Our beautiful island escape has finally arrived at an ideal time, offering a fantasy that we can immerse ourselves in while the world appears to crash and burn under the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has, up to recent, enjoyed the standard fare that comes with a long-awaited Nintendo title that has spent decades curating its followers and fanatics. Even critics have reviewed the game remarkably high with a 91 overall, enjoying the new-found wealth of customization and options that you have to tweak your island into your own perfect paradise, up to the point that you can sculpt cliffs and rivers to mimic your ideal fantasy land.
Recently, however, a game aspect has come to light that has left a sour taste in the mouths of many, resulting in the user-based MetaCritic score to plummet to 6.5 overall. This is the lowest user-based review score on MetaCritic for any fully-fledged Animal Crossing title; Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival is the only title coming in lower, but is considered a spin-off at best. The singular reason for the poor user scores has many people divided; it’s the multiplayer aspect. An aspect that apparently none of the professional critics even bothered to look at, and it shows now that the population has their hands on the title.
Progression in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is gated by a multitude of aspects, each operating as a form of checklists behind the scenes to see what they will offer the player. There is the constant of time elapsed, as there have been in Animal Crossing franchise for as long as I can recall. Other ticks must be checked as well; talking to various villagers, fishing a certain amount, finding fossils and bugs, donating them to the museum, and so on. The game makes a solid attempt at bringing these once behind-the-scenes checklists to the forefront with the Nook Miles program, encouraging players to continue to complete smaller tasks to grow themselves.
Greetings, everyone! Did you enjoy your first weekend on your previously deserted islands? If you ever need advice, please stop by Resident Services. I'll also continue to send out updates from here! Yes, yes!
— Tom Nook (@animalcrossing) March 23, 2020
Yet everything is gated to the ineffable Player One. Many users are now starting to notice the wild progression locks placed on everyone else; the first one to log into the island determines who is the central figure for the island, and every other player serves as little more than a method to collect wood, or ore, on a daily basis. Secondary users cannot progress any of the buildings themselves, place public works buildings, or simply experience the majority of the game mechanics that are all gated behind the progression of Player One.
Even if your Player One is grinding as hard as possible to keep content fresh for all of the other residents, other players still can’t use the majority of the features.
Of course, this was a calculated move by Nintendo to move more Nintendo Switches internationally; if every family has more than one Switch, then visiting each other’s islands is a lot easier, and everyone with their own Switch gets to experience the joy of being the Resident Representative. This means that, beyond the first purchase of Animal Crossing, each consecutive title purchased for a family suddenly has at least a $200 price tag (the current cost of the Switch Lite) added onto the purchase.
While the multiplayer model may have made a bit more sense in prior titles, the limitations are far more apparent in the newest iteration of AC, and fans are starting to speak out against it. Even more so in a time where families are huddled up together, afraid of going outside.