Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons neglect is the biggest missed opportunity in gaming

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    Animal Crossing: New Horizons couldn’t have released at a better time. With everyone stuck at home looking for a way to escape reality, the Nintendo Switch game was a vacation from the real world for many. How did it go so wrong?

    March 2020. A month out of many that a lot of us will remember for being confined to our houses, only venturing outside for essential grocery shopping or a medical appointment. With so much spare time on our hands and a feeling of uncertainty and anxiousness hanging in the air like a black cloud about to burst with rain, we looked for something, anything, to take our minds off of reality.

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    Right on cue, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released on the Nintendo Switch. An angel sent from above – finally, something to make the days a little brighter and whisk us away to a cheery island where thoughts of what was happening in real life were non-existent, replaced with terraforming ideas and feng shui plans.

    It seemed like a game that fans would be able to ride out the next few months with until life regained some normality. Nintendo promised greatness – but unfortunately, over a year on – hasn’t delivered. Updates have been scarce, big features are still missing, and a huge chunk of the original player base hasn’t visited their town in months, leaving weeds to grow and their villagers to fend for themselves. Just what is going on?

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    animal crossing new horizons
    Nintendo

    New Horizons helped many people through the start of a very stressful year.

    Animal Crossing: Bleak Horizons

    When the game first launched, much-loved features from earlier entries in the series like Crazy Redd’s black market were missing. Nintendo promised frequent updates which would slowly add extra content in, though, and for a while, they did. Leif made his return, followed by the shifty salesman, and more.

    Holiday events were also left out, with the developer adding them in just beforehand via patches, assumingly to stop ‘time travelers’ (people who adjust their in-game clock to skip ahead) from being able to access exclusive items before they’re supposed to.  All of this was understandable at the time; I mean, the world is falling apart, right? Things are going to take more time than they usually would. 

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    But as the months went on, updates became more scarce, with features being more underwhelming than the last. While the latest patch – 1.10.0 – was added in May, the only new content it brought were items, with the rest being repeat events from 2020. The last time players got anything substantial was back in March with the Sanrio collaboration and the Custom Design Pro Editor+.

    animal crossing new horizons pro design
    Nintendo

    Updates have been trickling in slowly, but they’ve not been groundbreaking.

    Nintendo should have delayed it

    But that’s not enough, though. Not for some fans. “Where is Brewster?” echoes loudly throughout Animal Crossing Twitter. “When is the cafe coming? What about Tortimer?” And they’re right to be upset, honestly. It isn’t fair that a game many waited eight years in anticipation for and prayed excessively to see every E3 season was released half empty, with updates coming three times a year. It isn’t good enough.

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    The bottom line is, New Horizons should have been delayed. Yes, it would have sucked to wait even longer but at least the features that should have been there at launch would be. And if Nintendo wanted to add in extra content afterward via updates, great – it’d feel like a bonus rather than a necessity required to enjoy the game.

    Even the collaborations feel weak in the sense that there’s so much missed potential there. The Super Mario set was good, but the Sanrio crossover was locked behind amiibo cards that were scalped to high heavens and barely anyone could get their hands on. It’s cheaper and easier to buy unofficial, handmade ones on Etsy. How is that fair? And are more collabs coming?

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    sanrio amiibo cards animal crossing new horizons
    Nintendo

    The amiibo cards unlock Sanrio-themed villagers and items.

    It’s easy to imagine that 2022 might be a better year for New Horizons as the world is slowly but surely gaining some of its normality back. But with the way Animal Crossing has been treated in 2021, I’m not holding my breath. And even if, by some miracle, Nintendo does pull an amazing, mother-of-all update out of its hat, it’s probably too late to ever get the game’s popularity back to where it was at the beginning of last year.

    As a fan since the GameCube days, begging my great grandmother to gift me Population: Growing for Christmas when I was eight years old, it’s tough. It’s a series that is close to my heart and I was so obsessed with the Switch title, putting 400 hours into it within the first three months. But it’s impossible to ignore that much of the excitement was because of the promise the following months would be filled with amazing updates that made the game better. It feels like I was fooled.

    And I’m not alone here. If you look in Animal Crossing Facebook groups and online forums, there are countless tales of people giving up after hundreds of hours because there is nothing else to do; they’ve completed the museum, fully upgraded their house, and no update is adding anything substantial to further their playtime. If Nintendo had made New Horizons complete from the start, it would still be a big success.

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