Much like Tom Nook’s understanding of economics, Nintendo continues to be stuck in the 20th century when it comes to online technology. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a massive success. I love the game and have been playing it daily since its release much like millions of others. However there are huge parts of Animal Crossing that are objectively horrendous and, in those ways, it is one of the worst games of the year.
Dozens of hours into Animal Crossing I thought to myself, “is Animal Crossing going to be my GOTY?” Immediately after thinking this I realized that I had once again been tricked by Nintendo. I had once again forgotten their inexcusable choices when it comes to online design. Fans and reviewers are so accustomed to Nintendo’s terrible online services that we collectively move past all the problems with the games they release. There is complaining in the beginning focused around specific things that are totally ignored by Nintendo and dissipate over time. The reality is that these complaints that float to the surface are drops in an ocean of failure that continues to be embarrassing. These same decisions, in any non-Nintendo game, would result in consistent press coverage and fan anger until the problems are directly addressed by the developers.
The first major sign of issues with Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the announcement, prior to release, that there would be no cloud saves to prevent people from cheating. This argument makes about as much sense as Trump saying windmills are bad because they make bird graveyards. Who the hell cares about people cheating in a single player game? Why not just continually update the game to prevent cheating, like every other company?
There was a big negative response to this and Nintendo seemed to backtrack a little, a RARE sign of even mild self-reflection on their part, and has bestowed upon us a royal gift of one save recovery per lifetime of the player. It is unclear if this is even available yet due to Nintendo’s notorious lack of communication. Thanks for nothing.
To create a game that is specifically designed to be played for hundreds of hours, daily, for years and not create a backup for people’s save is honestly disgusting. Yes, it is just a game, but realize the fact that someone at Nintendo actively pushed to deny what is already present on the Switch to players. They chose to do this when cloud saves already exist. What kind of people want something like that?
The online experience in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is awful. It is one of the worst I’ve ever played in a game online in years (besides other Nintendo games). The wait times for sending people mail and people joining and leaving your island belong in the 90s. Why are there such long and frequent load times for connecting to the internet? Why does the game operate like I’m using a modem? I have played indie games made by a couple people that run more cleanly than this.
Having several friends join your island is a nightmare. Combine that with Nintendo’s already terrible internet speeds, disconnects, crashes, etc. and the wait times really add up. Forget trying to get people to join your island when your turnip prices are up - no amount of digital cash is worth the painful process of dozens of people joining and leaving an island.
Let’s also talk about that 8 person cap. Let’s be real....in a decade of battle royales 8 players is a joke. It’s just not hard to have a lot of people in a game any more. Indie game devs created something as complex as PUBG. Major companies, as big as Nintendo, then iterated on it and improved upon many aspects of its online design. World of Warcraft is 16 years old and has tens of thousands of players per server online at the same time. It’s inexcusable for Nintendo not to learn a thing or two from the successes of others.
Again I have to wonder if this will be the downfall of Nintendo. How many more generations and games can they allow this to happen? As games get more complex, what will happen when a gamebreaking bug deletes every Animal Crossing save and there’s no backups? What happens when Nintendo’s next console is just as bad as the Switch and Playstation and Xbox are now 30 years ahead of them in technology instead of 20 years?
What is it going to take for Nintendo to enter the 21st century? I don’t know. What I do know is that I will try and ignore the creeping fear in the back of my mind that my now 125+ hour save could be gone at any moment. I compartmentalize this fear, just like we all do with our knowledge that Nintendo is an absolute failure when it comes to online gaming.