The short answer is – no, Animal Crossing is not free with a Nintendo Switch Online membership. You need to purchase the Animal Crossing games separately.
However, there are some Animal Crossing benefits and extras that come with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Let‘s take a deeper look.
An Overview of Animal Crossing Games
For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Animal Crossing is a social simulation series focused on building a virtual community. Players customize their character and house while befriending animal villagers.
Here are the major Animal Crossing games:
Animal Crossing (2001) – The original released on the GameCube.
Animal Crossing: Wild World (2005) – The Nintendo DS version. Introduced online play.
Animal Crossing: City Folk (2008) – Released on the Wii with WiiSpeak microphone support.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf (2012) – 3DS version that refined online features. Mayor role introduced.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp (2017) – Mobile spin-off with microtransactions.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020) – The hugely successful Switch installment that took the world by storm.
The core Animal Crossing experience revolves around slow-paced, relaxing gameplay. As you befriend villagers, collect items, and unlock upgrades, your island paradise continuously grows.
Multiplayer connectivity has become more crucial with each new release. Visiting other players‘ islands greatly expands the game‘s longevity and content.
Now let‘s see how Nintendo Switch Online memberships fit into Animal Crossing.
What You Get with a Basic Nintendo Switch Online Membership
A standard Nintendo Switch Online membership costs $3.99 monthly, $7.99 for three months, or $19.99 annually. This basic subscription provides the following Animal Crossing benefits:
Online play – Visit friends‘ islands and host others in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The older 3DS title New Leaf also supported online play.
Design sharing – Share and download custom designs created by players worldwide using QR codes or creator IDs.
Dream Suite access – Visit amazing dream islands uploaded by other New Horizons players while they are offline.
Special events – Participate in limited-time online events and item distributions for New Horizons.
So in summary, a basic membership enables online multiplayer and content sharing for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. You cannot play the actual game for free, but you unlock social features.
Expansion Pack Membership Perks
The pricier Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack membership ($49.99/year) adds the following extra Animal Crossing benefit:
- Happy Home Paradise DLC – This New Horizons expansion lets you design vacation homes for villagers. It normally costs $24.99 separately.
By subscribing to the Expansion Pack, you get the Happy Home Paradise DLC at no additional cost. Of course, you still need to own Animal Crossing: New Horizons to access this.
Think of it as a bundle discount rather than the DLC being outright free. But it‘s a nice perk for Animal Crossing super fans.
Free-to-Play Animal Crossing Options
While mainline Animal Crossing games require purchase, there are some free alternatives:
Pocket Camp (mobile) – This free-to-play mobile title features microtransactions, but you can enjoy the core experience without spending.
Special events – Nintendo distributes free items and unlocks temporary upgrades in New Horizons via online play.
Limited demos – Nintendo has previously released short demos of Animal Crossing games, but availability is limited.
But these free options only provide a small teaser of the complete Animal Crossing experience.
Is a Subscription Worth It for Animal Crossing Fans?
For players invested in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a Nintendo Switch Online membership is highly recommended.
Based on polls, over 50% of New Horizons players utilize online features. And close to 25% have visited dream islands.
| Online Feature Usage in Animal Crossing: New Horizons |
| Play online with others | 55% |
| Upload/view custom designs | 53% |
| Visit dream islands | 23% |
*According to Nintendo Life polls
Accessing the multiplayer components vastly increases content and connectivity. New Horizons has received free updates expanding online play, including cooking together on friend‘s islands.
The Expansion Pack upgrade is harder to justify purely for Animal Crossing. But you may find value if you also want access to the Nintendo 64 and Genesis classics included with the premium tier.
For casual fans who only dabble in Animal Crossing occasionally, the free Pocket Camp app could be sufficient.
The Bottom Line
While Animal Crossing games require separate purchase, Nintendo Switch Online memberships provide:
- Multiplayer access enabling online island visits and design sharing
- Dream Suite allowing you to explore uploaded islands
- Special events and free item giveaways
The Expansion Pack also bundles in the Happy Home Paradise DLC.
I hope this breakdown gave you a better understanding of what you can access for free via Nintendo Switch Online versus what requires purchase. Animal Crossing is meant to be an inviting social experience, so I highly recommend the membership to get the most out of New Horizons.
Let me know if you have any other questions! I‘m always happy to talk Animal Crossing strategies and tips.