I was the first person to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons in my house. I didn’t realize the power that would be bestowed upon me as the island’s primary resident representative. Now that my spouse and kid are enjoying the game – and playing more than me – we’ve discovered New Horizons’ frustrating limits on local co-op, holding back an otherwise endlessly endearing family game.
The first and biggest limitation is that every local player using the same Switch must share an island. Each player can use their own Nintendo accounts and set up their own homes. But they end up on the same island that the original player, the resident rep, chose at the beginning.
To play local co-op, each player will need to start the game on their account, set up their starter tent, and unlock the Call Resident app. From there, a player can use Call Resident in the Nook Phone menu to add a local player to the session. The player who started first will be the Leader. Only the Leader can talk to islanders, craft objects, and access their inventory. Players can switch leaders by going back to the Call Resident screen, or by shaking their Joy Con.
Sharing an island automatically creates several problems that online players with rowdy friends may have discovered – other players chopping down trees, destroying rocks, and otherwise harvesting all of your resources and altering the island.
Any player can use a Nook Miles ticket to travel to other islands, possibly meeting new potential islanders for their own island. If you’re sharing your island with others, it’s easy to end up with new island residents that you’ve never even met before (thankfully my kid picked an awesome pink frog with great musical tastes). These issues can be solved with communication and some household ground rules, but resources can become annoyingly scarce with everyone competing.
To make matters worse, only the resident rep can turn in quests and supplies to Tom Nook (or Isabelle), and receive the rewards in DIY Recipes and tools, as well as advance the story’s main events. The other players will have to purchase the recipes and tools they need after they’re unlocked.
This is particularly annoying during an early game quest that involves furnishing three new houses with indoor and outdoor objects. Not only is the resident rep given the only DIY recipes to make the dozen or so needed objects, but the other players can’t even see which objects are needed for each house – they’re simply told to ask their resident rep, as if they’re not real players themselves.
Thus my spouse was left harvesting wood and stone and mailing them to me, so I could craft the tables, chairs, and clotheslines needed for the houses, a needlessly annoying workaround.
Yet when it comes to the museum, my kid quickly donated the 15 initial bugs, fossils, and fish and unlocked the full museum before I barely had a chance to chat with Blathers. The museum keeps track of which player donated which item, which is admittedly a neat feature, but the rules of who can do what are oddly inconsistent.
Simultaneous co-op is even more strictly regulated, to the point where we hardly ever bother with it. One player is designated as the Leader. The Leader is the only player who has full access to their own inventory. The camera is tied to the Leader, teleporting any other players if they stray too far.
Non-leaders can still access whatever tools they have on them by cycling through with a button press (another minor annoyance). They can still chop trees and fish, but everything they pick up will be transferred to a shared stash instead of their own inventory. Since you kind of need access to your inventory and crafting tables to do much of anything in Animal Crossing, playing simultaneous co-op is next to useless compared to just taking turns. Thankfully you can swap between Leaders without restarting the co-op session, though this too can quickly become tedious.
It’s a huge shame that we weren’t given full split-screen co-op for New Horizons, but the Switch’s handheld mode makes split-screen prohibitive. With a a never-ending stream of fun tasks, charming atmosphere, and engrossing customization, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has all the makings of the perfect family game. It’s a shame local co-op was treated as an afterthought.