’s got to go. Except it turns out Diva has decided she wants to leave my island. You’d think that would make things easier if anything, but no. Diva moving out is a process that takes two days, and during that time it’s impossible to move her house.
So I (im)patiently wait out the two days, and now I’m ready to go! Except her spot isn’t empty. Instead, it’s roped off as a reserved plot of land. And big shocker, you can’t move those. So now I have to take trips out to random islands until I find a new animal friend and invite them back to my island. Then I’ll have to wait while they move in and unpack, which is another two-day wait. Then I can finally request a relocation for that house. You know. So I can wait another day for it to actually happen.
If I play the game as intended (without manipulating the clock), it’s going to take me nearly a week to move one single house. Who thought this was an okay idea? After the credits roll and you get all the tools you need to reshape your island, it’s completely asinine to continue to restrict you with multi-day waits to do make simple changes. And, no, not everyone will have the misfortune of trying to move someone after they’ve decided to leave. But even under normal circumstances, you can only move one building at a time, and you have to wait one day for it to happen. There are over a dozen buildings on your island, so a total re-arrangement can take weeks. I’ve put in my time. I’ve jumped through all your hoops, Nook. I’ve paid you millions. Just let me pretty up my damn island!
Animal Crossing: New Horizons has the potential to be the ultimate relaxation game, but it needs to get out of its own way. Archaic online and social features, frustrating menus, and constant, arbitrary restrictions all weigh down an otherwise stellar experience. It’s delivering smiles and scowls in equal parts, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A few, mostly-simple quality of life adjustments could make a world of difference.