Fans eager to share a tropical island with their friends in Animal Crossing: New Horizons quickly ran into an issue. Initially, a February press release claimed that up to eight user-controlled residents could live on the same island in a single copy of the game. However, shortly after the game's launch on March 20, 2020, players discovered that the system heavily relies on the progress of only the first, or primary player.

Once the primary player has named their island and chosen its design, other residents can successfully move in. However, the tasks required to further develop the island can only be completed by the primary player. For example, tanuki businessman Tom Nook requires residents to show him five of their island's unique creatures before they will be allowed to craft an axe, which is then used to harvest wood, rocks and other island materials. Only the primary player can give Nook the items, and other residents cannot craft axes until they have done so.

When secondary players ask Nook for tasks or updates on the island's progress, he merely directs them to the primary player instead. This means that many features, such as the creation of a museum run by the owl Blathers or the ability for residents to build larger-sized homes, are available only at the primary player's discretion.

Animal Crossing fans have reacted negatively to the discovery of this restriction. New Horizons has received over 300 negative reviews on Metacritic, the majority of them mentioning this issue and some even assigning the game a score of 0 points as a result. Currently, Animal Crossing: New Horizons holds a user score of 6.4, indicating "mixed or average reviews". This stands in contrast to its critic score of 9.1 ("universal acclaim'") and the number of 100-point reviews give by big-name sites such as Forbes, Nintendo Insider, Telegraph, and more.

Many fans eagerly awaited New Horizons' release due to coronavirus-related social distancing policies, seeing the game as a way to provide entertainment during stressful quarantine times and interact with their friends and family even while far apart. This local multiplayer issue will likely negatively affect the experience of playing the game for many players hoping to use it as an escape from feelings of isolation.

So far, Animal Crossing developer Nintendo has not commented on the issue.