PSA: Got a new Nintendo Switch? Be careful when transferring Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is one of the best Nintendo Switch games, and it took the world by storm in early 2020 for good reason. It was the next installment in Nintendo’s slow-paced life simulator and had a release window perfectly timed with the pause of life as we knew it. It’s a game with a world that can be built up for years and years, and as a result, the islands that people create can hold sentimental value. If you’re getting a new Nintendo Switch, though, then be careful when transferring your Animal Crossing save data.
For context, I recently purchased a Nintendo Switch OLED edition to upgrade over my original launch-year Switch. I wanted a better screen, better battery life, and I obviously wanted to take all of my data with me. When setting up the Nintendo Switch OLED, it asked me if I wanted to transfer over my data from my old Switch. “Of course I do”, I thought. I selected to transfer over my profile data, and it then asked me did I intend on using the older Switch, which I did not. As Nintendo warns, once the transfer is complete, my old user account would be removed from the older device.
“Once the process is complete, the user information, the associated save data, and the software purchased with the user account that is transferred will no longer be available on the source system.”
I figured that this was fine, and I transferred my data over. I downloaded all of my games again, including Animal Crossing, but was surprised to find that my save data wasn’t present. This is one of the few games I have purchased digitally, as I felt that it made sense for this game to sit forever on my device’s storage rather than needing to swap a cart. After all, most days I’ll only play it for a handful of minutes.
Once I launched it, I was greeted by the game’s introduction sequence, asking me for my name and other information to set up my in-game profile. Researching what may be the cause, I discovered that Nintendo had said in the past that because Animal Crossing save files are per-Switch and not per-account, the user data profile transfer would not work, and that a special tool needed to be downloaded from the eShop to do it. It also says this on the official support page for transferring data, too.
Here’s the problem: if you Google the transfer of data from one Switch to another, Nintendo does warn users that Animal Crossing data cannot be transferred in this way, but nowhere is it mentioned in the transfer process itself. I’m not alone in this situation either, as other users on Reddit have also run into the same problem and assumed that their data was lost for good. When completing the transfer of data to my new Switch, unless I have a problem, I’m going to assume that when it says all of my data will be transferred, all of my data is going to be transferred. I now no longer had the original user account on my older Switch, and I had no way to access my island on it either.
I looked to see what my options may be, and while you can try to restore your island data from an online cloud backup, Nintendo says you need to contact a customer service representative to do so. Furthermore, while I discovered you can just hold the minus button in the game’s boot-up sequence to circumvent the need to speak to someone at Nintendo to download your island again, I realized that it required a Nintendo Switch Online (NSO) subscription to restore. I had last backed up my island in December, so I thought that an older backup was better than nothing. I purchased an NSO subscription only to be told that there was no data to be restored.
A workaround to transfer Animal Crossing save data after transferring user data
I had nearly given up on transferring my data when I had an idea. What if I could leverage one of the other accounts on my older Switch to install the transfer tool and transfer it that way? As already mentioned, Animal Crossing save files are per-Switch, and not per-account. I had another account that was leftover on my Switch without a linked Nintendo Account, so I made a burner account and linked it.
From there, I installed the transfer tool, and it picked up my island. I installed the transfer tool on my new Switch, and to my surprise, it transferred and it worked. I was incredibly lucky that my laziness had meant that I had another account leftover on the console that the game’s save file was leftover and accessible from, but I can easily see a world where someone would assume that their island was lost, especially as Animal Crossing would no longer even launch on my older Switch thanks to transferring the digital license. I don’t know if it would have been any different with a physical cartridge.
All in all, should I have seen it coming? Megafans of Animal Crossing would likely answer yes, but I think that for the standard end-user, the answer is no. There was nothing to suggest in the transfer process on either Switch that my save data would not be transferred over for any specific games, and it requires the knowledge of the game using a per-Switch save file to understand why a user data transfer won’t work.
It’s clear that this has already burned users online before, and I feel that it should be made a whole lot more obvious what will happen… or even better, per-Switch save files should also be transferred when transferring over the primary account on the Switch. Thankfully I was able to save my island, and hopefully, this helps someone else who may end up in the same situation as me.