The Animal Crossing series has been one of Nintendo’s best franchise as of late. New Leaf set a new standard for the series but as E3 2015 rolled around, fans were greeted with something a bit different. Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer is the first spin-off title from the Life Sim series and is focused on the decorating aspect the series is well known for. Is it a worthy entry in the franchise or does it fall short? Let’s check it out.
Happy Home Designer is not your typical Animal Crossing game. The tropes the series is known for such as the real time day and night cycle, catching bugs or fish, shopping or even bells aren’t present in this installment. Instead, the entire experience is centered around creating and decorating spaces. You are the newest employee at Nook’s Homes and are tasked with finding potential clients around the new town. Approximately 300 animal villagers from previous installments of the franchise will show up looking for a new style for their home and it’s up to you to design their happy home.
Happy Home Designer is the most customizable Animal Crossing game to date. Everything from your characters eyes and mouth to the type of objects hanging off of the walls or ceilings in homes. Giving players a very expansive catalog of items to choose from right off the bat is a welcome addition for an Animal Crossing veteran such as myself.
With all of those items at your disposal, you’re tasked with creating the coolest, wackiest or cutest house for many different villagers. Here’s how it works: A villager will come into Nook’s Homes looking for someone to redesign their house (you) with a set of priorities that need to be filled. For example, let’s say Roscoe the horse wants a house that’s has a black and white theme to it. Your job is to do your best to follow their wishes and create the best house possible.
It’s a very fun mechanic that is expanded upon as you progress through the game. The more you play the more things you can do. You start decorating the insides of houses then move onto picking plots of lands for the houses, customizing the look and style of the house and how the yard looks. I have to say, choosing a snowy location in the mountains for a penguin villager or placing a kangaroo villager a desert location adds that extra bit of charm Animal Crossing is known for.
Once you’ve gotten accustomed to building and designing houses, fan-favorite Isabelle arrives at Nook’s Homes to introduce my favorite part of the game: Facilities. Facilities can range from a school the villagers can study at to hospitals, shops and restaurants. As something I’ve always wanted in an Animal Crossing game, this is a fantastic addition to the franchise and something I hope sticks around for the next true installment. There’s just something that’s so relaxing and peaceful about sitting down and really planning out how the school will look or placing tables and chairs for a diner. Immersing yourself in this new town along with all the animals that inhabit it is where the real enjoyment will be had in Happy Home Designer.
There really isn’t a reward system in HHD or even challenge for the most part. Once you’ve finished decorating and show your client your final product, they will always approve of it. There’s no ranking system or even failure. As long as you put the items they want in the room they’ll like it. Some might say that it offers no challenge what so ever and they’d be right. Animal Crossing has never been about challenge or skillful gameplay but instead getting lost in a town full of friendly animals and relaxing. Happy Home Designer does that effectively with the decorating mechanics.
For me, I enjoyed the game as I’ve enjoyed any other Animal Crossing game, in short spurts. Maybe lay back in a comfy chair and design a house or two or maybe relaxing in bed at night planning the layout for the newest store. It’s a game that’s best enjoyed if you yourself get into the role of designer. Making the best house possible for a villager not to get the highest score or win the best prize but to make that villager happy. Designing a school where the inhabitants of your town can learn or creating a hospital where they can get the best care. Investing yourself into what your doing makes it worth it and satisfying in it’s own way.
Happy Home Designer boasts an impressive online feature as well with players being able to upload their designers to the Happy Home Network. Once you create a home or facility you can upload it to the HHN for people to see, critique and favorite as well as draw inspiration from. It’s very impressive what some people can come up with and I’ve spent my fare share of time gathering ideas from things people upload.
One thing I have to praise to no end is the Treehouses’ writing when it comes to Happy Home Designer. Similar to New Leaf and previous installments, Happy Home Designer has incredibly charming and witty writing that really makes interactions with the animals special. One encounter that stuck with me is after building a school for my town, a villager came for me to design their home. Their reasoning for moving to my town was the fact that my school was so well received, she decided to move and raise her kids in a good school district. Sure it means nothing in the long run but interactions like this with the animals makes the game worth it just to see what they’ll say next.
Lastly, Happy Home Designer sports amiibo card support, the newest branch of Nintendo’s amiibo line. If you own a New 3DS or the NFC reader the game can be bundled with, you can scan these cards and invite different villagers who have specific requests for homes. These villagers are fan favorites like Isabelle, K.K. Slider and Mr. Resiti. Luckily, the game can be played through without utilizing this feature as I wasn’t able to. I did receive a free amiibo card upon purchasing a new copy of the game and they are of very nice quality. I’m sure I’ll be collecting more and more in the future as many others will too.
When Happy Home Designer shines, it shines bright but when it stumbles it falls flat on it’s face. There’s a real tug of war within the gameplay and it’s constant throughout the game. The amount of options you have to choose from and the freedom to decorate is fantastic but there isn’t really a reward or satisfaction element in game. It feels like Animal Crossing but doesn’t at the same time. It’s a very odd product. There’s a lot to love but the gameplay is so laser focused this time around that this spin-off becomes even more niche than the original series. You really have immerse yourself into Happy Home Designer or you risk getting bored quickly and becoming uninterested. If you’re a fan of Animal Crossing and love the world those games create I’d say check it out if you haven’t already. And if you’re into decorating or designing spaces this also might be the game for you. If both those things don’t interest you, Happy Home Designer probably wasn’t on your radar to begin with. Overall, a charming game with a lot to love that should be enjoyed in short spurts.
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