AC1
Image: Nintendo

Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. Today, Tom talks about the lack of substantial updates for a game he's been playing on the regular for some time now...


I should start this with a disclaimer: I like Animal Crossing: New Horizons a lot.

It is no exaggeration or hyperbole to say I have played it every day since launch without fail; for at least 10-15 minutes a day, I check turnip prices and ensure none of my islanders are toiling at home with a cold. Like many, I used it socially in 2020, but even without the extreme challenges of you know what, I dip in every day.

So I'm eager to be constructive when I highlight that, jeez, Nintendo's update 'roadmap' — is there a roadmap? — has been underwhelming at times, and occasionally downright baffling.

This is a game that had sold 31.18 million as of 31st December 2020, so may be close as of today to overtaking Mario Kart 8 Deluxe as the bestselling Nintendo Switch game bar none. Considering the relatively modest size of the core development team (based on the credits that roll during a good ol' K.K. Slider concert), it's fair to say the game will have contributed handily to Nintendo's monster profits.

To give Nintendo its dues, the updates it has rolled out have honoured an old promise from former President Satoru Iwata not to monetise the mainline games in the series; naturally the mobile game does this, but that's a different beast. All updates have been free and, certainly in the earlier months, some notable features were added, such as new landscaping options and the ability to go diving off the coast. Yep, there have been some nice additions since launch.

With those positives out of the way, then, I don't think it's controversial to suggest that recent updates — outside of some fun one off events for the likes of Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve — have been rather unremarkable. This month's update is arguably a nadir, as it's regurgitating content from the game's early days, albeit with some modest tweaks. New collectibles, outfits, etc, are nice, and some players would have done all sorts of fun things with the recent Mario event, but the sense of déjà vu is getting rather hard to avoid.

Looks familiar...
Looks familiar... (Image: Nintendo)

If you follow the topic you've no doubt seen the memes and consistent social media campaigning, too. Just recently we shared an article about what's still missing from the game, in terms of content that could be revived from older entries. Our poll results matched up with the many tweets the poor social team at Nintendo has to endure — yep, Brewster. We want that little coffee shop, darnit!

heading off to a play island to indulge in smartly designed minigames is the Switch concept down to a tee, yet it isn't there. We're talking about easy wins here

Yet there's more to it, such as Tortimer's Island or an equivalent; heading off to a play island to indulge in smartly designed minigames is the Switch concept down to a tee, yet it isn't there. We're talking about easy wins here, freshening up old ideas with some HD assets and feeding them to us desperate long-term players. Heck, we don't even need anything 'new', just old favourites will do at this point.

What I find hard to grasp, as the meaningful updates become less common, is why Nintendo is letting it go stagnant. I understand the challenges the development team will have, possibly still working remotely to a degree, but lots of games and projects have done more and come further over the past year in similar circumstances. Despite its success, Nintendo doesn't seem to read the market either, as other titles that pitch themselves as daily / weekly experiences continually refresh their content. It's not an exact comparison due to its free-to-start model with a monthly pass, but Battle Royale games like Fortnite keep evolving and keeping players engaged. And it works — the player counts remain very high.

We miss you
We miss you (Image: Nintendo Life)

It's a flawed comparison, as Animal Crossing has always been a series about playing at your own pace and making your own fun, but it's also fair to question whether Nintendo is missing an opportunity to really endear itself to longer term players. I appreciate the argument that repeated events will be fresh to recent players, but there's simply not been enough effort given to long-term islanders that love the game but want it to reach its potential.

My hope is that this article will age badly; that in the coming weeks — or perhaps even at E3 — Nintendo will raise the curtain on a real 'Version 2.0' update that takes New Horizons to the next level: more multiplayer fun, Brewster, and other neat stuff that'll draw millions back into playing daily.

Nintendo doesn't have to do this, the game will make them silly money regardless. But it should do this, to remind players that it wants them to keep having fun, and to thank those that continue to make a point of listening to K.K's concerts every Saturday. Yep, I've never missed one of those, either.