By now you’ve probably seen a lot of information and reviews about Nintendo’s latest Animal Crossing game.  What you may not have seen, however, is a detailed description of the game experience from the perspective of a secondary player on a shared island. Read below for more information on our experiences with island sharing.

As you may already know, the Engaged Family Gaming household has 3 Switch consoles.  When Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out, we purchased 3 copies of the game, just in time to be stuck at home for an undetermined amount of time.  What we did not expect was that 3 consoles and 3 copies of the game would not be enough for all 5 of us to have an enjoyable Animal Crossing experience.

In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players travel to a deserted island and spend their time creating various homes, shops, museums, gardens, etc.  Players collect goods around the island and turn them in for rewards that enable them to create more beautiful and enticing properties on their islands.  These properties encourage other animals to come join you on your island. Overall this is supposed to be a relaxing and peaceful experience where you try to build your own perfect escape.  The limitation is that you can only have one island per console and any other players joining this “multiplayer” experience must share the island. This works really well if you are the first player on the island.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as well for the other players sharing the island with the first player.

We originally intended for our Editor in Chief to join our youngest on a shared island.  We thought that if Mom wanted to play too, she could share one of the boys’ islands. This did not go as planned.  First, our youngest wanted Mommy to play with her. In a normal situation that would have been fine, because Mom is not known for spending a lot of time playing video games.  However, recent events had Mom looking for an escape from reality, so she decided to join the little one and devote significant time to playing. She let the little one create and name the island and do the initial setup. She then joined as the island’s Very First Relocator.  On the first day while Mom was learning the game, everything went fine. The littlest played until she was bored. She collected butterflies, caught some fish, and gathered shells from the beaches. When she was done, Mom signed on and explored the island and learned how to shake trees, collect fruit, etc.  Then Mom asked for a fishing pole. She couldn’t get one because the littlest didn’t unlock it yet. This became a problem going forward. We learned that all progression in the game is driven by the main player. The secondary player can’t help, build, or contribute to any of the community buildings. The second player can’t donate items for the museum until the first player does quests to unlock construction and gets the museum built.  The secondary player gets minimal tutorials. The fruit eating mechanic is never explained to the secondary player and the secondary player can only buy DIY patterns from Nook shopping or through the store once the first player has received or unlocked them during quests. Some items needed for building new homes never become available to the secondary player, though they may be earned as gifts or through island mechanics. This quickly became a point of frustration for our household.  So much so that our Editor in Chief has decided not to play at all because he does not want to be a secondary player. This may be because our littlest lacks focus and loves to run around in the game doing completely random quests without many objectives, but it seems to be a concern for many people we’ve heard feedback from.

These complaints don’t even take into account some of the other frustrations that can happen when siblings or players don’t agree and purposefully sabotage or troll each other.  One way to mitigate this would be to have a parent or the most motivated player be the initial island creator. This would help to ease some of the growing pains associated with the ‘gated’ growth in the game.

Since this was so frustrating, we tried playing together in local co-op.  This was even worse. In this mode, you designate a leader and the rest become followers. You can switch between leader and follower at will.  There are many problems with this mode. Since local co-op uses a shared screen, others follow you into whatever buildings you enter, and players can’t get separated.  If you get too far away from each other, the follower gets teleported to the leader. Without a split screen, this severely limits everyone’s ability to play. Using the joy con in this mode is very complicated. The follower has no access to their inventory or tool wheel.  A single button pressed over and over gives you access to your tools. Items you gather are placed in the recycle box in Tom Nook’s tent or building. Any time the leader opens a menu, any activity the followers may be doing gets paused.

We haven’t had any time to try out the online multiplayer mode, but we’ve heard great things.  The shared experience in this game mode supposedly becomes less frustrating and more hilarious.  We will let you know more about those experiences in a future article.

Overall, this is a beautiful and relaxing game, but if you really want the full Animal Crossing experience, it is best for each player to have their own console and copy of the game.  We realize that this is likely not feasible for everyone so keep these issues in mind if you are considering this game for a single console household with multiple players. This game really feels like it is designed as a single player game with a demo mode for secondary players.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!

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