How Nintendo could improve multiplayer in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

If you have a Nintendo Switch, you’ve probably played Animal Crossing: New Horizons this year. The cultural impact New Horizons has had on the gaming community – not to mention people in general – is both astounding and undeniable. I’m sure many of you have had friends over (or have visited friends’ islands) this year, so perhaps you’d agree with me when I say that this game’s multiplayer is not very good.

As I wrote in my review a few months back, New Horizons suffers from a wide variety of puzzling multiplayer restrictions. There’s just so much you can’t do when your island’s gates are open, and today we’re going to elaborate on my point a bit. Here’s how Nintendo could potentially improve multiplayer sessions in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Strengths of Multiplayer

First, let’s talk about what Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ multiplayer does right. Up to eight players can visit an island at a time, and that’s up from 4 players in Animal Crossing: New Leaf (which I also wrote about!). Four players per island would have been tough. Some Animal Crossing-loving friend groups might have five players, so I think eight slots is the perfect amount. Of course, having seven other players over at once might get a little chaotic, and you can’t look at the map to see where they are, so that’s kind of a bummer. Moving right along…

I think New Horizons works really well as a “visual aid” of sorts for conversation. If you’ve collected all of the game’s Reactions (which include Greeting, Sit Down, Pleased, etc.), your avatar can become really expressive. Without reactions, I think having visitors would feel a lot more cold and distant. Reactions help make visits in New Horizons a bit more personal, and the developers have been adding new ones in via game updates!

Of course, it’s also really nice to show your friends what kind of progress you’ve made on your island. You can get their opinions on areas both outdoors and indoors, and friends can even give you furniture items to help you decorate! I also like the mailing system. If you have somebody over, you’re able to send them a letter in the mail afterwards. You can attach gifts such as furniture, fossils, fruit, and clothes. I think it’s really nice to send friends letters. If you’re part of a friend group that plays New Horizons a lot, you might even wake up to a letter from a friend every day. That feeling of connectedness is something a lot of people need right now, and this game can serve as a platform to help provide it!

I also like the Dodo Code system. There’s a lot of flexibility here. You can invite friends (who you then have to give the code to), and – thankfully – you can invite players who you aren’t friends with! This means you don’t have to go into the home menu and add a twelve-digit friend code each time you want to invite somebody. I’m happy with the Dodo Code system and I think it is probably the greatest advancement New Horizons has made in terms of multiplayer.

A few final notes for this particular section. Your guests can purchase items from the shop, access the dressing room in the Able Sisters’ store, and view all the creatures you’ve donated to the museum with you! That’s all well and good, but as I’m about to discuss, I don’t think those four activities are enough to keep players occupied for all that long.

Weaknesses of Multiplayer

And here we have the longest section of the article! Let’s get right into it. An absolutely ridiculous number of single-player options become off-limits with your gates open. Directly copy-pasted from my Animal Crossing: New Horizons review, here’s a list of everything you can’t do with visitors. You cannot place furniture, shift the position of placed furniture, remove furniture, create custom designs, change your house’s interior, use the Island Designer app, assess fossils, donate to the museum, shoot balloons in the sky, use the Rescue Service app, send letters, or order from Nook Shopping. Sheesh, that’s a lot of things you can’t do.

In my aforementioned review, I stated that New Horizons is overall lacking in content. After you unlock the Island Designer app, there’s not much left to do but decorate your island. And decorating your island is a huge focus of New Horizons. But when you open your gates to accept visitors, your island freezes. You can’t change the position of furniture or put out new ones, either. I think this is a huge missed opportunity. How cool would it be to be able to go to a friend’s island and help them decorate? Instead, if you want to change your island while a visitor is over, you’ll have to send them home, make that change, and invite them back over. You may be wondering, “wouldn’t players be able to grief islands that way”? Yes, they would! But I think the Friends List app could be updated with a few new features. Let’s say you’re at your friend’s island and want to help them decorate. You’d fly on over to their island, open up the Friends List app, and send a furniture edit request. The host’s phone would beep, prompting them to press ZL and check their Friends List app to accept or deny the request. The host would be able to revoke that request afterwards. I think this would be a balanced system that would allow players to bounce ideas off of each other and help make a really nice-looking area!

Next up, we’ve got the Island Designer app. Yes, I think this should be allowed in multiplayer. So, this could go one of two routes. On one hand, I feel like only the host should be allowed to use the Island Designer tools, while any visitors just have to watch instead. Too many players using Island Designer at once would be utter chaos. On the other hand, if you’re trying to make your town only water tiles, having other players help you would cut down on time by quite a lot. Let’s assume we go the route of enabling multiple players to use Island Designer at the same time. Remember that Friend List app we talked about just a bit ago? Visitors would have to send the host an Island Designer request, which they’d need to approve or deny. This idea is admittedly a little bit iffy, but I’d love to be able to terraform with friends over!

So, with friends over, you can’t get fossils assessed or donate anything to the museum. Blathers says he’s “busy with company”. I think you should at least be able to donate your bugs, fish, art, and sea creatures while other players are around! Just update the exhibits when the museum is empty. Another minor issue is that you can’t order anything from the Nook Shopping phone app with company over. Why? Would it be so complicated to enable that functionality?!

Another notable issue I have is that when you have friends over, balloons no longer spawn! This is important because a lot of DIY recipes can only be obtained by shooting down balloons. This means that you’re actually punished for having friends over (in a way) because you’re spending a lot of time playing Animal Crossing, but can’t get the recipes because there’s no balloons to shoot!

My absolute biggest complaint with multiplayer, however, is that you cannot access your storage or bank account from a friend’s island. You were able to do both of these in New Leaf, and now you just can’t! Add a cabinet to the airport that lets you check your home storage and either deposit items or withdraw them. And allow the Nook Stop at Resident Services to function as a bank for other players! I feel like this is a reasonable ask (unlike the Island Designer ideas a few paragraphs back).

One last major point here. When Animal Crossing: New Horizons introduced wet suits in a free update, they made a mistake by allowing players to jump off the dock (the one near the airport) and into the water. Animal Crossing has a bustling online economy, and players often post listings for items and then use Dodo Codes to invite over players they haven’t met before (who will then purchase the item the host listed). The problem here is that you often don’t know players on Animal Crossing economy sites, so for all you know, they might come over and try to stomp on all your flowers. In the past, players were able to create a fence around their airport so that players are stuck – this would encourage them to drop the item / money and then leave – but now they can dive off the dock and into the water, and they can then surface on a beach and start wreaking havoc! I think the game should be updated to remove the ability to jump off the dock near the airport. The dock on the beach can remain as-is!

As you can probably tell, I think Animal Crossing: New Horizons could benefit from a wide variety of multiplayer changes and updates. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have friends over for a while! It’s just that there’s not exactly much to do in terms of collaboration, and I think the game experience could be made to feel much more connected if some of the ideas I listed here were implemented. I can’t stress enough how game-changing it would be to decorate your island with visitors over! It’s entirely possible that some of these ideas could be used in the future… so hopefully I’ll be writing an update post if that ever does happen!

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